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TIMELINE: After 5 months, UST sets refund scheme

At the onset of the community quarantine, the University vowed to refund the unused school fees of their students, three months after the May 6 memorandum released by the Secretary-General.

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Fernardine Hernandez/TomasinoWeb

At the onset of the community quarantine, the University vowed to refund the unused school fees of their students, three months after the May 6 memorandum released by the Secretary-General.

In between class suspension and the memorandum, there were collective efforts from students, parents, and various organizations for the immediate release of an updated table of fees and refund system, varying from letters of appeal, online petitions, to social media campaigns. 

Here are what transpired during those five months:

March 9 – Manila Mayor Isko Moreno halted face-to-face classes after the Department of Health reported four new cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), pushing the total number of cases in the country to 10. 

March 15 – Manila was placed under a community quarantine following the order of President Rodrigo Duterte, due to the continuous rise of confirmed COVID-19 cases, especially in the city capital. 

March 19 – The Central Student Council (CSC), along with Local Student Councils, submitted a request to suspend online classes amid the concerns of the students with internet connectivity and mental well-being.

April 11 – League of Filipino Students UST initiated an online petition that immediately garnered more than 11,400 signatures. The petition outlined a four-point demand which focused on guaranteeing the stakeholders’ “well-being, livelihood, and democratic rights.”

April 17 – CSC wrote a letter which sought to either mass promote students and end the semester or to freeze the remaining term. 

April 20 – Then newly incumbent Very. Rev. Rector Fr. Richard Ang, O.P. responded by saying that the University must “allow learning to succeed” and assured Thomasians of a refund on a “per class basis” due to the suspension of classes. 

“We wish for you to earn that ‘moral and spiritual certificate’ that says, ‘I fought COVID-19 in the education front and I defeated it!’” Rector Ang said, which drew flak from students on social media.

“We understand that the shift to online learning has added financial implications, not only for [the students] but to the immediate family,” he added. “The amount may either be given back in cash or may be credited in the succeeding enrolment.”

May 26 – Rector Ang released a new letter announcing the implementation of the “Enriched Virtual Mode,” which would make use of blended learning, both synchronous and asynchronous, for the first term of the Academic Year (AY) 2020-2021. 

The letter mentioned the extension of financial assistance to students by renewing existing scholarships, as well as implementing no tuition increase and flexible, staggered payment schemes. 

June 6 – The interim CSC President Robert Dominic Gonzales said in a tweet that two letters were already sent to the Office of the Vice-Rector for Finance, demanding updates on the refund.

Aside from the details of the refund scheme, the letters, which were also undersigned by local student councils, inquired on the adjusted table of fees as new AY shifts fully to virtual mode. 

“Upon seeing the released schedule of fees for the freshmen students, there were still portions of the ‘miscellaneous’ [and] ‘other’ fees, which the council presidents [and] student body deemed anomalous [and] should have been removed given the proposed online class scheme,” Gonzales said. 

“These concerns were raised because a lot of our fellow students’ families are currently exhausting necessary means for proper allocation of their budget in anticipation of academic spending and other matters,” the letter of appeal further stressed. 

June 13 – The University released its updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page regarding the fees, enrollment, and refunds, as the pandemic brought office work to a blended mode set-up as well. 

June 18 – Lawyer Emilie Gemanil-Espina, a parent of a student in the University, took to Facebook the alleged “unreasonable” miscellaneous and other fees imposed by the University since classes will be held virtually. 

Espina posted a copy of the letter that she submitted to the University administration. Among the fees which she questioned was the energy fee as there would be “no electronic consumption for the University considering the use of online learning.” 

The University, however, explained in its FAQs page that the energy fee will be used to maintain the air conditioning units and other equipment in the campus. 

Espina contested the laboratory fee, as well as the medical and dental fee. She organized a petition coming from the parents, which has gathered 5,400 signatures, contesting the fees for the AY 2020-2021.

August 14 – The University formally started a new academic year, with the traditional Misa de Apertura held online, in compliance with the government protocols. 

August 28 – In a memorandum from the Office of the Vice-Rector for Finance, the University released the procedure of the refund scheme, with various options on how the students can claim their unused school fees. 

The memo stated that the newly-adjusted schedule of fees suspended medical and dental, energy, cultural, retreat and recollection, sports, and infrastructure development fees. 

Acting Vice-Chancellor for Finance Fr. Roberto Luanzon Jr., O.P. said that additional adjustments on college/program-specific fees are still under review and in consultation with each unit. Fr. Luanzon assured the Thomasians that further clarifications would be announced later. 

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Mga Tomasinong student-leader, dismayado sa pagtaas ng downpayment ng matrikula

“It doesn’t feel compassionate or caring at all to be on a scaled payment system. Not every student in the University has the definite means to carry on with their education, especially in times like this,” sabi ni Jazul.

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Nanawagan ang mga Tomasinong student leader sa Unibersidad na bigyang-linaw at agarang abiso hinggil sa pagtaas ng downpayment ng matrikula para sa AY 2021 – 2022.

Noong ika-23 ng Hulyo, matatandaang ibinalik ng Unibersidad ang 50 porsyentong downpayment sa matrikula ng mga freshmen kasunod ng anunsyo na hindi ito magpapatupad ng tuition hike sa panibagong akademikong taon.

Nagpahiwatig ng pagkadismaya ang tagapagsalita ng Central Student Council (CSC) Central Board na si Nathan Agustin, Internal Vice-President ng Communication Arts Students Association (CASA) na si Jeia Jazul, at Internal Vice-President ng UST Journalism Society na si Sophia Castillo sa kakulangan ng komunikasyon at representasyon ng mga mag-aaral sa mga inilalabas na patakaran ng Unibersidad.

“They should have consulted us through announcements man lang, even if hindi direkta agad sa councils, […] so that we may immediately say our views or if hindi na talaga mababago, makapag-prepare sana tayo, ‘di ba?” ani ni Agustin sa isang panayam sa TomasinoWeb.

Binigyang-diin ni Agustin ang pagkakaroon ng maayos na konsultasyon sa pagitan ng Unibersidad at mga mag-aaral bago magpatupad ng mga polisiya para maiwasan ang paulit-ulit na batikos mula sa mga mag-aaral ukol rito.

Ipinaliwanag din niya ang pagkakaroon ng representasyon ng mga mag-aaral sa pagpapatupad ng iba’t ibang polisiya sa nakaraang State of Thomasian Address 2021 noong ika-24 ng Hulyo.

READ  New central board officers to push for students’ code, other pro-student policies

Sa isang panayam, nagbigay ng karagdagang paliwanag si Jazul kung bakit mahalaga na bigyang-pansin ang mga hinaing ng mga mag-aaral sa mga ipinatutupad ng Unibersidad.

“Students are the main stakeholders of the University. The school should be listening to the concerns of its students, especially financial [matters]. Instead of increasing the fees, I would ask to please keep it at how much we’ve been paying before when consideration of the pandemic was still a concern,” aniya.

Kinuwestiyon din ni Agustin ang muling pagsingil ng mga dagdag na bayarin mula sa mga mag-aaral katulad ng energy, medical, at dental fees na hindi nagamit ng mga mag-aaral noong nakaraang termino.

“Although there are no tuition fee increases, tandaan natin, hiwalay ang other at miscellaneous fees. Wala ngang tuition fee increase, meron namang other fee increase, meron namang miscellaneous fee increase,” sabi ni Agustin.

Mas mababang downpayment, hindi pa rin sapat umano

Ayon kay Agustin, sa kanilang pagpupulong kasama ang Office of the Vice Rector for Finance (OVRF), sumang-ayon at binaba na ng Unibersidad ang downpayment mula sa 50 porsyento ng matrikula sa P15,000. 

Dagdag pa niya, sa kabila ng pagbaba ng downpayment, masyado pa rin itong mataas para sa ilang mga mag-aaral na nakararanas ng problemang pinansyal dahil sa mas pinahigpit na lockdown dulot ng lumalalang pandemya.

“Even if this amount may not be too much for some, it is too much for others, so there [are] students who may be discouraged to enroll, especially if they don’t know na may means pala para makapag-enroll sila by writing a letter to OVRF,” ani ni Agustin.

Para kay Jazul, hindi nakabubuti ang pagtaas ng mga bayarin sa kabila ng nagpapatuloy na pandemya dahil napipilitang tumigil sa pag-aaral ang mga apektadong mag-aaral.

“It doesn’t feel compassionate or caring at all to be on a scaled payment system. Not every student in the University has the definite means to carry on with their education, especially in times like this,” sabi ni Jazul.

READ  Birtwal na klase, hamon sa mga mag-aaral ng unang taon sa kolehiyo

Inihambing ni Castillo sa isang bitin na eksena sa pelikula ang kanyang pangamba na posibleng hindi siya makapagtapos ng kanyang huling taon sa Unibersidad dahil sa nasabing pagtaas ng bayarin.

“Natatakot ako kasi paano if, yes, naka-enroll ka this semester, pero what if [sa] next sem, tumaas ulit ang tuition or ang downpayment? Parang nasa peak ka ng pag-aaral sabay cut eh,” aniya.

Nitong Biyernes, pinalawig ng Unibersidad ang enrollment para sa unang termino ng panibagong akademikong taon hanggang Miyerkules, ika-25 ng Agosto.

Iniulat ng Department of Education na halos isang milyong mag-aaral ang hindi nakapag-enrol ngayong AY 2021-2022.

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Birtwal na klase, hamon sa mga mag-aaral ng unang taon sa kolehiyo

“It really feels isolating, especially as students working alone [sa activities o schoolworks]. So feel mo na if there’s actual learning ba talaga, may na-absorb ka bang relevant for your future work?” sabi ni Pellejo.

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(Christine Annmarie Tapawan/TomasinoWeb)

Noong ika-9 ng Marso 2020, sinuspinde ng lokal na pamahalaan ng Maynila ang klase sa lahat ng antas. Ito ang pinakahuling pagsuspinde ng klase sa face-to-face na setup.

Ang Batch 2024 ang unang pangkat ng mga mag-aaral na hindi pa nakararanas ng face-to-face setup dulot ng COVID-19. Mananatiling sa online gaganapin ang pagsisimula ng klase sa panibagong akademikong taon, na ikinalungkot ng ilang mga Tomasino.

“Hindi katulad kapag [n]asa school ka, you’re set kasi na magtrabaho sa school, hindi katulad sa bahay,” ani ni Angela Atejera, isang mag-aaral mula sa BS Medical Technology, sa isang panayam sa TomasinoWeb.

Dagdag pa niya, iba pa rin ang pakiramdam kapag siya ay nasa loob ng paaralan dahil kasama niya ang kanyang kapwa mag-aaral na mayroon ding gawaing pampaaralan at maaari niyang pagtanungan kapag siya ay nalilito sa isang aralin.

Sa isa pang panayam, ang kawalan ng sapat na pisikal na interaksyon ang nagiging dahilan ng pagka “drain” o pagkaubos ng lakas ng mga mag-aaral.

“Totoo nga ‘yong sinasabi nila na nakakasira siya ng mental health kasi before diba we have our friends to vent out—[ka]pag example mababa nakuha sa quiz or may kahit anong problema—pero ngayon parang all we have is ourselves,” ani ni Rein Bernadette Del Rosario, isang mag-aaral mula sa AB Journalism.

“Iba pa rin talaga ‘yong feeling na nasa university talaga then you meet your classmates and professors personally,” dagdag pa nito.

Gaya ni Atejera, pangalawang taon na rin ni Del Rosario sa kolehiyo. 

Ayon kay Therese Pellejo, isang sikologo at dating propesor mula sa College of Science, malaki ang negatibong epekto ng pagkawala ng pisikal na interaksyon sa loob ng klase sapagkat nakakadagdag ito sa “anxiety” at “stress” ng mga mag-aaral.

“Ngayon na naging online, there’s that illusion that teachers have na students have more time, so we therefore should give more workload—which overwhelms the students,” sabi ni Pellejo.

Dagdag nito, dahil sa mga patong-patong na gawain at stress, maaaring magdulot ito sa mas kaunting impormasyon na matututunan ng mga mag-aaral. 

“It really feels isolating, especially as students working alone [sa activities o schoolworks]. So feel mo na if there’s actual learning ba talaga, may na-absorb ka bang relevant for your future work?” sabi ni Pellejo.

Pagsalubong ng isang freshman

Gaya ng Baccalaureate Mass, ginanap sa UST Minecraft ang taun-taong Thomasian Welcome Walk na tradisyon ng Unibersidad.

(TINGNAN: Naghahanda ang mga freshmen na tumawid sa Arch of the Centuries sa loob UST Minecraft ngayong Thomasian Welcome Walk.)

Ibinahagi ni Marie Bernadine Pascua, isang AB Legal Management freshman, ang lungkot at panghihinayang na hindi niya mararanasan ang mga tradisyon at pagdiriwang na isinasagawa tuwing idinaraos ang freshmen week nang face-to-face.

“Kahit na nagawan naman ng paraan upang mapagdiwang ang mga ito sa birtwal na pamamaraan, iba parin kasi ang pakiramdam at ang karanasan kung magaganap ito nang pisikal,” ani ni Pascua.

“Gayunpaman, eenjoy-in ko pa rin ito dahil sigurado akong lubos itong pinaghandaan ng iba’t ibang mga departamento at organisasyon sa UST,” dagdag pa nito.

Binigyang-diin din ni Pascua ang pagbibigay ng solusyon sa mga problemang naranasan niya noong Senior High School, tulad ng “communication at learning barrier,” para sa panibagong akademikong taon.

“Sa kadahilanang iba’t iba ang sitwasyon ng mga guro at mag-aaral sa ganitong panahon, ine-expect ko rin ang pagkakaroon ng konsiderasyon sa bawat isa ngayong may pandemya,” aniya.

Noong Biyernes, ika-30 ng Hulyo, inanunsyo ni Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque sa isang press briefing na isasailalim muli sa enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) ang Metro Manila mula ika-6 hanggang ika-20 ng Agosto. Dahil dito, ipinagpaliban muna sa ika-12 ng Agosto ang pagsisimula ng klase upang magbigay ng sapat na oras ng paghahanda sa bagong paghihigpit na ito.

Matatandaan din na noong Marso, binanggit ni Commission on Higher Education chair Prospero de Vera III na malabong maibabalik sa tradisyunal na face-to-face classes ang mga paaralan at ipagpapatuloy na ipatupad ang flexible learning. Kasama ng mga ulat mula kay Ian Patrick Laqui

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Persecution, not activism, besets student leaders

Since last year, several student activists have been red-tagged, and they were either in the student councils or were vying for the positions. 

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Ian Patrick Laqui/TomasinoWeb

A student leader’s affiliation with a human rights organization resulted in his non-readmission in the next academic term, igniting suspicions of a university administration-led witch hunt among Thomasians. 

Since last year, several student activists have been red-tagged by the school administration, along with the right-wing organization “The Right Thomasian.” The red-tagged students were either in the student council or were vying for the positions. 

The hunt first plagued student activists at the University of Santo Tomas, but at present, even student leaders are no longer exempted. They are also primary targets. 

Witch hunt, defined as an attempt to find and punish a particular group of people who are blamed for something, often because of their opinions and not because they have done anything wrong.

Shoti Ampatuan made headlines in January after being persecuted for “joining unrecognized organizations.” The show-cause order released by the University barred him from enrolling in the next academic year. 

Ampatuan was also removed from his head council position in the Senior High School Student Council (SHS-SC) , and was denied his certificate of good moral character, which is an essential requirement for admission in some schools.

“I became worried about my safety, knowing that it became rampant [and] that even my former school and teachers knew about this,” he said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

Ampatuan revealed that his mental health deteriorated due to threatening and intimidating social media comments, which overwhelmed him, having almost five months left to serve in the student council. 

I feel like may pagkukulang ako knowing na I still have four to five remaining months to prove myself, to prove that the council prepared a lot from the body and the constituents,” Ampatuan said.

‘I never felt safe’

Avery Alo, another SHS student and a presidential candidate in the SHS-SC elections, also faced charges from the SHS administration, and a parent accused him of recruiting students to join Anakbayan. 

Alo almost had the same fate as Amputan but was acquitted on Feb. 15 due to a “lack of sufficient evidence.” He “never felt safe” after the incident and receiving threats and intimidation through SMS. 

Nandoon pa rin po ‘yung threat of being sent a show cause letter or being red-tagged, and I think ‘yon po ang isa sa mga effects sa akin ng red-tagging, like I never felt safe anymore in our university,” he said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

“Honestly, I was scared na baka matulad po ‘yung nangyari kay Kuya Shoti na mangyari din sa akin, because alam naman po natin na tinanggal po siya sa council then ‘di po siya bibigyan ng good moral […] I feared for my stay in the university,” he said.

He expressed concern that UST is being used as a tool for the witch-hunting of progressive groups and called for the administration to change specific provisions to prevent further incidents.

I think po it’s high time po para baguhin ‘yung mga provisions na ‘yon kasi it does not do anything [good] to the students,” Alo said.

“It does not help them to improve upon themselves which is lagi nila pong sinasabi ng aming admin na tutulungan daw nila po kami na mas maging better students, which in that case, it only endangers students and it does not even help us in any way,” he added.

Unwarranted labelling

Jeric Mataga, a second-year IICS student, was in the middle of his virtual miting de avance speech on April 30 when the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) ordered him to change his background showing a protest. 

“I’m literally going to talk about red-tagging here and they’re going to red-tag me because of my background,” Mataga said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

When asked about his thoughts on OSA’s alleged red-tagging, Mataga said the students deserve fairness and justice rather than unwanted labelling.

“There are many things much worse than student activism. Keep that in mind. The students deserve fairness and justice, not unwarranted scrutiny and red-tagging,” he added.

As a student activist himself, Mataga advocated for the formation of the student’s code to amplify students’ voices.

He has also been red-tagged The Right Thomasian, which is no stranger to committing such acts. It notoriously labeled student leaders, ordinary students, and even professors in the university.

Nagalit ako. Sa dami-daming pwedeng gawin sa buhay, mangrered-tag ka pa. ‘Di ka na nga nakatulong, nakakapahamak ka pa ng tao,” he said in an interview.

In facing the threats and labelling, Mataga “did not even flinch,” saying that he would probably stop doing his advocacies if he is scared.

Bakit ako matatakot? Kung sa simpleng troll page lang natakot ako e ‘di matagal na akong tumigil sa mga pinaglalaban kong advocacies,” he said.

Mataga “chose to ignore” the threats and red-tagging, saying that they should receive less attention. 

Dr. Mark Abenir, a Development Studies Faculty from the Ateneo de Manila University and former Professor from the UST Department of Sociology, warned that red-tagging the youth and student leaders is dangerous.

Kapag ang bata may napansin siya kung anong mali, sasabihin niya kung anong mali. Ganun din ang kabataan because of what they’ve learned in school [or] university [which] are the things that should be done ideally,” Abenir said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

“Once we red-tag the youth, we tell them to shut up. We tell them to stop contributing to critical progress. We tell them to stop telling what is wrong in society. And if the youth stop telling us that, it will be a dark future,” he said.

Abenir strongly believes that institutions should be bastions of academic freedom.

“As institutions, we should be bastions of academic freedom kung saan ang tamang paniniwala natin ay pwede nating iexpress. Because nagnu-nurture ka ng future generations and you want [those] future generations to speak out,” he added.

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