By Apple Cruel and Roleen Delos Reyes
As the University of the Philippines School of Economics auditorium became jam-packed Friday with avid audience for a much-anticipated debate, a cup of coffee was definitely the only thing warmer than the hall.
The blockbuster hit was “Kapekonomiya: Surveying the Financial Affair Policy of the University of the Philippines”— a project spearheaded by the School of Economics Student Council (SESC) and UP Economics Towards Consciousness (UP ETC).
Kapekonomiya is a staple talk of the UP SESC to promote the field of economics to students and highlight trends and pressing issues in the national context. This year, the event focused on UP’s Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP), which classifies students under six income brackets.
Students coming from families with an annual income of a million pesos or higher are placed under bracket A, and pay the full cost tuition rate of P1,500 per unit. Such is assumed of UP students upon entry to the University, unless they submit the necessary documents for them to qualify to lower-paying brackets.
Those placed under bracket B pay P1,000 per unit. Bracket C and D students pay P600 and P300 per unit, respectively, while those under brackets E1 and E2 pay no tuition fees, with the latter also entitled to a 12,000-peso semestral stipend.
Prerequisite to these tuition discounts, however, is a 13-page application form, accompanied by a number of documents requested by the STFAP office on a case-to-case basis.
Polarized views on whether the mechanism should be scrapped or reformed resulted to undeniable tension between two opposing camps. Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP) Chairperson Sarah Isabelle Torres and Professor Ramon Guillermo from the College of Arts and Letters pushed for the scrapping of STFAP, while Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (ALYANSA) Chairperson Juan Carlo Tejano and School of Economics Professor Solita “Winnie” Monsod forwarded their reform advocacy.
A panel of colors made of individuals from different political student groups were also present, namely: Eduardo “Eds” Gabral (Chairperson, Kasama sa UP), Bea Achacoso (former Vice Chairperson of Nagkakaisang Iskolar para sa Pamantasan at Sambayanan), Amiel Ayson (Vice Chairperson, UP ALYANSA) and Franzine Foronda (Councilor, SESC and member, UP ETC).
Atty. Rowena Daroy-Morales, Director of the Office of Legal Aid from the UP College of Law, moderated the lecture-cum-debate during the said event.
“Education is devalued to a commodity,” Sarah Isabelle Torres begins her opening statement as she discussed the failure of treating education as a public good.
Torres emphasized that education is a right, citing the 1987 Constitution and the UP Charter. Tertiary education is not a private good, she emphasized, in contrast to what the defenders of socialized tuition are implying.
Dr. Ramon Guillermo focused on the advocacy of social equity as the principal cause for scrapping STFAP. As a state-supported institution, the university would enjoy fairness and social justice through such action, he said.
Torres added that in 1991, 20 percent of the student population are full scholars in UP but it stooped to 2 percent come academic year 2010 to 2011.
Through the years, Torres said that STFAP merely served as a smokescreen for tuition fee increase. In 1989, the implementation of STFAP increased the base tuition from 150 to 300. The same thing happened in 2007’s rebracketing, with the base rates moving from P300 to P1000 per unit.
Torres also cited that even UP President Alfredo Pascual admitted the current STFAP was designed as an “income generating scheme” during an earlier dialogue.
According to Guillermo, 60 percent of the national population fall under the lowest income brackets E1 and E2, while only 22 percent belong to bracket B, given the current measures for STFAP assignments.
Assuming that a hundred percent of the earnings from STFAP were to be used to financially support the underprivileged, Guillermo enumerated hypothetical results and inferred that a flat rate approximation would make UP education accessible.
‘Imposible ang libre’
“Scrap, and then what?” was Tejano’s question after Torres’ opening statements.
For Tejano, the ‘Scrap STFAP’ option was a select-your-own-adventure story with only three dead-end options: rollback base tuition rates to P300 per unit, use Congress pork barrel to fund the deficit, or free tuition for all students. Such ends were “impossible,” he said.
Professor Monsod elaborated on the reason for focusing on tuition discount.
“The highly unequal access to education is there, UP can’t solve it,” she said, citing the high dropout rates in the country.
Monsod traced the bracketing system of STFAP, emphasizing the need for well-to-do students to pay as much as they can to help the poor. With the present tuition fee system, everybody is actually being subsidized. Such was a flaw, she said.
“Why would you subsidize those who can pay?” Monsod added.
While she agreed that education is a right, Monsod believed that UP education is a privilege. It was quite impossible to expect that the University would get full state subsidy from the government –thus, that reform is more doable, according to Monsod.
Contrary to Guillermo’s argument, Tejano also claimed that scrapping STFAP was an injustice since in that scenario, students in bracket A and B would pay less while those under brackets C to E would pay beyond their means.
He asserted that “Reform STFAP Now” was a more viable advocacy, offering a 13-point proposition which aims to add, improve or repeal certain provisions in the current bracketing system to ensure efficiency.
“STFAP is not an income generating program, it is an income redistribution program,” Monsod pointed out. She added that if the program is revised accordingly, each would be accommodated according to need and according to ability.
Tejano also assured that there will be no tuition fee hike in reform since it is all about adjusting and rearranging the income threshold. This also aimed to prevent lower brackets from paying tuition that is more than their incomes.
The murmurs were almost deafening as the panel, who also served as student reactors, delivered their individual judgements on the issue.
Eds Gabral sided with Scrap STFAP, saying that socialized tuition would not assure whether a student can continue or finish his UP education. As Gabral used Kristel Tejada’s case, all eyes fell on a man in a gray shirt—Christian Tejada, Kristel’s father.
Kristel Tejada was a UP Manila freshman who committed suicide last March, allegedly due to her inability to settle her dues in the University. According to reports, she was assessed and placed under bracket D, which was far from their actual financial capacity.
Tejada disclosed his experience with the inefficient socialized tuition program and aired his complaints on the system. He further discussed anomalies on the claims of the administrators regarding the promises to those who cannot afford to go the University.
Francine Foronda and Amiel Ayson, however, joined the Reform STFAP advocacy, rooted with their ALYANSA affiliations. Foronda said that it was a grave injustice to the Filipino people to “use their taxes on someone who doesn’t need it that much.”
Ayson also called everyone to “wake up and smell the coffee” that reform had concrete and achievable means.
KAISA’s Bea Achacoso straddled the fence as she called for repeal, banking on the reform propositions offered. She also stressed that full state subsidy would not be sustainable unless their party’s “Six Will Fix” campaign breaks through Congress, which calls for the allocation of six percent of the country’s gross national product to the education sector each year.
In the end, it all boils down to the crucial role of information dissemination for the awareness of not only University officials, but more importantly of the Iskolar ng Bayan whose involvement in this issue is the steering wheel behind the battle to correct the current system.
As two cups of coffee sat in front, it is the choice of every UP student to drink the blend that suits him/her.