MANILA - A number of Department of Science and Technology (DOST) scholars from the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) criticized the delay in the release of their monthly stipends, which play a huge part in supporting their education.
According to a recent statement released by Rise for Education, a group advocating for free and accessible education to all Filipinos, there are thousands of scholars in UPD and other state universities who are beneficiaries of the Department of Science and Technology- Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI) Undergraduate Scholarship Programs.
“For the first semester of academic year 2018-2019, the monthly living allowance was delayed for three months for scholars in UP Diliman. For the second semester, it was delayed for four months. There is still no news on when the midyear allowance will be released until now,” the group said.
Rise for Education claimed that the stipend delays caused some scholars to skip meals in a day, pay dorm fees and rents beyond the due date, borrow money from others to sustain their basic needs, and get part-time jobs to afford their education and other living expenses.
According to the R.A 7687 or the Science and Technology Scholarship Act of 1994, DOST scholarships are given to "poor, talented and deserving students whose families' socio-economic status do not exceed the set cut-off values of certain indicators."
‘Reflection of how future scientists are treated’
Undergraduate student Lois Alfred Tolentino said that he relies on his monthly stipend of P7,000 which has greatly benefitted his family. However, the current delays have been affecting his family’s budget, as well as his daily food expenses.
“As I wait for the stipend, I sometimes only eat two meals a day. During the second semester [last year], when the stipends were delayed for four months, I remember that I was very hungry for about a month,” Tolentino said.
Tolentino said that undergraduate scholars like him are supposed to receive P7,000 as stipend every month, according to an orientation for DOST scholars. This was supported by Jocam Joshua Camara, an undergraduate student, who also attended the orientation.
“What I understood from the orientation is that we were supposed to receive P7000 per month. But what happens is that the stipends are released in one sitting after several months,” Camara said.
Asked about how he felt, he said that he and his fellow scholars were dismayed to learn about this because they were made to expect a monthly stipend, which they would use for their daily needs.
“Personally, I am not very affected by the stipend delays. But I know some friends who ‘raket’ as tutors for high school students, and UPCAT [UP College Admissions Test] review center students. It’s ‘instant money’ for them, but they wouldn’t be resorting to that if they received their stipends every month,” he said.
For Camara, the stipend delays are huge problems that affect scholars, particularly aspiring scientists in the Philippines.
“Somehow, it reflects on how the government treats the future scientists in the Philippines. If the government truly puts importance on future scientists, their needs and daily expenses [in school] should be answered,” he said.
Meanwhile, AGHAM Youth member Cris Mordeno, who is also an undergraduate scholar, said that he is already ‘steeped in debt’ as he waits for his monthly stipends.
“Sa akin naman, baon na rin ako sa utang since 'di naman lagi nako-cover namin yung mga daily expenses. To add to the extremes, there are students who only eat once a day to save on costs,” he said.
For Mordeno, many of the scholars are dependent on the monthly stipends for their ‘everyday allowance’.
“[The stipends are] useless if this is how they are released to students,” he said.
‘There is a process’
In response to the Rise for Education’s statement, the DOST-SEI posted an official statement on its Facebook page.
“The DOST-SEI…would like to inform concerned DOST-SEI scholars enrolled in UP Diliman that the funds for the financial assistance, including the amount allocated for the stipends of new and ongoing scholars for AY 2018-2019, were released to the University on July 4 and October 7, 2018 for the First Semester; on March 7, 2019 for the Second Semester; and on August 8, 2019 to cover expenses of DOST-SEI scholars enrolled for the Midyear.”
It went on to say that the DOST-SEI ensured that there were “enough funds made available by timely disbursement by the University, despite any delay in the submission of the required reports and other documents”.
Joshua James Versola, president of the DOST Scholars Association (DOSTSA) and an undergraduate scholar of four years, said that the stipend delays were not new, as they were already taking place since 2015.
“It depends on the incoming class. Take for instance, our batch had a lot of scholars who enrolled in UP. I heard [from my friends in the DOST core group that] there are delays because many scholars were being processed [for their scholarships],” he said.
Versola explained that he was a scholar from Philippine Science High School, a DOST-funded institution, and that he saw scholarships in general as a means of financial assistance to supplement his basic needs.
According to Versola, each DOST undergraduate scholar is to receive a monthly stipend, along with a P5,000 book allowance per academic semester, and P1,000 uniform allowance for the entire academic term.
When the Free Tuition Law was not yet signed into law in 2017, DOST scholars like Versola were offered free tuition upon enrolment and submission of requirements. According to him, the scholars who were tagged with free tuition never had a problem with the free tuition assistance provided by the DOST.
For him, one possible reason on why the monthly stipends of scholars are delayed is because of the long process that went into the ‘processing of students who were eligible for the scholarship’.
“Scholars need to submit their Form 5, which serves as proof of their registration in UP. What happens is that [the DOST core group] processes the names of the people valid for the scholarship, before submitting it to the DOST-SEI. In return, the DOST-SEI gives a budget which is then processed in the accounting office, before being converted into a cheque in Landbank. It is only after this process where the monthly stipends are distributed to scholars”, Versola said.
He added that he knew about this, as a result of his connection with the DOST-CORE group, one of the groups responsible in processing scholars’ requirements to the DOST.
Ma. Micaela Eduvala, an undergraduate scholar like Versola, agreed that stipend delays were common because of the volume of scholars--especially during the previous academic year.
“The stipends are released by batch. For example, a batch of scholars would receive their stipend in October. Another batch would receive their stipend in November. [The DOST] gives the stipend in one sitting,” she explained.
Asked about how Versola felt about delayed stipends, he said that he was a bit “torn.”
“I know that the [issuance of] stipends follows a long process; that’s why they are not quickly disbursed to students. But Rise’s statement is true because some scholars really need the help, the financial aid. Some of them really need [the stipend], but we can’t control it because [the stipends] follow a process,” he said.
As of posting, news.abs-cbn.com was still waiting for a response from the office of the director of the DOST-SEI.