16-year old Kristel Tejada aspired to become a doctor. For her, education is their family’s only treasure. She was a Behavioral Science student of UP Manila.

In 2013, she wrote a letter seeking for support to sustain her education following the economic woes their family endured. Tejada said their family depended solely on her father’s income as a part-time taxi driver.

However, Tejada was forced to file a leave of absence (LOA) and surrender her ID because of her inability to pay the P10,000 tuition. Her father, who had just lost the job in the middle of the year, pleaded with the administration of UP Manila to allow her to continue studying, or else permit her to sit in on classes. But her name was then taken off in the class lists and seat plans despite her attendance in classes.

Two days after Tejada filed for LOA, she disappeared. Until one day, she took her life from drinking silver cleaner.

For 11 years, various students observe March 15 as the day to remember and demand justice for the tragic death of Tejada, a fellow iskolar ng bayan and victim that fell in a commercialized and repressive education system in the Philippines.

Kristel’s struggle continues to resonate

“Hindi lang suicide ang nangyari kay Kristel kundi isang murder. Pinatay siya ng parehong sistemang dapat ay kumakalinga at humuhubog sa kanya. At katulad niya, ang mga estudyante ngayon ay binibigo ng nakamamatay na sistema,” said Rebecca Baliton, regional coordinator for National Union of Students of the Philippines National Capital Region (NUSP – NCR).

[Kristel did not die of suicide, but of murder. She was killed by the same system that should have cared for and moulded her. And like her, students continue to be frustrated by the same murderous system.]

She further lambasted the continuing commercialization of the education system in the country even after the enactment of the Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (simply referred to as the Free Tuition Law) in 2017.

“Nariyan na nga ang free tuition law pero samu’t saring bayarin pa rin ang naisisingit nilang ipataw sa mga estudyante. May mga requirements na babayaran nang malaki na pinapa-shoulder sa mga estudyante. Ang napakataas na gastos sa pamasahe, tirahan, pagkain, at iba pa,” said Baliton.

[The free tuition law is already there but they are still trying to impose various fees on the students. There are requirements with hefty fees or costs shouldered by the students. And there are the high costs of fare, accommodation, food, etc.]

In 2022, Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairperson Prospero de Vera III reported that the free tuition program benefited more than two million students since Academic Year (AY) 2018-2019 up until AY 2021-2022. Of the number, 1.97 million students across 220 higher education institutions did not have to pay their tuition.

However, some students are no longer covered in the program following the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) which was approved in 2018. Among the exemptions were students taking up law and medicine as second degrees. 

“Nakakalungkot kasi umasa kami noong 3rd year kami (sa undergraduate) na aabutan ang free tuition sa medical school,” said UP Manila student Alec Miranda.

[We thought that by the time we are third year medicine students, we will be covered by the free tuition law.]

Miranda finished his nursing degree in 2023. He then enrolled in Medicine Proper which is a five-year study of basic and clinical sciences, humanities and internship in the university.

In UP Manila, students qualified under Integrated Liberal Arts and Medicine (INTARMED) program are covered in the free tuition law. INTARMED is a special program that shortens the whole medical education by two years.

In 2017, the CHED and the Department of Budget Management allocated P317.1 million to provide free tuition for medical students in eight state universities and colleges including UP Manila. Students can avail the free tuition subsidy through Cash Grants to Medical Students Enrolled in State Universities and Colleges (CGMS-SUCs) program.

However, the CGMS-SUCs program only lasted until AY 2019-2020 following the slashed budget of CHED in 2020. The program’s budget declined from year to year until it was discontinued.

Academic YearBudget for CGMS-SUCs 
AY 2017-2018P317.1 million 
AY 2018-2019P250 million-67.1 million or 21.16% cut
AY 2019-2020P167 million-83 million or 33.2 cut

The same year following CGMS-SUCs discontinuance, Sen. Ralph Recto filed Senate Bill No. 1130 which seeks to amend the free tuition law by including the provision of tuition subsidy to qualified medical students in SUCs.

“Pagkapasok ng Lateral Unit 3 (LU III), 1st year medical school, parang nasa around P51,000 ang babayaran per semester. We have an option to apply for a discount, 33% ang baseline na ibinibigay under socialized tuition scheme (STS),” Miranda shared.

[Upon entering Lateral Unit 3 (LU III), the first year of medical school, the tuition fee is around P51,000 per semester. There is an option to apply for a discount, with a baseline of 33% provided under the socialized tuition scheme (STS)]

The STS listed Tejada was included in bracket D. Her family believed she should be in bracket E2 to avail free tuition and would even receive a stipend of P2,400 per month or P12,000 per semester.

STS was formerly known as the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) which was implemented in 1989. Youth groups have dubbed these socialized tuition schemes in the national university as “smokescreens of tuition increase” because they replaced free education or zero tuition and implemented a scheme where students will now pay tuition based on their family’s income. Most students ended up paying tuition while only a small number were able to study for free.

Under the STS, student’s default tuition is set at P1,500 per unit (with a regular semester load of 15 units or higher) unless they apply for lower-paying bracket by proving their poverty in order to get a discount. This means those who fall under Bracket A pay P1,500 per unit; Bracket B students pay P1,000; Bracket C, P600, and Bracket D, P300. Students under Bracket E are exempted from paying tuition.

Miranda further shared that there are three options for medical students to avail free tuition or discount: it can be through scholarships, STS or Medical Scholar Return Service (MSRS).

After the discontinuation of CGMS-SUCs program, CHED administered MSRS under the “Doktor Para sa Bayan” Law. Under MSRS, students will have to take a mandatory return service in exchange of a tuition subsidy.

“Isang represibo na polisiya itong MSRS na magbibigay ng return service over pa doon sa return service na ibibigay mo sa college mo,” Miranda stressed.

[The MSRS is a repressive policy that will provide a return service over and above the return service you will render to your college]

The six out of seven colleges or the “white colleges” and four extension schools in School of Health Sciences in UP Manila must undergo Return Service Agreement (RSA) as an “absolute admission requirement” since its implementation in 2009.

With RSA in effect, students with 60 units enrolled in the university must stay and work in the country for a minimum of two years. Those who breach the contract due to being unable to complete the return service program must render payment as an option. 

The agreement also caused some to remain in their degree programs despite failing or lacking interest, to enroll less than the regular load per semester to avoid reaching the 60 units limit, or drop out of school completely.

For Miranda, he shared that has yet to render his return service in his nursing undergraduate degree.

“Sa original return service contract na pinirmahan, pwede siyang maging add-ons. Pwedeng i-serve as a doctor, in the future namin ito ise-serve,” Miranda said.

[In the original return service contract I signed, the MSRS can be an add on. I can serve this as a doctor in the future.]

The problem however, according to Miranda, his undergrad college would push them to serve their return service duty as nurses.

“Marami siyang problemang kasama kasi pipigilan nito kaming magtrabaho bilang doktor, matatagalan ang training namin bilang doktor. Isa pa, patient safety. By that time, nakalimutan na siguro namin yong mga responsibilities na gawin bilang nurses dahil 5 years kaming nag-aral bilang doktor,” Miranda lamented.

[There are many problems with this because it will prevent us from working as doctors, our training as doctors will take longer. Another thing, patient safety. By that time, we must have forgotten the responsibilities to do as nurses because we studied for 5 years as doctors.]

Miranda shared there are 201 students enrolled in his batch, of which majority availed STS.

“Nakakalungkot kasi hanggang ngayon mayroon pa ring tuition knowing na state college ito. Sa personal na karanasan, hindi pa ako bayad sa tuition kahit mayroon akong discount kasi malaking bawas siya sa kabuhayan. ‘Yong P51,000 na iyon kahit nabawasan na ito at naging P30,000; na kahit P30,000 iyon at mura rito sa UP ay malaking bawas iyon sa pang-araw araw pa naming panggastos,” he said.

[It’s sad because until now there is still tuition knowing that this is a state college. From personal experience, I have not yet been paid for tuition even though I have a discount because it is a big deduction from my livelihood. That P51,000 even though it has been reduced to P30,000; that even if it’s P30,000 and it’s cheap here in UP, that’s a big reduction in our daily expenses.]

This year, P36.7 billion is allocated to CHED, with P23.4 billion allocation to Tertiary Education Subsidy and P5.5 for Free Higher Education.

Under the 2024 General Appropriations Act (GAA), the UP System is allotted 24.7 billion, or a P508-million increase from last year’s budget at  P24.263 billion. NUSP NCR said such increase is a minimum victory after the heated deliberation in Congress following the Vice President Sara Duterte’s confidential and intelligence fund (CIF) fiasco.

Charter change will worsen the education system

“Pinagkocompete tayo ng kasalukuyang tipo ng ating edukasyon sa isa’t isa. Napakamapanghati ng ating edukasyon na tinutulak tayo nito para tingnan ang kapwa estudyante natin bilang kompetensya sa halip na katuwang sa pagpapaunlad ng bansa,” Baliton stressed.

[Our current type of education makes us compete with each other. Our education is so divisive that it pushes us to see our fellow students as competitors instead of partners in the development of the country.]

Baliton further decried that students have since been subjected to academic repression due to commercialization driven by a colonial mentality basing on standards of international or global competencies.

“Ang lahat ng ito ilang ulit pang lalala sa ilalim ng charter change ni Marcos Jr! Lantaran na nilang hahayaang magnakaw ang mga dayuhan mula sa ating mga likas na yaman at pangasiwaan ang ating mga institusting pang-edukasyon para tuluyan na tayong papasukuin sa interes nila,” she added.

[All of this will get worse under Marcos Jr’s charter change! They will openly allow foreigners to steal from our natural resources and control our educational institutions to completely subjugate us to their interests.]

Educational institutions would be affected in the proposed economic provisions for the 1987 Constitution. According to Baliton, this will further open schools to intensified repression in forms of campus militarization, railroading of Mandatory ROTC, tuition hikes, budget cuts among others.

The House deliberations on Resolution of Both House 7 or the charter change proposal in the Lower House will convene for its third and final hearing on March 20.

“Sa pag-alala natin sa pagpanaw ni Kristel, huwag nating hayaang maapula ang apoy ng ating galit sa sistema. Bagkos ay hayaan pa natin itong magliyab upang bigyang lakas ang ating panawagan para sa hustisya. Patuloy nating ipaglalaban ang isang makabansa, siyentipiko, at maka-masang edukasyon,” said Baliton.

[As we remember Kristel’s passing, let’s not let the fire of our anger at the system go out. But let’s let it burn to strengthen our call for justice. We will continue to fight for a national, scientific, and mass-oriented education.]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here