To be an “Iskolar ng Bayan” in the ‘90s while studying in UP Diliman meant paying tuition of at least P5,000 per semester. My sister was an engineering student, which meant her tuition and laboratory fees were costlier. Ikot jeepneys (our main mode of transportation around campus) increased from 75 centavos to P1.50 by the time I graduated. We also had our daily living allowance and photocopying expenses to worry about. It was a good thing fishballs and gulaman were delicious enough to make for a satisfying meal when the lean months came. Despite our low tuition (that is, compared to our Blue Eagle neighbors down Katipunan Road), my parents really had to work hard to make sure that my sister and I could finish our studies.
I was aghast when the UP tuition fee was raised some years ago, with students paying around P20,000-30,000 per semester. Well, it was perhaps a long overdue increase but it still came as a shock because it was the total amount that I paid for my entire four years in UP! I thought UP had ceased to be the University of the Poor (financially, that is).
So, when I read the news that studying in state universities will be free in 2017, I was almost in tears. No, I am not wishing this happened during my time, although that would’ve been so nice. I was overwhelmed at the thought that at least for a year, hardworking parents will have a respite from their financial pressures and perhaps have 12 months to save up for the following school year, if tuition goes back to regular rates (we hope state university education would remain free).
To you, dear Isko and Iska (not just in UP but in all the state universities in the country), I hope you’ll take these words from a fellow Iskolar ng Bayan.
Please take your studies to heart. Please be focused on achieving your goals because there are people counting on you — your parents, your countrymen. Don’t waste your time on needless preoccupations. Remember, you’re studying on taxpayers’ money. Be good stewards of their time, energy, effort, and resources.
Please look back to the place from where you were hewn. We have a saying, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.” Don’t let the prestige of being an Isko or Iska get to your head. Rather, let this precious privilege enlarge your heart’s capacity to serve your country and fellowmen.
Please don’t be in a hurry to leave the Philippines to work abroad after you finish school. We need you here. You can make a difference here. I know most of the time our country seems like a hopeless case, but remember you are a Filipino. Only a Filipino can truly love the Philippines. You were born a Filipino for a purpose. Find that purpose while in university, then live it out with passion in our motherland after graduation.
Please tell your children that once upon a time you were an Iskolar ng Bayan. Tell them how you were given an opportunity to receive a great blessing so that you can bless others. Pass on to the next generation the value of meaningful education that upholds truth, justice, love of God, and love of country.
Indeed, you, dear Isko and Iska, will be celebrating a merry Christmas! May you make 2017 a year of breakthroughs for yourselves and for our country. Ikaw, Isko at Iska, ang pag-asa ng bayan. Mabuhay ka!