UP Must Die! In memory of Kristel Pilar Mariz P Tejada

clip_image002MANILA: Thinking of the death of a UP student, today the Oblation has a different message for me, a UP alumnus: "Death, where is thy victory? Death, where is thy sting?"

I mean, will the suicide of Kristel Tejada be lost on UP? Judging from all the news, I can see that if UP Manila Chancellor Manuel Agulto resigns, it will be to his Honor. If he doesn't, it will be to his Horror.

He belongs to the new UP with its new charter and new policies that have proven deadly to the interests of poor students. In fact, UP must die! To itself, to its old self be true.

In Act 1, Scene 3 of Hamlet, didn't Polonius say to his son Laertes as advice? "This above all: To thine old self be true / And it must follow, as the night the day / Thou canst not then be false to any man." If I misquoted, I say it to UP as my advice anyway!

I am not actually blaming Manuel Agulto for the suicide of Kristel Tejada but, it's there; like Philippine President Noynoy Aquino and the Sabah Crisis, he can't just wish it away; he has to own up to it like a man.

If there is someone to blame, it must be the President of the University of the Philippines who, last I heard, had the bright idea of pumping UP tuition fees by 300%, so that instead of PhP 5,000, you have to pay PhP 15,000. Highway robbery! And it has been happening for the last 6 years.

For all that, better late than never, when I think of former UP President Emerlinda Roman and current UP President Alfredo Pascual, and recall that it was The Lady Who Was The Tiger, the one who had the audacity to increase the tuition fees times 3 (x3) in the State University in 2006, I think of them as a female/male Robbin' Hood, because they have been robbin' the poor to give to the rich. When the poor families pay the high tuition fees at UP, the fees rob the poor of their little wealth, and the fees from the poor benefit equally the sons and daughters of the rich who are enrolled in UP, when the rich could very well take care of themselves. UP used to be for the bright and poor; now it's only for the bright and rich.

I'm not asking for the rich to pay more at UP; I'm challenging UP President Alfredo Pascual:

Be a dragon slayer, slay the new UP, and come up with a new policy that UP education be absolutely free to those who are bright and poor. UP must die!

Kristel Tejada did not have to die. "She loved studying," Kristel's mother Blesilda said (Erika Sauler, 18 March 2013, newsinfo.inquirer.net). "She loved UP. She believed that financial limitations shouldn't be a hindrance to education. She didn't expect that the system implemented last year would defeat her." She was forced to take a Leave of Absence (LoA) for the next semester when she failed to pay tuition; 2 days after the LoA, she committed suicide. Kristel Tejada had a dream for her siblings; that died with her.

I ask: What triggered the suicide? "She loved studying." I believe that when she was told to surrender her student ID, something snapped. "She loved UP." Her adviser Andrea Martinez said, "The ID was symbolic of her holding on to UP." Holding on to her dream. "I'm the eldest child," Kristel had told her adviser. "They have high hopes for me and I'm studying in UP."

There is a published (online) statement of the faculty and staff of the Department of Behavioral Sciences of the College of Arts & Sciences of UP Manila with an intelligent title and reasonable demands; here are excerpts, all in italics (from "Let Kristel Tejada's Death Lead to Meaningful Changes!" published by Zak Yuson, scribd.com):

The death of Kristel should be an occasion for University officials to thoroughly examine and institute meaningful and pro-student changes in policies, structures and mechanisms related to tuition payments, scholarship and financial assistance programs and services, within the UP System, particularly in UP Manila, and to revoke all policies and programs that run counter to students' welfare and interest.

Kristel's death should not be just another statistic added to the increasing number of Iskolar ng Bayan who are unable to pursue and complete their UP education because of insurmountable financial burdens that their economically disadvantaged families have to face in the midst of limited opportunities and elitist educational policies.

Her death gave us a human face to the long-standing struggle against state apathy and neglect of the education of our youth.

I say: Amen to all that!

We demand that justice be served for Kristel Tejada through the implementation of meaningful changes in UP policies and programs to enable the marginalized Filipino youth like her greater access to UP education!

I say: Like a caterpillar, UP must die into an imago so that it can transform itself into a butterfly, and not remain a worm that eats up every poor leaf it chances upon.

We hold UP Manila Chancellor Manuel B Agulto and Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs Marie Josephine de Luna largely accountable for the deprivation of Kristel's right to education that cost her life.

We call upon the UP community to demand and uphold democratic governance from our University officials! We appeal to the conscience of Chancellor Manuel Agulto and Vice Chancellor Josephine de Luna to show their solidarity and humility to the aggrieved family of Kristel Tejada and other victims of their repressive policy by rendering their irrevocable resignation!

I say: So, Chancellor Manuel Agulto and Vice Chancellor Marie Josephine De Luna, it's your choice:

Honor, or Horror?

The staff and students will not stop hounding and haunting you.

But in fact, Mr Chancellor and Ms Vice Chancellor, your resignations and the abolition of policies against delayed payments of tuition fees are only parts of the total solution to the problem of UP education being against the interest of poor families with intelligent sons and daughters. The meaningful changes that the UP Manila faculty and staff had in mind were these:

Sufficient State support and subsidies to State colleges and universities like UP, expanded scholarship and financial assistance grants, student loan programs, study now pay later schemes, installment payment plans, student employment programs, are some of the strategies which can be explored and instituted to increase access to tertiary education particularly by poor but deserving students.

I say: If you support those demands, you are not hopeless cases.

In the meantime, the UP alumni can do something big if they wanted to. In an email forwarded to me, Josie Aliwalas said, "We should not miss out the lessons that the Kristel Tejada's case has proffered towards educational reforms." She said that a group of State Scholars, reuniting after 35 years, "lamented the fact that the program was abolished by the (government)." She challenged the group, her husband being a member, "to revive it by being the scholarship benefactors. Giving back to society is a step towards a better country. I know that if we adopt the Big Brother principle of helping indigent students, we can educate more needy but financially disadvantaged people."

May Josie's tribe increase!

Still, the major burden lies on UP itself. To be true to its old self, UP must become what it was conceived to be long ago, to paraphrase Pope Francis: Not a Poor University but a University for the Poor.

And how will that happen? What I have in mind is for the whole UP System, at the top, to change management style, even managers. I was a UP freshman in 1959; I have not lost touch with UP since then, and I have yet to see a UP President who is a good manager. At least a good fund manager, whether he comes from ADB or not. By fund management, I mean not only planning, leading, organizing, coordinating, and controlling in the matter of available funds but, more than that, making funds available even when there are no funds!

Does that require magic, or a PhD? No, it requires only that the UP President and his cohorts be able to raise funds from outside UP - such as from successful alumni like Josie & Her Pussycats - and not from inside, especially not from the poor families. Relying on trebling the tuition fees and depending on the national budget instead of expanding the imagination to source big & small funds elsewhere suggest an embarrassing level of management IQ of UP heads. I blame neither Emerlinda Roman nor Alfredo Pascual; rather, I blame the Board of Regents who made them President.

In memory of the anguish of Kristel Pilar Mariz P Tejada and her poor family, UP must die! For the new UP to die, it is not necessary for the UP President to resign; rather, it is necessary that the entire UP Board of Regents resign and be replaced with good people who know good management so that, next time, they will select a President and Chancellors who are good in raising funds, not good in raising fire & brimstone when staff and students raise hell and demand their resignations - and not good in raising excuses.

Raising my eyes, as I look at it again, it seems to me that there is another message from the UP Oblation with its arms rising to high heavens, and it's a question as well as a plea that rises in crescendo and echoes all over the archipelago:

"Horrors, where are the Donors?!"

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