Facing snowballing protests and calls for his resignation, University of the Philippines Manila chancellor Manuel Agulto on Tuesday announced the lifting of the “no late payment” policy on tuition at a press briefing that did not allow questions from the media.
The new policy came four days after the death of freshman behavioral science student Kristel Tejada.
Tejada took her own life on March 15, two days after she filed a leave of absence because she could not pay her tuition for the second semester as her family had scrambled to pay off the loan she had taken out for her first-semester tuition.
Agulto denied Tejada’s request for a loan to cover the second semester, citing a university rule that prevents students from being enrolled when the semester has already begun.
Before the press briefing, Agulto and other UP Manila administration officials held a dialogue, which he described as “civil,” with the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and eight student leaders from various colleges concerning the financial process in enrollment.
Reading from a prepared statement, Agulto cited the directive of UP president Alfredo Pascual to all UP system chancellors and UP Cebu dean “to allow a reasonable amount of time for registration and payment of fees” in view of the issues raised regarding the tuition policy.
“Just to make it clear, this means that the no-late-payment policy has been lifted,” Agulto said.
“Any student with financial constraints will no longer have any problems with regard to tuition-payment deadline,” he added.
Professor Andrea Martinez, Tejada’s program adviser, welcomed the concrete steps being implemented by the administration but noted that the policy was only suspended as revocation of the university rule would involve a long process with the Board of Regents.
“They can implement it again anytime. But at least this serves as an admission and a recognition that the policy is not prostudent and it burdened Kristel and other students,” Martinez said.
She said the faculty’s call for the resignation of Agulto and vice chancellor Josephine de Luna was not brought up during the dialogue because their immediate goal was the suspension of the tuition policy.
There was a scuffle with security guards as CAS students and members of militant youth groups stormed the UP-Philippine General Hospital main lobby demanding to be included in the closed-door dialogue. The Sanlakas party-list group also held a protest and spray-painted the signage of the CAS.
Student journalists of Manila Collegian were blocked at the press briefing that was held in a conference room at UP-PGH and guarded by a security detail.
Reporters who showed up at the PGH Oblation area, where the press briefing was supposed to be held, were told to go in one at a time and were escorted by security officers inside the conference room.
Agulto said that if Tejada’s parents would permit it, her body would be brought to CAS on Friday for the requested public viewing.
Martinez said the parents would not agree. Supporters initially wanted a viewing at the PGH chapel but it has a policy against it.
A professor, who attended the dialogue but requested not to be named for lack of authority to speak for Agulto, said the chancellor apologized “for some errors.”
“It was a very general apology,” the professor said.
Agulto said psychosocial support would be provided through the Office of Student Affairs and the PGH Department of Psychiatry.
“We will continue to strengthen our student-admin relations through constant dialogue and town hall meetings,” he said.
“We are still as we always have been, the University of the Philippines of, for and by the people. Education is everyone’s right,” he said, adding that the administration condoles with Tejada’s family.
Pressed for comment on calls for his resignation, Agulto held up his statement and said: “This explains it all. This is the main issue raised against me.”
The creator of an online petition that quickly gained ground within a few days welcomed the news that UP Manila has suspended the policy that bars students, who do not pay their tuition on time, from attending classes.
The petition, which UP alumnus and former Inquirer reporter Alcuin Papa started on the website, www.change.org, on Friday, called on administrators of UP Manila to revoke the “no late payment” and “forced leave of absence” policies that were linked to the suicide earlier in the day of Tejada.
Papa’s petition quickly garnered 5,000 signatures within two days after he started it on Friday afternoon. As of press time, the petition had garnered 6,349 signatures, which according to change.org administrators made it the biggest and fastest-growing education related petition in the website.
“Due to the pressure we have brought on to the UP administration, this is a partial victory for our petition. We will continue to work for the total revocation of the repressive antistudent and antipoor policies of UP Manila,” Papa said Tuesday afternoon.
During a news conference at UP Diliman on Monday, Papa tried to hand over to Agulto the petition along with the many comments by the signatories. Papa said Agulto and UP Manila vice chancellor for academic affairs Josephine de Luna ignored him.
“UP has a long history of providing underprivileged students with a chance of bettering themselves through higher education. Whether the policy is a reason for her suicide or not, policies such as the no late payment and forced leave of absence are anathema to the UP system’s nature as a ‘university of the people,”’ Papa said in his petition.
UP Los Baños
At the UP Los Baños (UPLB) campus in Laguna, students joined calls for officials of the UP Manila campus to step down.
“We belong to one community, facing the same problem over this ‘no late payment’ policy and tuition increases,” said UPLB student Maria Paula Sarigumba.
Sarigumba, an incoming university student councilor, said UPLB students would hold a luksang pamantasan (university mourning) this week for Tejada.
On Tuesday afternoon, she said around 100 students were expected to join an indignation rally and a candle-lighting to call for the scrapping of the no-late payment policy and other forms of tuition increases in state universities.
A black cloth was also draped on the UPLB Oblation statue on Tuesday to signify the protest.
“It may not be to that extent (to commit suicide) but there are several other students who find themselves in the same situation as Kristel’s,” Sarigumba said in a phone interview.
She cited, for instance, the case of UPLB student Ynik Ante whose proclamation as the elected University Student Council chair in 2012 was delayed due to unpaid tuition.
In Iloilo, students of UP Visayas (UPV) on Tuesday joined protest actions to demand an overhaul of the university’s tuition scheme and higher government funding for education.
Picket in Iloilo
Students on the UPV campuses in Iloilo City and in Miag-ao town wore black to mourn the death of Tejada.
In Miag-ao town, 44 kilometers south of the city, students held a picket and a minute of silence at the CAS building.
They were scheduled to hold a protest march in the evening from the dormitory area to the administration building where a program and candle-lighting activity will be held, said Angeli Louise Cando, secretary general of the UPV Samasa party alliance.
The students demanded the scrapping of the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP), a scheme which pegs a tuition based on the income of a student’s family.
“We are also demanding a tuition rollback and greater subsidy to education,” John Philip Fuego, chairman of the CAS student council, said in a telephone interview.—With reports from Maricar Cinco, Inquirer Southern Luzon; and Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Inquirer Visayas