MANILA – The University of the Philippines (UP) is mourning.
Black adorned the Oblation, the iconic symbol of the university, in all its campuses since Monday, the start of what the UP community called Black Protest Week.
The death of UP Manila freshman Kristel Tejada sparked calls for the junking of the university’s no late payment policy, forced leave of absence (LOA) and socialized” tuition scheme known as the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP).
“Today is not a glorious day for UP,” Roland Tolentino, dean of College of Mass Communications, said in a gathering of students, faculty members and some administrators at the Quezon Hall, late Monday afternoon.
The Oblation statue was covered with black cloth, holding a tarpaulin with the call: “Katarungan para sa Iskolar ng Bayan at Kabataan.” (Justice for the Scholar of the Nation and the Youth)
Reacting to UP President’s statement the same morning, teachers and students maintained that STFAP reforms are not the solution to inaccessibility of UP education.
In the press conference, UP President Alfredo Pascual announced certain reforms to the STFAP. On the other hand, UP Manila Chancellor Manuel Agulto said he only implemented the policy.
During the program at the Quezon Hall, Prof. Gerry Lanuza of Department of Sociology asked in Filipino: “Who are you serving? Your duty or the country?” “Our loyalty is not with the memo, not with the President but with the country.”
UP Student Regent Cleve Arguelles criticized the UP administration, Commission on Higher Education and Malacanang for acting like Pontious Pilate who blame everyone but themselves.
Arguelles said that the UP community may have committed a mistake. “If we have a weakness, it is that we have not triumphed in junking STFAP,” the student leader said.
Since STFAP was implemented 1989, student groups have been opposing it.
“…[i]n the past two decades of STFAP implementation, instead of financially assisting students and improving access of the poor to the university, it has systemically did the opposite,” Arguelles said in a speech delivered at the Public Consultation on the Proposal to Revise the STFAP and Financial Assistance Services of UP last February 4.
Meanwhile, in UP Manila, students and faculty members offered a Mass last Monday for the UP Manila student who committed suicide.
At around 11 a.m. today, UP Manila students walked out of their classes and converged in the College of Arts and Sciences along Padre Faura. They marched to the grounds of the Philippine General Hospital – where the UPM administration held a meeting with the faculty members regarding the death of one of their own.
In Los Banos campus, an indignation rally was held at the Carabao Park, March 19.
In a statement, Kabataan partylist in Southern Tagalog, said: “Kristel has instilled in us that we should strengthen our hold in the principle that education is a right and not a privilege, whether you are enrolled in UP or not. This issue is not only an issue of UP students; it is an issue of society as a whole, for we believe that the individual should never be isolated from the macrocosm that it belongs to.”
Tolentino blamed the country’s educational system for the “systematic disenfranchisement” of the Filipino youth.