Society and Politics

When the bully is the school itself

By John Gabriel Pabico-Lalu, Staff Writer|

Bullies will always be a pain in the neck of students and a pain in the heart of parents.  In a normal scenario, schools will be doing everything they can to safeguard the bullied, and everything they can to hand down a just punishment to the aggressor.

The bad thing is, if you are not studying in a school that has a normal scenario and if you are living in a parallel universe.

And it has not been too ‘normal’ for the country’s State Colleges and Universities (SCU).  The country’s top educational institutions have been stormed by yearly budget cuts, politicalized scholarships, and professors tagged with plagiarism case.

And it is not yet over.

It is absurd and ironic, particularly in the case of Kristel Tejada, a Behavioral Sciences (BehSci) student of the University of the Philippines – Manila, whose experience was literally a pain in the neck.  According to the post on the Facebook page of The Manila Collegian, the Official Student Publication of the said university, Tejada, 16 years old, committed suicide after drinking a bottle of silver cleaner last March 15, Friday morning.

And the bully?  The Forced Leave of Absence (FLOA) enforced by the university on students that are unable to pay on time.

 If a student died within the school, society will certainly cry foul; much more if the school is the main culprit.  But the recent circumstances are a perplexing one. Social media outlets and chairs may be on fire literally, activists may be lighting numerous candles, and individuals may be blaming the system, but something is still puzzling the public’s minds.

Of all people, why a modern-day “Iska”?  Isn’t she bright enough, especially that she is a UP student dealing with how people behave, to realize that there is more to life than these basic school matters?  Isn’t she sensible enough to understand that suicide deviates from the law of nature, aside from being a selfish way to handle matters?

Tejada, first in a brood of four, should have known better.  She could have been her family’s only hope out of poverty.

People should understand that what she did, even though it was an eye-opener, is an act that should never be condoned or worse, dramatized.  With the way it has been, Tejada’s act has been “hero-worshipped”.  It will definitely be deemed as a light in the midst of a dark period for UP.

 

In defense of Tejada, one cannot simply condemn her actions after digging deep into her story.  The stress, the embarrassment, and the numerous loan requests stripped her of sanity and happiness, and replaced a feeling of guilt and self-pity.  Life is valuable, but the issue has never been basic.

 

As a matter of fact, the issue is too complicated.  Such problems do not usually surface in a government-run school.  These problems can only appear on costly educational institutions; otherwise, it is considered as a blasphemy.

How did this sort of “La Salle-like” and “Ateneo-like” problems surface within the country’s top State U?  How big of an issue is this FLOA that it prompted the poor girl into taking her own life?

Using the University’s Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Programs (STFAP), Tejada was placed in the “Bracket D”, which means that she has to pay PhP 300 per subject unit.  Not bad, considering the price of quality education nowadays.  A student who takes at least six subjects in a semester will have to pay less than PhP 10,000 in a semester.

 But it is definitely ruthless for a family that is exerting every possible means to make ends meet.

STFAP, which aims to categorize students according to their capacity to pay, seems to have failed in judging Tejada’s situation.  It has drawn criticisms mainly because the bereaved family relies solely on her father who earns a living through driving a taxi cab.  Her mother is an ordinary housewife.

Many people despise UP basically because it has forgotten the difference between income and net income.  The STFAP indicates that a family which has an annual income of PhP 135,000 to PhP 200,000 would be situated under Bracket D, and will be given a 70% discount on base tuition fees, although the student would have to pay the miscellaneous and laboratory fees fully.

Sure, the student’s father could earn up to PhP 140,000 in a yearly basis. That is called ‘income’.  But sans all the money intended for expenses and the taxes, this would be called ‘net income’.  The question is, would the family have enough of the net income to send Kristel and her other siblings into school, while having a decent meal and a decent place to live?

Harsh as it can be, the reality is that his father’s meager earnings cannot sustain an expensive brand of education while supporting his remaining children.  That net income would be divided upon five stomachs to fill.  And in case her father was practical enough, he would have opted to use the money to buy the family’s basic commodities, instead of intending it for the deceased student’s tuition fees.

And that is why Kristel Tejada chose the University of the Philippines over the Ateneo de Manila University, the De La Salle University, and the University of Santo Tomas: because it has been known, that UP can provide her the best education at a price way lower than the private-sectarian universities mentioned.  In short, masa-friendly prices within a 322nd-ranking school in a top 400 university survey.  While UP’s quality has never been in doubt, the prices seem to be out of this world.

The common Filipino’s world, to be exact: the moniker “Iskolar ng Bayan” seems to be inappropriate for now, as UP’s parking spaces resemble car shows.  And from a “Toki-Toki” driver’s standpoint, you can tell that UP students nowadays tend to hail from rich families.  Jeepney drivers who used to roam the streets of UP Diliman complain of a lesser take-home-money compared to what they used to have a few years before.

A lot of the students’ families have the capacity to buy cars, and when I say cars, I do not mean second-hand automobiles.  I’m talking about cars fresh, out of the showroom.  And people believe that the growing number of wealthy students led to the creation of the STFAP, in order to level the playing field.

I never said that it is bad if a son or a daughter of a rich politician or of a successful business mogul goes to UP and takes it by storm.  I never said that UP isn’t a place for development.  I never said that UP should tolerate poverty.  But the UP system, being a part of the government, should nurture the poor, and teach them to succeed, above all.

 

It will be a disgrace if UP fails to provide its student the education needed to be globally competitive.  It will be a disgrace if UP forgets the idealism and the patriotism it once possessed.  It will be a disgrace if UP fails to protect a student from all the things that may hurt him or her physically and emotionally.

 

But, it would be far shameful if the nation’s premier university causes the death of a student who only yearns to find a way out of poverty, and eventually, create a better life for her family.

 

Rest in peace now, Kristel: forgive me for scrutinizing your actions.  We promise to keep an eye on UP, so that your death would not be in vain.

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