Mar 17, 2013

UP scholar killed by some stupid red tape

Shame on the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM). A scholar lost her life because of its love for red tape. Kristel Pilar Mariz Tejada, a 16-year-old behavioral sciences student, committed suicide in desperation because she could not pay the tuition fee and was forced to put her studies on hold.

Kristel was reportedly a scholar of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS), a science school established especially for the best and the brightest from all Philippine schools. PSHS aspirants have to undergo a series of rigid oral and written exams and personal interviews before a limited number of the cream of the cream are admitted. Tuition fees are socialized, and those from the provinces get to live in the school’s dormitory in the school campus in Quezon City. Even so, the attrition rate is very high. Only a portion of the original group admitted as freshmen manage to graduate. Which means that a student has to be very bright indeed to be able to graduate from PSHS. Kristel was one such student.

She applied for admission to UP and passed the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (Upcat). She enrolled at UPM and had to take a student loan to be able to pay the tuition. She was the oldest of five children; her father is a taxi driver while her mother is a housewife.

She had not quite finished repaying the loan when it was time to pay the tuition for the second semester. She applied for a second loan and she and her parents appealed to school authorities to extend the period for paying the first loan. Kristel was already entitled to an P8,000-grant from funds that UP had received from the Office of the Vice President.

However, according to UPM officials, Kristel was not able to finish the paperwork and other requirements to avail herself of the grant. In short, the money was already there, Kristel was entitled to the grant, but she was forced to defer her studies because of some stupid red tape. “She was not able to complete the paperwork,” they said. Couldn’t they have enrolled her on condition that she complete the paperwork later?

Forced to file a leave of absence for the second semester, the despondent Kristel was found dead two days later in her house in Tayuman, Manila.

That’s one life with a brilliant future lost due to red tape. It is admitted that red tape is very long in the Philippines and is the bane of the bureaucracy—besides killing so many trees for the tons of paper that are wasted in documentation that hardly anyone reads. But to lose the life of a scholar because of it is unforgivable.

To defend itself, UPM now says that “based on information gathered from her teachers and the Office of Student Affairs, Kristel was having deeply rooted family and financial problems.” What an excuse!

UP’s socialized tuition scheme was established precisely to help poor students like Kristel. Well-to-do students pay higher tuition than the poor ones. Affluent students subsidize the low income ones. So why did it fail in the case of Kristel? Because of some stupid red tape.

We spend billions of pesos for the conditional cash transfer program for the poor. Cash is given to poor families on condition that they send their children to school. The Philippines is a poor country mainly because many of its citizens lack education. Yet Filipinos pay a high value on education. The ambition of every child and family is for him/her “to finish school.” Children walk for miles, across rivers and mountains to be able to attend school. Yet many of them are unable to finish school because of poverty. And scholars like Kristel who want so much to finish school are lost because of “lack of funds” at the same time that billions of pesos are wasted on pork barrel and senators are given million-peso bonuses.

There are free public schools for elementary and high school students. UP is a public school for college students. It set up the socialized tuition scheme to help students from the poorer communities. Communities remain poor because most of their young men and women are unable to finish school. There are few graduates to pull these communities from poverty. Kistel could have been one of these bright graduates who could pull their families and communities out of poverty. Alas, she died because of some stupid red tape in UPM.


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