University of the Philippines: Suicide of a Student Is Wake up Call for Reversal of 300% Tuition Fee Hike

The 300% tuition fee hike is illegal

The University of the Philippines system (UP) hugs the limelight these days owing to the death of a freshman student, Kristel Tejada. She was found dead in her room three days ago. She committed suicide..

The suicide was triggered by her failure to enroll in the UP Manila campus this second semester. Her father failed to pay her tuition fee on time because of poverty. UP Manila administrators say they are only applying the rules on tuition fees. Since availability of cash was already past the deadline, she was required to go on leave of absence. That means she can again enroll in the next semester.

Her father said on television that schooling means a lot to Kristel. She had pinned so much hope on finishing her studies so that she could help out in the family.

UP consists of several campuses: UP Los Banos campus, UP Visayas campus, UP Manila campus, UP Baguio City campus, UP Cebu campus, UP Mindanao campus, and UP Diliman campus where the UP president holds office. There are also smaller units attached to UP. UP is the premier public university in the Philippines. It is the top university in the Philippines, the equivalent of Harvard University in the United States. It has produced most of the top leaders of the Philippines and officers and staffs occupying civil service positions. A lot of UP alumni are holding top positions in other countries, including the United Nations and Food and Agriculture Organization as consultants or head of staffs .

I am a graduate of the UP Los Banos campus in 1972.

Back to the issue that brought about the suicide of Kristel: poverty.

Her family is hard pressed at supporting her through college. In 2007, UP increased its tuition fees by 300%. It used to be 300 pesos per unit before the tuition fee hike. it is now 1000 pesos per unit. If a student enrolls 18 units a semester s/he must pay 18,000 pesos. That is a lot of money for her father who is only a part-time driver of a tricycle.

To start with, UP is a state university, meaning it is funded by the Philippine government. For so long, UP had been lagging in equipment, supplies and services for inadequate budget. There was a lament that UP is very good in performance despite its low budget. Philippine congress had been very frugal in terms of giving budget to UP. These reasons spurred the Board of Regents to hike tuition fees. UP has a Board of Regents, a council that governs it. The UP President, together with the chancellors of the various campuses, implements the resolutions of the Board,

A lot of talented high school graduates take entrance examinations for UP. They come from all over the country, mostly grassroots, poor. UP once had the lowest tuition fees in the country that gives quality education. Besides, UP is prestigious in the country and abroad.

UP has its own charter since its founding in 1908. That is, it was founded by legislation and its budget given by Philippine congress.

UP Manila campus chancellor and UP president said yesterday (March 18,2013) that the suicide of Kristel came in the middle of reviews by UP of its tuition fee administration.

The proper issue is not mere administration of tuition fees. The proper issues are:

Democratization. As premier public university UP services should be available to Filipinos, especially the talented poor who cannot afford the tuition fees of private schools. At the time of the tuition fee hike in 2007 UP was already far from being democratized. Only 1% of its students came from the poor; 99% came from the middle class and oligarchs. What is the score of UP on democratization after the 300% tuition fee hike?

Performance. There is no question that UP is the best performing school in the Philippines. This is based on the performance of its graduates on the percentage of its graduates who passed the civil service examinations for public service. UP graduates have consistently topped the civil service examinations. UP is also the citadel of science in the country, it being non sectarian.

Scholarship financial support. UP has scholarship financial support but inadequate. There are private scholarship grants but few.

I myself was a recipient of the UP Student Fellowship that entitled me to free tuition and stipend of 75 pesos per month. As a freshman I earned this Fellowship by participating in a competitive examination. My parents, being farmers, could hardly support me through college. At times when I lost my Fellowship, I got employment as student assistant in the following semester and tried hard to regain my Fellowship. The required minimum was 2.0 as general average without a grade of 4.0 or incomplete. By making this general average, a student is qualified for this Fellowship.

Legality of the tuition fee hike. UP creation, together with the provision of its budget, was by legislation. The tuition fee hike in 2007 was by means of a resolution of the Board of Regents. The prime issue is: the provision of tuition fees was by legislation. Could this legislation be superseded by a Board of Regents resolution?

Could the authority to charge tuition fee be separated from the amount of tuition fee? This sub issue arises from the fact that every year Philippine congress used to allot UP budget before 2007. So it may be said that the authority to charge emanates from the UP charter, but the amount of tuition is specified by the Board of Regents. I myself reject this hair splitting.

My contention is that the act of the Board of Regents in raising the tuition fees of UP in 2007 supersedes the provision on tuition fees of the legislation pertaining to UP. The abrogation of that provision on tuition, in fact, by the Board of Regents is illegal.

The UP charter has precedence over the resolution of the Board of Regents. Take a case in the United States from which we adopted our legal system.

In the US 56th Congress, early 1900s, there was a disagreement as to the appointed of committee chairman in the House of Representatives. The House Rules committee said that it was the prerogative of the Speaker of the House, Joseph Cannon, to appoint a chairman as he wished. Representative George Tecumseh. Norris, a maverick Republican, disagreed. The speaker used House rules to ride roughshod over the Lower House and virtually dictate upon it. Norris saw that there is a constitutional provision on chairmanship of House committees (Norris, G. The Fighting Liberal. 1961). The constitutional provision cannot be superseded by the House Rules on committees. Norris won on his resolution that the speaker should not be given discretion on the appointment of committee chairmen. Needless to say, Norris's move toppled Joseph Cannon from the pedestal of his power; Cannon resigned as speaker of the House of Representatives.

Time to review

It is time to review the extent of democratization of UP since the tuition fee hike in 2007.

Scholarship financial support is in dire need of review as well. One premise of the tuition fee hike, according to the Board of Regents, is to gather more scholarship financial support from private and public donors. So far that premise and promise have not materialized.

The question is: Who should finance UP? The tuition fee hike has placed on the parents of students the responsibility of financing UP.

When the tuition fee hike was being debated, Philippine congress did not raise a finger. It has ignored the issue up until now. That is despite the fact that a lot of congressmen and senators are graduates of UP. To name incumbent UP graduate senators: Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate president; Mirriam Defensor-Santiago; Joker Arroyo; Francis Escudero; Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada; Loren Legarda; Pia Cayetano, Franklin Drilon, Edgardo Angara, and Manny Villar. That is, 10 out of 24 or almost one-half of the whole senate.

It is clear that congressmen and senators care more about the whooping unaccounted for pork barrel than the UP budget. A representative, over 250 of them, gets 170 million pesos of pork barrel each year. Senators, 24 of them, each likewise gets 200 million pesos each year. This pork barrel is given to them to personally control. Why unaccounted for? The reason is that no official receipt of expenditure is required. A representative or a senator is required to give a certification of expenditure only. And the Commission of audit is not authorized to recheck and match the certification of expenditure against purported items or services purchased. One more ruse is that a senator or representative can give financial support to a non-government organization (NGO) and issue a certificate of expenditure for it. Now it is up for the NGO to procure official receipt for items or services it purchased. It is the NGO that is audited against real items and services.

That is why a representative or a senator can corner part of that pork barrel for use in political campaigns during elections.

Now senators are quarreling over who got more or who got less of the savings of the budget of Philippine Senate. They are barking on audit (up to certification of expenditure only) when the real issue is that whooping unaccounted for pork barrel. The law that authorizes it should be abrogated. It is an act of social injustice, immorality.

What should be done

UP, if it is true to its vaunted intelligence and sense of morality should bark on the right tree. That tree is the legislation and the Board of Regent’s resolution hiking UP tuition fees.

And the Philippine congress and the Philippine President should face up to their obligations to the nation.

Board of Regent’s resolution raising the tuition fees by 300% should be reversed. The Philippine government should give more than enough funds to the University of the Philippines.

The present UP administration should move for the abrogation of tuition fee hike. It should lobby Congress for a bigger UP budget.

UP alumni and the Filipino people should help out in these endeavors.

New entries as of January 18,2014

It turns out that the manner of cornering part of the congressional pork barrel, Priority Development Fund, is very mild compared with the actual corrupt practices.

Whistle blowers revealed it last year. A senator or congressmen gives financial support to projects through a Cabinet department. For example, the financial support is 100 thousand pesos. Now comes a non-government organization (NGO) that offers delivery of services to supposed beneficiaries of the financial support. The project costing 100 thousand pesos is contracted out to the NGO. Once the NGO had encashed the check for 100 thousand pesos it retains 50 thousand pesos and gives 50 thousand pesos to the senator or congressman who had given the financial support. The NGO gives a report of delivering services to beneficiaries that are mostly fictitious. Sometimes names of supposed beneficiaries are copied from the telephone book whose signatures are affixed by the staff of the NGO.

Not all senators and congressmen are involved in this pork barrel scam. However, some three senators and about ten congressmen have been identified as involved. Some 10 billion pesos have been embezzled by this scam according to a report of the Commission on Audit. Cases have been filed with a special court; investigation is now going on.

A public outcry had been raised against PDAF. Late last year, the Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled that PDAF is unconstitutional. This is a reversal of its earlier ruling that PDAF is constitutional. One reason for the first ruling could be owing to the influence of the former chief justice of the Supreme Court. Also last year, that chief justice was impeached. (I have a Hub, "Chief Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court Impeached").

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