MANILA, Philippines – Officials of the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM) suspended classes on Monday and called for sobriety amid public dismay and outrage over the suicide of a freshman forced to put her studies on hold because she could not pay the tuition.
The UPM administration declared March 18 a “Day of Mourning in remembrance of Kristel Pilar Mariz Tejada, Iskolar ng Bayan” and suspended classes in all academic units in the Padre Faura campus.
“The reason is to call for sobriety, reflection and also to express condolences again. This may be a rallying symbol to turn this tragedy into a higher noble cause for a permanent solution to problems in education,” said public affairs director Dr. Anthony Leachon in an interview Sunday after he visited the wake.
The student body meanwhile is expected to continue their mass actions next week in the form of a vigil, noise barrage, march and wearing of black shirt.
The remains will be brought to the Philippine General Hospital chapel during the week before they are laid to rest during the weekend.
Based on new details released over the weekend by the UPM administration, the 16-year old BA Behavioral Sciences freshman at the College of Arts and Sciences struggled under the state university’s loan and tuition policies right from the start when she entered UP in May 2012.
Tejada, the eldest of five children of a taxi driver and a housewife, killed herself in their home in Tayuman, Manila early March 15, two days after she had to file a leave of absence since she failed to pay tuition for the second semester of the school year.
When she enrolled for her first semester last May 10, she was assessed a tuition of P9,172.50 since she was not classified to be entitled to free tuition under UP’s socialized tuition scheme called the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP).
She paid P2,795.50 on May 11, while her loan of P6,377 was settled by her father only on December 19, when the second semester was already underway.
By then the Office of Student Affairs denied her father’s appeal for another loan to cover her second semester, telling the Tejadas they have been given three extensions to pay the full tuition “and it was already mid-semester.”
“Since it is a violation of Article 332 of the University Code, the appeal could no longer be accommodated as it will set a precedent,” the UPM administration said.
On September 27, Tejada appealed to be re-assessed and categorized under Bracket E so she would be spared having to pay the tuition.
But her appeal was not acted upon as according to the UP Manila administration she “failed to submit supporting documentary requirements for appeal to be processed during the designated period despite frequent reminders from the Office of Student Affairs (OSA).”
Tejada’s case has triggered calls for a review of the tuition policy in the premier state university which has the lion’s share of subsidy among state colleges and universities.
UP President Alfredo Pascual called a news conference on Monday to unveil a proposed modification of the STFAP.
Leachon said two UPM alumni who wanted to remain anonymous have pledged to donate P100,000 and P50,000 to start a trust fund to assist students having trouble meeting their loan obligations.
He said it turned out many people were willing to help out but there was no structure in place.
“Tomorrow (Monday) is a new day and carries with it a chance to work some good in an imperfect world.
Kristel is not the first nor the only victim of poverty. What is necessary is for people to keep trying to make her the last,” Leachon said.