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Philippines: Forced to Leave School Due to Unpaid Fees, Student Commits Suicide

Categories: East Asia, Philippines, Education, Human Rights, Politics, Protest, Youth

A 16-year old college freshman studying Behavioral Sciences in the University of the Philippines Manila committed suicide last Friday morning [1]. She was found dead at her family residence in Tondo, Manila two days after she was forced by the school administration to stop attending her classes because of unpaid tuition.

The student was the eldest among five siblings. Her father is a part-time taxi driver while her mother is a housewife. She was assigned by the university administration under Bracket D of the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) [2].

UP Manila implements a “no late payment” policy [3] wherein students unable to pay their tuition on time are forced to take a leave from the university.

Education is a Right | Photo from Pixel Offensive [4]

Education is a Right | Photo from Pixel Offensive

Grief and sympathy poured all over social networking sites and personal blogs over her untimely passing. Many also expressed outrage [5] over expensive tuition and school fees and the highly commercialized system of Philippine education for driving the student to her death. Here are some reactions on Twitter:

@adrianayalin [6]: Sad, sad, sad news about UP Manila student allegedly committing suicide because of unpaid tuition.

@teddycasino [7]: Those cold hearted bureaucrats in UP Manila should resign in guilt & shame.

@jcmaningat [8]: The suicide of the UP Manila student is big slap on the face of @PresidentNoy who claims that life is easier under his reign #justice #fb

The Facebook status [9] of Cleve Kevin Robert Arguelles, the UP Student Regent representing 50,000 UP students in the university's Board of Regents:

The case of Kristel Tejada was not a suicide. There was no choice – either you pay or you stop pursuing your dreams. She was killed by the system- a system that refuse to recognize that education is a right, that life is measured in your capacity to pay. A sad and outrageous day for us Iskolars ng Bayan (scholars of the people). :(

In her blog [10], UP Manila alumna Alyanna Morales hopes that the incident will lead to drastic changes in the university’s tuition policies:

I believe that we are an education system that prides itself on honor and excellence. But if we deny someone her rights because of money, are we not worse than the system we claim to fight and abhor? Where is the honor or the excellence in that, my beloved UP?

Candle lighting activity at UP Manila | Photo taken by Carl Marc Ramota [11]

Candle lighting activity at UP Manila | Photo taken by Carl Marc Ramota

Jefrey Tupas [12] compares the recent suicide of the UP Manila student to the death of a 12-year old girl in Davao City five years ago:

Those who come from grassroots families, those who are living below poverty line, are directly hit by the policy of the government on education commercialization. The yellow government–the Aquino government–is pursuing the same formula being forced on us by the previous governments.

Dean Lozarie answers [13] those who seek to de-politicize the issue by insisting that the death was merely personal and not political.

But it certainly was, if by political we mean that it aptly describes the state of things on a wider scale and reflects the narrative of society at large. We can argue about facts, and we can argue about what was really going through her mind in her final moments. But on this we can certainly agree: barely one year into her stay at the nation's premiere university, long-standing university and government policies prevented her from continuing her studies. Repeated and reasonable pleas from her and her family to reassign her to a lower bracket in UP's financial assistance program and to consider her financial situation were rejected. This deeply affected her emotionally. These facets of society, of the contemporary history of our nation, are manifest in the biography of the UP freshman from Tondo who just wanted to go to school.

No Money, No Entry | Image from Pixel Offensive [14]

No Money, No Entry | Image from Pixel Offensive

Former UP Student Regent Krissy Conti [15] explains why the university’s STFAP is a smokescreen for tuition increase and forms a sinister background for the suicide.

The final tuition collection from all enrolees is right there, tallied in the government accounting. No one has dared deny that income from student fees has grown through the years. In fact it has become a reliable and liquid money source that more or less half of maintenance expenses are programmatically taken from the tuition fund

Priscilla Pamintuan comments [16] that the suicide is a clear example of the unjust system of education now prevailing in the country.

Ano mang paghuhugas-kamay ang gawin sa publiko ng Commission on Higher Education – na kesyo may sariling kapasyahan ang bawat state university na magtakda ng mga polisiya kaugnay ng matrikula – hindi maitatanggi na may pananagutan sila sa sinapit ng estudyanteng ito.

Whatever washing of hands the Commission on Higher Education may do in public – because each state university have the autonomy to set its own policies related to tuition – it cannot deny that it is accountable to what happens to their students. Is it not that CHED and the administration of Benigno Aquino III have long pushed for the yearly cuts in the budget of state colleges and universities to make them “self-sufficient”?

In a Facebook Note [17], Lisa Ito writes a call to action to honor the dead student's memory.

Some have implored: suicide is not the solution, don’t give up, there is hope. I agree. The solution is to fight for one’s rights, and to see the struggle through to the end. I will never say that she failed in valor, because—whatever the reason for arriving at the point she did—her sacrifice and her family’s loss has compelled us all to finally confront the painful truth: that there is no other recourse but to act on the situation now.

The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. You can get help from confidential support lines for the suicidal and those in emotional crisis. Visit Befrienders.org [18] to find a suicide prevention helpline in your country.