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MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A first year student Lorena (not her real name) taking up Behavioral Science at the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila, was found dead at 3 in the morning of Friday, March 15.
Her parents, a taxi driver and a housewife, confirmed that she committed suicide after being forced to file for a leave of absence. This was after she failed to pay her tuition on time.
Since the start of the semester, she had been appealing for late payment of her financial dues but had been repeatedly denied.
According to UP student regent Cleve Arguelles, it even came to a point when her mother knelt before UP Manila Chancellor Manuel Agulto to personally appeal their situation. (This was later denied in a press conference called by Agulto on Monday, March 18.)
The Philippine Collegian quoted professor Andrea Bautista Martinez of the Department of Behavioral Sciences as saying the student frequented the Office of Student Services to seek counseling.
She killed herself a few days after filing a leave of absence on March 13. "[Pagkatapos niyang mag-file], nakapag-usap kami [sa text] at sinabi niyang malungkot siya at napakalaki ng epekto sa buhay niya at ng pamilya niya ng pag-LOA niya," Martinez told the Philippine Collegian. (After she filed a leave of absence, we texted each other and she told me how sad she was and how much her taking an LOA affected her life and her family.)
Martinez was also quoted by the Manila Collegian as saying, “Since February, hindi na siya pumapasok. Lagi siyang nagte-text sa ’kin na hindi niya kinakaya ang problema." (Since February, she has not been going to school. She was always texting me, telling me she couldn't handle the problem.)
The UP system follows the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) for tuition fee policies. With STFAP, students are categorized into 5 alphabetical socio-economic brackets – A, B, C, D and E.
Students under Bracket A pay P1,500 per unit while Bracket B students pay P1,000 per unit. Brackets C and D students pay P600 and P300 per unit, respectively. Students categorized under Bracket E are exempted from paying tuition.
The student was categorized as a Bracket D student, paying P300 per unit, even if she had applied for a Bracket E bracket. She has since been appealing for a lower bracket since the STFAP results came out earlier this school year.
“Taxi driver na nga ang asawa ko, bakit Bracket D pa kami?" asked her mother. (My husband is only a taxi driver, why are we categorized in bracket D?) Given a minimum wage of P456 a day, a worker in Metro Manila takes home about P13,680 a month. Assuming a full load of 21 units, Lorena would have had to pay P6,300 a semester. She is the eldest of 5 children.
The university evaluates applications and even conducts house visits at random to determine a student’s appropriate bracket.
UP Manila enforces a “no late payment” policy. In other words, students are required to pay their full tuition fee up front when they enroll. They can opt for installment payments but also need to be approved.
On October 23, the UP Manila administration released a memorandum barring students with unpaid accounts from being admitted to their classes. They eventually “lifted” the memorandum and allowed around 50 students to attend their class.
UP Prof Carl Marc Ramota, chairperson of the UP Manila Department of Social Sciences, posted photos of the memoranda on the matriculation of UP students.
However, with the strict implementation of this policy, students are issued notices to file a leave of absence (FLOA) if they fail to meet the deadline for payment of tuition.
In the case of Lorena, the UP administration on March 13 advised her to apply for a Forced Leave of Absence (FLOA).
Besides appealing for late payment, she also tried to apply for a loan, sought installment payments, and promissory notes. All of these were denied by the administration.
Outraged UP community
UP students are condemning the UP Manila administration for their “no late payment” and “FLOA” policies. They said these repressive policies work against the basic student right to education.
Simultaneous candle lighting events will be held at 5:30 pm at the 5 UP campuses -- Diliman (College of Arts and Sciences steps), Manila (AS steps), Mindanao (College of Humanities and Social Sciences/Admin Building steps), Cebu (Cebu Convention Center) and Baguio (UP Baguio lobby).
The UP Chancellor is expected to release a statement this Friday afternoon. – Rappler.com