MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Policy reforms, campaigns to raise financial support, and advocacy for mental health are among the initiatives that were triggered by the death of UP freshman Kristel Tejada.
Rappler’s story which reported the death of Kristel, then referred to as “Lorena” for ethical reasons, has generated, to date, over 350 reactions, most of which are emotionally-charged.
On March 15, Friday last week, Kristel took her life two days after filing a leave of absence (LOA). She was as advised by the UP administration to file a forced leave of absence after failing to meet the deadline for payment of tuition.
That same afternoon, a system-wide vigil was held in 5 campuses of the University of the Philippines (UP). At the same time, heated debates and discussions ensued online.
Social media became the platform to push campaigns and initiatives among online networks.
Campaigns for policy reforms
In the petition, Papa says, “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.”
The petition has gathered over 6,000 signatures within 48 hours after Tejada’s death making it, at the time, the fastest growing petition in Change.org within the Asia-Pacific region.
On March 20, UP administrators cancelled the ‘no late payment’ policy signaling the victory of the petition. According to Papa, when someone signs a petition and leaves a comment, this is emailed directly to UP administrators. As of writing, a total of 1,000 emails have been sent to administrators.
A couple of the more popular comments left are:
“As an alumni, my heart breaks and the many others who have dropped out of the UP because of these calloused, anti-poor rules.” – Dino Nable, Makati City
“UP is a state university who’s supposed to cater the brightest students of the country regardless of their financial capacity. This policy is totally in contrast with what the university is supposed to be.” – Herbert Ortiga, San Pedro
In a statement, Papa declared, ‘“the UP administrators clearly couldn’t withstand the amount of scrutiny and pressure generated from the petition, the constant media coverage and the protests at the university.”
To Papa, “this victory is proof that each and every one of us has the capacity to bring about change.”
Another petition under Change.org was also filed by Anakbayan Philippines, calling for President Benigno Aquino III to scrap UP’s Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) and roll back tuition. To date, there have been over 600 signatures.
Initiatives for financial assistance
Struck by the circumstances surrounding Kristel’s death, a number of people have also responded by initiating ways to assist students who are financially disadvantaged.
@UPManilaonline, UP-Manila’s official Twitter account, announced on March 17 that a UP College of Medicine alumni couple were donating P100,000 to the university’s trust fund to help students who are unable to pay their tuition.
In addition, the UP-Manila Behavioral Sciences department also spoke of plans to put up the Kirstel Tejada Educational Assistance Foundation. UP Manila professor Andrea Martinez said they will start with the plans only after the funeral.
In a press conference on March 18, UP president Dr Alfredo Pascual admitted there are problems with the STFAP but he disclosed it has been under review since he assumed his post.
Prof Richard Gonzalo, assistant professor in UP’s Asian Institute of Tourism, and formerly officer-in-charge of the Office of Scholarships and Student Services, drafted the proposal to reform the UP’s financial assistance program in collaboration with student affairs directors from various campuses.
According to Gonzalo, among the primary recommendations is the review of benefits. STFAP is the only financial assistance program based purely on financial merit. All the other scholarships have an academic performance component.
Based on the STFAP, only those under bracket E2 receive a monthly stipend of P2,400. For a student to be categorized in bracket E2, his/her annual family income must be P80,000 or below. Gonzalo stressed that the stipend is not enough.
“In UP Manila, for instance, they do not have dormitories, and renting bed space alone already costs between P2,000-2,400 a month,” Gonzalo explained.
One of the ways that UP Diliman Office of Scholarships and Student Services addresses this issue is through the “Adopt-A-Student” program which pools donations from individuals and institutions. Donations provide an additional monthly allowance of P10,000 per semester or P4,000 during the summer semester for students in need.
Advocacy for mental health
Another group that is offering support to others who may be going through an emotional crisis similar to the one Tejada went through is the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (NGF-Hope). The website features a tribute to Kristel, and campaigns for better treatment of mental health in the country.
To foundation says, “With the help of the Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education, we hope that lessons on mental health be taught more intensively in universities and schools and that mental wellness support groups be made available to both teachers and students alike.”
NGF-Hope has a 24/7 hotline for those suffering from an emotional crisis.
The varied responses reflect how a rather complex and unfortunate event has inspired action. – Rappler.com