When I filled out my college application form and chose film as a major, I failed to consider tuition and film-related expenses. I was a sixteen-year old dreamer who grew up seduced by mass media, especially films. I was so sure back then that if I study film at the premier state university in the country then I could easily be the next Lino Brocka, minus the fatal car accident, of course.
When I got into UP, I was ecstatic. The summer I entered Diliman was probably the happiest summer I had. I was a smart, sixteen-year old dreamer who was going to change the world through my award-winning movies, and then probably marry Keanu Reeves when I turn 28. I was also naive and had been pretty much sheltered when I was growing up.
Then of course it didn’t take long for reality to come crashing down on me. I grew up thinking I was smart and then UP made me realize how average I actually am, sometimes even less. Also, a passing grade was not what you aim for. I actually had to work my ass off to get truly decent grades, UP’s definition of decent. Then while at it, I had to polish off my Tagalog (I am Waray) because the one I knew was classroom Filipino, and my embarrassing vocabulary was not helping my already fledgling self-esteem. But the worst of it all was realizing that my parents could barely afford my studies.
My tuition, board and lodging expenses, daily allowance and budget for film projects were obviously way above my parents’ public school teachers’ salary. When I was a sophomore, I seriously considered shifting to another major for financial reasons but my father forbid me. He made it clear that I had to finish what I had started. And so I did. My parents borrowed money from everyone they know just so their dreamer “not so smart after all” daughter could become a film director.
After five years and one semester (yes, I overstayed in college), I finally got my degree. Bachelor of Arts in Film and Audio Visual Communication. So now I have two Urian Best Picture films, one Oscar Best Foreign Film nomination and yes, Keanu has proposed to me on my 27th birthday. NOT!
After graduation, I helped with some friends’ productions including that Jeturian award-winning film, which actually included my name on the credits. I also worked as a casting coordinator for a modeling agency, which in reality meant that aside from pre-qualifying and assigning models to specific projects, I was also a photographer, videographer, talent scout, telemarketer, among others. I was underpaid and had to pretend that my boss and his business partners were not involved in prostitution.
Then after my stint at the modeling agency, I joined the BPO industry and had been stuck ever since. Pay is good and the benefits are decent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for my job. In fact, I love what I’m doing now. But yes, there are still times I feel guilty about not pursuing film. I still feel like I’ve not only let down my family, but the institution to which I owed my education.
If you have attended UP, you are taught to value the opportunity of attending the “top” school and that you are in fact subsidized by the taxpayers. So after studying, you are expected to give back. So far the only way I’ve given back is through my taxes and signing petitions for various causes. I’d like to believe they count. I also have intangible and not so legitimate contributions like fervently wishing the downfall of the Chinese government and ill wishes on the health and safety of inefficient traditional politicians. But those don’t really count.
So why did I have this sudden urge to confess my college drama? Because just last week, a young bright UP student took her own life because she could not afford to pay her tuition anymore. It was the most heartbreaking story I’ve heard in a while. I’ve pretty much avoided the news due to gore and sensationalism but this one just hit really close. I was once in her shoes. I was once desperate and too poor to pay my school expenses. I cried too many times because I thought my parents won’t be able to find someone who could lend them money or that I was again late for my rent or that I still haven’t had my paper printed out because my allowance is gone.
Well, sure, suicide is complex. Kristel did not simply kill herself because she was no longer a UP student. There are many factors at play here that led to the finale of this tragedy. One thing is clear though, her forced leave of absence was the final trigger.
One of the issues the many isko and iska had been fighting for and taking to the streets for the government to pay attention to is the budget cut on the university. The faculty are not well compensated, which is very upsetting since the university has the best there is in the country. Researches are not funded, and a lot of other cost-cutting measures are done.
Clearly, there is something wrong with the system. UP had been struggling with budget cuts from the government but it had also successfully leased some of its assets to multinational companies. And tuition has tripled since I graduated. Yes, I don’t understand all the facets of the budget issue that the university faces but doesn’t the university have a commitment to educate the brightest minds of the country? Kristel was a young, bright student who dreamed but her dreams were crushed by the very same institution who promised to guide her on her journey to learning and a better life. Her dreams were spat on by bureaucracy who valued profit rather than upholding its commitment to education. Because Kristel could not afford to pay her tuition she was rejected as a member of the academe.
UP prides itself for the eternal quest for knowledge and service to the country as symbolized by the Oblation. Forcing Kristel to file a leave of absence due to inability to pay her tuition certainly does not validate the values of UP. Taking away her school ID so she could no longer enter the premises was the final act of ostracism. They drove her away and so she decided to go somewhere else, maybe a better place. Wherever she is now, hopefully, she is not being judged for her finances or the lack thereof. May she be in a place where she can continue her education without worrying about tuition and student loans. And may she help us pray that UP can soon fix the problem before another life is sacrificed.