Suicide of University student shows bankruptcy of Aquino’s neoliberal policies

Mar. 20, 2013

Press Release
19 March 2013

This week is going to be a week of outrage and mourning according to youth and student activists in the Philippines.  The week of actions is in response to the suicide of 16-year-old University of the Philippines-Manila (UPM) student, Kristel Tejada, after she became distraught over missing the deadline for the payment of exuberant and exploitative tuition fees for the upcoming semester.

“The death of this Iskolar ng Bayan is the result of decades of neoliberal policies which has put education out of the reach of the hands of young Filipinos within the Philippines,” said San Francisco Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (SF CHRP) chair Rupert Estanislao.  “Aquino’s acceptance of neoliberal dogma and his insistent drive to shove the Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) down the throats of Filipinos is one of the underlying major factors in the death of this young college freshman.”

The start of out-of-control tuition fees hikes began shortly after the implementation of the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) by then president Cory Aquino when tuition for UP colleges was around P14 a unit. The implementation of STFAP and further tuition hikes was met by fierce resistance by student organizers of the national democratic movement, such as the League of Filipino Students, but shortly after its implementation the price per unit was raised to P40 and is now as high as P1,500 per unit.

“Bowing down to neoliberal dogma, then president Cory Aquino decided to respond to calls from the IMF and World Bank and started putting the education system within her crosshairs but used ‘accessibility’ to education as her stated defense for STFAP,” explained Estanislao.  “But instead of making education more accessible to poor and marginalized youth, the STFAP and the current Aquino administration has put it out of reach.  Now, only about 1% of all students are eligible for free tuition within the UP system.”

Tejada was part of “Bracket D,” which is a classification meant for some of the poorest students entering the university system.  Despite this, she still had to pay P300 per unit and had been recently denied a loan which could have covered some of her tuition costs.

“The death of Tejada is absolutely sickening and shows the true nature of the Aquino regime and the oppressive profit-seeking and soul-crushing institution that is the Philippine educational system,” said Estanislao.  “UPM’s motives for sucking profits out of its students caused them to ignore the pleas of the student’s mother, who went down on her knees, begging UPM Chancellor Manuel Agudo to overlook the non-payment issue and also caused them to institute the harmful ‘no late payment’ policy leaving no room for flexibility or compassion.”

When confronted with the Tejada’s death presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte stated that the administration could do nothing about rising tuition fees nor could it move to rollback tuition fees.  According to her, this was solely the responsibility of the Commission on Higher Education.

“During these past few days of mourning and outrage, the Aquino administration has relied on its default response when it comes to any crisis: ‘ignore and obfuscate,’” exclaimed Estanislao.  “The words of Valte show utter disregard for the well-being of students and shows the complete lack of will to take any initiative to better the lives of the Filipino people.  While memorials were happening around the Philippines and on the different UP campuses, Aquino was busy brushing shoulders with the rich and powerful during the opening of a mega-casino in Manila Bay.”

SF CHRP is calling on the administration of UPM to take full responsibility for the death of Tejada and to resign from their positions within UPM.  SF CHRP also recognizes the destructive policies of globalization and neoliberal policies in creating a crisis within the higher education system in the Philippines, and sees the only solution as one in which tuition is brought back down to pre-STFAP levels.  The only way for justice to begin is for the dismantling of STFAP, a rollback on all tuition, and for the resignation of UPM admins.

Rupert Estanislao, chair
Cell: 415.410.7473

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