MANILA -- Officials of the University of the Philippines (UP) shrugged off on Monday the criticisms that they pushed freshman Kristel Tejada to death by ignoring an appeal to give her more time to pay tuition.
Citing school records, Agulto said Tejada entered UP as a bracket D student, meaning, she should pay only P300 per unit under the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP), which supposedly gives varying discounts on tuition depending on the student's economic status.
On September 27, 2012, she asked the school to re-bracket her to E2 (free tuition fee plus allowance), but Agulto said she failed to submit the supporting documents.
"UP Manila would have accommodated her to the E2 bracket had she presented her supporting records," said Agulto.
The 16-year-old Tejada, daughter of a part-time taxi driver and housewife, availed herself a loan amounting to P6,377 which was due at the end of October 2012 or before the second semester enrolment. UP Manila gave three extensions for her to settle the bill.
Tejada was able to pay off this loan in December 19, making her eligible for another loan. Again, the behavioral sciences student was not able to pay her tuition for the second semester and she appealed only on January 23, 2013, or nine weeks into the current term.
Her mother Blesilda then met Agulto at a gathering of the Association of Parents and Counselors on February 4, where the chancellor asked her to write a formal appeal "so that we would have it properly documented."
Tejada filed for a leave of absence in March 13, two days before she committed suicide through deliberate ingestion of silver jewelry cleaner.
"Our compassion has been questioned a lot in the media. We have been portrayed as cold-hearted and ruthless. There have been persistent reports stating how Mrs.Tejada knelt and begged before me. That never happened. Even Mrs. Tejada has clarified that she never knelt," he said.
Agulto said there is no such thing as "forced" leave of absence and that the "no late payment" policy is consistent with Article 330 of the University Code, which states that "no person who has not duly matriculated may be admitted to classes."
"As in any organization or institution, there are specific guidelines in relation to punctuality. This is not to repress any student but this is a means of putting order, uniformity, and equality among all UP students," he said.
Agulto, who tried to hold back tears at one point in the briefing, called Tejada's death a "very isolated unfortunate case." He said 79 appeals for late payment of tuition were approved by the university from November to December 2012.
"She asked for assistance in line with her educational woes, UP Manila did what they could. Was it enough? Probably not. If only I knew the extent of her difficulties, I personally would have attended to her family's needs," Agulto said.
Even before Tejada's demise, UP president Alfredo Pascual said they are already mapping out ways to make UP education more accessible to everyone.
Included in the agenda is the review of the 24-year-old STFAP.
Pascual, who became the premier state university's leader in 2011, said he will push for the simplification of the STFAP application process and introduce a classification system based on income and expenditure of each household.
The matter will be taken up in the meeting of the Board of Regents, the school's highest policy making body, in April 12.
The briefing also coincided with the week-long "black protest" of militant students led by Kabataan party-list against the supposed unjust policies of higher education institutions like UP.
Oblation statues in all UP campuses nationwide have also been wrapped in black cloth to symbolize the “death of affordable and accessible education” in the Philippines.
At one point, Anakbayan national vice chairperson Anton Dulce took the floor during the press conference to call for the total scrapping of STFAP. He said the UP administration is trying to wash its hands off the suicide case.
In response, Agulto said the university understands the anger and outrage over Tejada's death.
"We dream for them as they aspire for their futures...We do not wish to pose obstacles in realizing their dreams. In fact, we wish even bigger dreams for them," he said.
Classes were also suspended on Monday at the UP Manila campus to mourn Tejada's death. She will be laid to rest at the Manila North Cemetery in Quezon City on Saturday, March 23.
(Virgil Lopez/Glaiza Jarloc/Sunnex)