BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Team PNoy senatorial bets have taken turns offering remedial measures following the tragic suicide of Kristel Tejada, the 16-year-old Behavioral Sciences freshman of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Manila after she was forced to take a leave for her inability to pay a tuition loan.
Reelectionist Senators Francis Escudero and Loren Legarda, along with Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino, called for a review of policies of the UP system and those of other state universities and colleges (SUCs) in relation to student loans.
Legarda said this is in view of a possible expansion of scholarship programs offered to college students, noting that such grants are included in the annual budgets of SUCs.
Escudero mulls putting his pork barrel, technically called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), “for projects to enhance the quality of public education.”
Meanwhile, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara vowed to work for passage of “comprehensive and unified financial assistance system” for students in SUCs.
All four bets of the Liberal Party-backed coalition agreed that the government, more specifically officials of public tertiary systems, should show more compassion toward students suffering from financial difficulties.
“It’s very depressing that an incident like this has to happen, more so that it happened in UP,” said Angara whose father and namesake is an incumbent senator who was president of the UP System in the 1980s.
A daughter of a taxi driver and a housewife, Tejada was said to have been applying for a student loan and extension of the deadline for payment of financial dues since the start of the semester but had been repeatedly denied.
“Our Constitution guarantees the right of every Filipino youth to quality and affordable education. We should make sure that policies are implemented to fulfill this provision,” Angara added.
Angara, chair of the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education, said the incident should compel Congress to take a harder look at the proposed comprehensive and unified student financial assistance system that will fund quality education to benefit more financially deprived students.
Angara, one of the measure’s authors, said the bill would “harmonize all government scholarship and grants-in-aid programs to promote greater efficiency, coherence, synchronization, rationalized access, effective funding and improved coordination among implementing entities.”
Legarda warned that “when education becomes inaccessible, especially to those who need it the most, then it defeats its purpose.”
The Senator said, “it would not be a big dent on the government’s education budget if college scholarships are given to the poorest of the poor since SUCs are already in place and have their regular annual appropriations from the national government.”
Legarda said one of her priorities in her next term in the Senate would be the expansion of the government’s scholarship program, “ensuring one college graduate for every poor family, particularly by granting college scholarships to at least one member of each of the 3.8 million households that are beneficiaries of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program.”
For his part, Escudero said he would seek an inquiry into the UP system to find out if the government-owned university has been serving its mandated purpose of providing accessible education to deserving students.
“Equal access to education is one of my advocacies. And being a product of the UP myself, I sympathize with those who are unable to afford college tuition even with subsidies provided by the state university,” Escudero said.
The senator noted that the UP system has the biggest network of state universities and at the same time gets the biggest slice of the budget for subsidies for public education.
He said the priority of his next term would be the infusion of his priority development assistance fund (PDAF) for projects to enhance the quality of public education such as the rehabilitation and repair of public schools and the granting of scholarships in each district of the country.
Meanwhile, Bam Aquino, a former chair of the National Youth Commission, noted the irony of Tejada’s unpaid tuition loan as the reason for her to succumb to the pressures of poverty.
“One of our core beliefs that education is a way out of poverty. This particular policy that forces students to leave school because of unpaid fees only serves to condemn them even more to a life of poverty. This is not the goal of state universities and this policy should be scrapped,” he said.
Aquino’s research showed that the government increased its subsidy to the UP System in 2011 to P8.32 billion from P7.36 billion in 2010. In 2011, the university’s net income amounted to P904.47 million.
“It is unacceptable for a student to kill herself over unpaid tuition fees amounting to some P12,000 when the university had a substantial net income. It is especially unacceptable because she was seeking a loan and not a dole-out. We need to review schools’ tuition policies to ensure that more students are given access to education,” Aquino said.