[Part 1] Iskolar ng bayan in PUP: Encounters often left unsaid

(This is a realistic account of the writer, Regel Javines, in his journey as iskolar ng bayan in PUP, 2003–2007)

I feel interested to scribble a realistic account of my journey of survival inside the largest state university in the Philippines, in terms of the student population with over 70,000 students all over its 22 campuses in the country.

The Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) has long, long been standing proud and dignified for having the lowest tuition among higher education institutions (HEIs) in the country. The comprehensive and collective actions among PUP students against any tuition hike in the university have been proven time and again to continue fixing the 12 pesos (Php12.00) tuition per unit—the rest of us don’t bother how significant are the “iskolar ng bayan” unified movements—student activism, as we commonly called it.

PUP went through three names revision: from its original name Manila Business School (MBC) in 1904 as founded; to Philippine School of Commerce (PSC) in 1908; then became Philippine College of Commerce (PCC) in 1952,  and finally named Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in 1978. But its original mandate to train students for government service and entrepreneurship lives on.

PUP calls its students “iskolar ng bayan” (scholars of the nation) as the Philippine government and other nongovernment institutions subsidize its students’ tuition and other fees. A majority of PUP students are economically challenged and marginalized.

PUP is considered as the “Poor Man’s University” living by its commitment to provide access to quality and responsive education to qualified and talented students all over the country.

First hurdle: the PUPCET

I had no idea at all. I was naïve and no information beforehand about the PUP entrance examinations were all about. Nor did I even know about PUP back then.

I graduated valedictorian in elementary and high school. In May 2000, with five days left before the deadline, I went straight to Manila from Leyte hastily for one purpose in mind—to take the entrance scholarship for chemical engineering in the Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP).

On the way to Manila, I got stranded for 1 night and 2 days in Allen, Samar; stayed in Cavite for a night, then traveled to Tondo, Manila, and stayed there for almost a week waiting for my folks.

The deadline for filing has gone past. My chance for a scholarship was over. I was not able to take the exams.

The next few days, just out of nothing at all, I went straight to the UP Admission in Diliman to submit my high school credentials only to be denied. The lady said I have to take first the UPCAT. I even asked her what was that. The lady just smiled at me then went on her chores. “That was odd,” I mumbled.

I was completely baffled while leaving the UP Admission’s window and started making sense of how naïve I was and I didn’t know what UPCAT was and what it served for.

So I didn’t experience taking UPCAT. And I did never mind it. I just didn’t bother about UPCAT as I didn’t have means at all to support my study. What was important to me at that time is to get a job despite being only a high school grad.

Getting a job was my ultimate goal after being not able to take the scholarship exams in TIP-Manila.

Financially challenged or what folks called it “broke as shit” I worked as a dishwasher in a five-star rated restaurant inside the Century Park Hotel in Malate. After finishing my contract, moved on to work as a janitor in the domestic airport in Pasay. Then, I worked as a waiter in a Korean bar and restaurant, then as a service crew in Jollibee, and later on in Wendy’s.

Since 2000 right after I graduated from high school, I have been working a lot and hard. Then in the late quarter of 2002, while working as a service crew in Wendy’s SM Bicutan, I decided to take the PUP College Entrance Test (PUPCET) in PUP-Taguig Campus.

As a service crew, I only have to work four hours a day. Since SM Bicutan and PUP-Taguig Campus are just nearby, it wasn’t as cumbersome as I thought first to apply for PUPCET. I have no routine or any sort of preparations for the incoming PUPCET. I just had this confidence to either top the entrance exams or pass the tests fairly well.

PUPCET core competencies

I still remember taking PUPCET for the school year 2003–2004. My assigned room was in the engineering building, where the official student publication of PUP Taguig was also formerly located and in which, eventually, I became the editor-in-chief. The test proctor was Prof. Usona, who headed the Campus scholarships program and later on whom I looked up as a Math whiz professor along with my College Algebra Prof. Pelayo.

Each core subject competency of the test is under time pressure. The test was divided into set A and set B. So, you know that you are totally on your own.

To the best of my recollection, I scored higher in mathematics and quantitative reasoning than in English vocabulary or verbal and general information or current events. My results in the Civil Service Professional exams in 2009 did also show that my numerical IQ is higher than my verbal’s—which I have normally doubts about it.

I fairly scored in Science. Perhaps, because I never did a great guessing job instead of solving painstakingly for the number of the atomic coefficient in a series of chemical reactions, or calculating religiously the resultant force of the two vectors in a projectile motion while maintaining in mind the acceleration due to gravity constant 9.8 meters per second squared…until my time ran out.

Yes, to the best of my recollection, I was not able to finish the test. I also wasn’t able to get back for those skipped items for it was not allowed to do so. Once you moved to the next page, consider it done. For you also have no time at all.

PUPCET is somehow challenging, and thousands of thousands of applicants all over the country are competing against each other for a spot—for the limited number of spots to be admitted in the University we, PUPians, called “Sintang Paaralan” and be officially called ourselves as “iskolar ng bayan” you like it or not.

“I passed the PUPCET”

I made it. But there were two things I wasn’t so certain about: the course I would be taking and how long I would be staying when I get there.

I wasn’t even so sure or at least get persuaded why I need to go to college. Why I have to achieve something that I, perhaps, don’t need. Why I have to get the same path others are taking. What is education when it doesn’t serve the meaning of education itself? Why I have to follow the norms of society when the same norms are creating divisions instead. All these questions were already inside my head.

All those questions considerably shaped my state of mind and perspectives while out of no options complying some things I thought are reasonably needed for survival.

Passing the PUPCET isn’t that all. I needed to take a leave of absence from my work so I could have the whole day allotted for the interview process for the course I wanted to get enrolled in.

Then, there was also a medical screening to go through before you proceed to the registration process. But then, I have to continue working as a service crew in Wendy’s while studying. And I never declared it to my school that I had work to attend besides schooling. I just don’t get such a compelling reason why should I declare it when I felt that there would be no problem at all.

I also did not declare that I graduated valedictorian in a class of over 50 students because I just felt I shouldn’t have to. And I was too excited, rather, at taking the university entrance exams. Besides, I considered thinking about an equal footing among the rest having all the right to education competing under a limited opportunity—the paradox of the “sorry state” of education.

PUP: An epitome of budget cuts and student activism

With less than 500 pesos (Php500.00), I was enrolled in full for the first semester. I couldn’t believe it at first. Here’s my registration in the first semester of the school year 2003–2004.

Being an iskolar ng bayan in PUP: Real encounters often left unsaid
First Semester registration for school year 2003–2004, Polytechnic University of the Philippines Taguig Campus

That’s all-in: tuition, other fees, and miscellaneous—I only paid 413 pesos (Php413.00) for the first semester full load. So, for my entire course (1st year–4th year) I would only be paying not more than 4,000 pesos (Php4,000.00). Yes, that’s true!

Nowadays, although there are negligible revisions so to speak in some other PUP fees but tuition—still at 12 pesos (Php12.00) per unit for undergraduate courses.

Every PUPian knew and believed that student activism has played such an important role in why every “isko’t iska” nowadays still enjoyed the 12 pesos per unit.

Student activism is practically founded on defending the right to education and thus the State shall allocate the highest budget to it (Art. XIV, Sec. 5 (5), 1987 Constitution).

Adjacent and relevant to upholding the right to education, student activism becomes more and more comprehensive and extensive. That is, in making the unconscious conscious by educating them of the obvious disparity and abuses in various real-life aspects that the semi-colonial and semi-feudal state of the Philippine society has continuously been deteriorating through the leadership of the ruling class. Not everyone could understand it the way others did.

PUP, as far as my consciousness could perceive, is a dynamic nation itself operating under its policies and resolutions and annual budget crisis while allowing the burgeoning student activism to flourish and expand. And this student activism pivotally served as the checks and balances needed to maintain the equilibrium inside the four-walled corners of the University.

PUP isn’t your typical university. It could either be your everyday nightmare or your real encounter on how to survive being in the middle of a wild forest—where cubs you met along the way yesterday were devouring lions today.  You need to have the endurance to every trail you blaze. Everybody is unpredictable. Everybody has business. Everyone is a chance worth learning. Every struggle is an opportunity worth keeping.

(To be continued…)

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