UP Manila Chancellor: We are not ruthless and cold hearted

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Students from the University of the Philippines Manila, the country’s premier state university, light candles outside their campus in Manila, Philippines, to mourn a freshman student Kristel Tejada who committed suicide Friday March 15, 2013 allegedly after being forced to take a leave for her failure to pay her tuition. AP/BULLIT MARQUEZ

MANILA, Philippines–“We want even bigger dreams for them. We don’t want to pose as obstacles to our students’ dreams.”

His voice cracking, University of the Philippines Manila chancellor Manuel Agulto decried the media’s portrayal of them as “cold hearted and ruthless” in the light of the recent suicide of a freshman student allegedly because of financial woes.

In a press conference on Monday, the official broke down and recalled how he was once in a predicament similar to Kristel Tejada, a 16-year-old behavioral sciences student who took her life last week.

“I was once a medical school student scrambling to pay my tuition… As administrators, we are not enemies. I would like to see myself as a surrogate parent to the students,” an emotional Agulto said.

The official prepared a presentation detailing the specifics of the case of Tejada, who enrolled in May 2012.

According to records, UP Manila officials allowed Tejada three extensions to pay for her P6,377 student loan incurred during the first semester.

The deadline for the payment was moved to Nov. 30, Dec. 7 and Dec. 19 after several appeals from her parents.

The girl was also given accommodation to work as a student assistant, pending her submission of enrollment papers for the second semester.

Agulto said Tejada’s father Christopher filed another loan application on Dec. 19, this time for the second semester, but was not processed as this was the last working day before the Christmas break.

According to the presentation, the father only appealed on Jan. 23, 2013, or nine weeks after the start of classes and way beyond the last week of payment.

The mother approached Agulto at a social gathering, appealing that her daughter be allowed to enroll.

Agulto said he was sympathetic but the appeal could no longer be granted, clarifying that there was no begging or kneeling involved.

Agulto denied claims that the student was forced to go on leave of absence, adding that the student was allowed an extension three times,

The official added that the Office of Student Affairs in Manila granted all 79 appeals of extension for payment from Nov. to Dec. last year.

Meanwhile, the faculty of the Department of Behavioral Sciences in UP Manila on Monday called on the school’s chancellor and vice chancellor to resign following the death of Tejada.

“We strongly appeal to the conscience of Chancellor Manuel Agulto and Vice Chancellor Josephine de Luna to show their solidarity and humility to the aggrieved family of Kristel Tejada and other victims of their repressive policy by rendering their irrevocable resignation,” said the statement read by sociology professor Jocelyn del Mundo.

The statement was read at the Philippine General Hospital chapel after a mass on Monday sponsored by the student council for Tejada.

“We hold (Agulto and De Luna) accountable for the deprivation of Kristel’s right to education that cost her life,” it said.

Tejada’s father, Christopher, who heard the mass together with wife Blesilda, welcomed the petition.

He also accepted the return of Tejada’s UP identification card, which she had to surrender when she filed a leave of absence.

“It’s as if my daughter came back to life,” he told reporters. With a report by Erika Sauler

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