the mob needs someone to blame

i find it all too easy to blame the university of the philippines in manila for the suicide of one of its students. that is why i am not quick to make it. i do not know all the facts except those which i’ve read online. the student, a freshman and the eldest in a brood, born to working-class parents, struggled with the cost of tuition, was left with no choice but to file for a leave of absence after failing to pay off outstanding student loans, following a policy that many people find to be repressive, if not anti-poor.

but let me ask you this: how many students have had to quit school because they could not pay tuition? how many students have had to apply for loans and dread the day that the debts become due? how many students have had to deal with financial woes that often result in their being deprived a decent education? and how many of those students were driven to suicide?

those who find it easy to blame UP manila seem to think that its policies were the sole reason this freshman decided to end her life. they are unwilling to discuss the possibility that the student may have had problems other than money. i would not even venture a guess because i know too little, and this little knowledge is dangerous, because it makes me want to do what is easy.

in fact, those who point accusing fingers on UP manila have no basis other than speculation and circumstance. that the suicide took place immediately after she filed for LOA seems to support the conclusion that the LOA was the suicide’s proximate cause. but many of those who are quick to blame UP manila and its policies probably do not know how it feels like to look to the future with uncertainty, to fear the possibility of not finishing school, not because one lacks skills or intelligence required to graduate, but because one simply does not have the means.

this reality is both a tragedy and a failure of the school system, particularly of state universities, for students who are otherwise determined to finish school are unable to, simply because they could not pay tuition. i was almost one of those students. in my freshman year at the university of the philippines in diliman, i faced the prospect of skipping the first semester because my parents could not put together the amount i needed to enroll. UP’s socialized tuition scheme made a determination that i would be able to pay and should be paying full.

at P300 per unit, and a full load of 15, the tuition at the time was only slightly over P6,000. it was not a lot of money even then, but it was money we didn’t have. so i had to resort to other ways to get in: i pleaded with strangers my parents knew to apply for student loans and discovered that i could request that a full payment be deferred while i appealed my classification in the socialized tuition scheme. it was a difficult time for me, but i did not blame UP for it. i may have described its policies as skewed and uneven, possibly oppressive, but even when faced with the likelihood of sitting out a year, i knew that neither my family’s poverty, nor the school’s rules were to become hindrances to my getting an education.

despite odds stacked against me, my parents provided me with unwavering moral support to follow my bold ambitions, and UP offered me other opportunities to pursue my studies. i risked my grades by working part-time as a student assistant but hammered myself harder to wrangle scholarships. i did not allow myself to sulk in the depressing realities of my life, nor permitted self-pity to brew into anger. never, during the 15 semesters of UP life that followed did i entertain the possibility of ever quitting school even when it meant that i had to beg, borrow, or yes, even steal.

the suicide brings to light the university’s primitive policies, but i wonder why this tragedy was necessary for us to rage and roar. i do not blame UP manila, not so quickly, but it does not mean this news does not make me sad. i wonder whether she had been given all the options that were available to me when i was in more or less the same situation, and whether things would have been largely different if she had realized that there were other ways.