Through blogger and former Chalk Magazine Official Student Correspondent (OSC) to the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman colleague Ivan Henares, I found out about this (please click the title):
New UP policy ‘requires’ med, nursing, public health grads to serve in Philippines within five years
The article talks about UP’s new Return Service Agreement (RSA) policy that requires future graduates of the above mentioned courses to “serve for [two years] in the country within five years after graduation, or pay back twice the cost of their university degrees”.
This had Ivan and me, along with other friends of his, debating on whether or not this is a good policy. Supporters base their arguments on the statement that taxpayers spend an estimated P1 million to produce a medical graduate of UP. Some even went to the extent of saying that this policy should include all students in the university and not just those taking health-related courses.
I say no to this.
I was one of the many students who took the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT) in 2000 in the hopes of entering the country’s premier state university. Allow me to boast a little by saying that not only was I successful in passing the UPCAT, I also managed to enter the flagship campus (Diliman) of the university. Fast-forward to the present time, I have just told my husband that I actually have a lot more to be proud of; that if I had not passed the UPCAT, chances were, I would not have been able to complete my college degree on time due to financial difficulties. My dad’s income as a part-time journalist and a full-time House of Representatives employee, not excluding our business profits, unfortunately, did not qualify me to apply for a more lenient bracket under UP’s STFAP (Socialized Tuition Fee Assistance Program). And even if we were only paying an average of P6,000 per semester, my parents still struggled to make both ends meet.
Given this situation, if my family and I, at our financial status during that time, were already having difficulties, how much more if the ones involved were those who had it harder than us financially?
I speak not just for myself. I also now speak for them.
In my years as a language trainer at a call center in Manila, I interviewed a lot of applicants and talked to a lot of trainees who had nursing degrees. The period between 2007 and 2009 was the time when the country was producing a lot of nursing graduates but coming up with little job offers that had income commensurate to the profession level. The Philippines then found more and more medical professionals – nurses and doctors alike – looking at and searching for greener pastures.
Why wouldn’t or shouldn’t they?
There was a time I was enraged to have found that for a certain month, I was handling language training classes full of nursing graduates and professionals. I thought: “You guys are only using this free language training in call centers just so you can pass the language test required for your application abroad.”
Then there’s the nursing crowd who only took the course because that’s the only way they could have a degree to their name. Those who were often clueless about what to do with their lives after high school often fell prey to the wishes of their benefactor (a parent or a relative) that they choose nursing over any other course as the profession pays well. And pay well it does. In another country. This crowd, after realizing that such scenario only happens after successful but often lengthy and arduous applications for jobs abroad, gathered courage and took the easy way out: They do not want to become nurses anymore. They have good paying jobs in call centers anyway.
What a waste!
Overtime though, I became more sympathetic to the plight of medical professionals. With the United States (US) in recession and working visa for nurses in retrogression, more and more turned to jobs in other countries. Some even had gone to the extent of accepting jobs as caregivers even if they’re really qualified as doctors. I then knew that I had to balk on the idea that what’s happening was less than honorable for the country.
Supporters of the RSA focus on how right it is to give back to the country. “Country first before personal interests” as they say. It is righteous and ideal – if we are to speak the language wealthy and well-travelled Dr. Jose Rizal spoke during his time.
Don’t get me wrong though: I do not wish to malign Rizal’s life. My dad and I still think that he’s the best Filipino that ever lived. But “country first before personal interests” may just a little bit too ideal for the average Filipino graduate these days. When I say “average”, I mean someone who do not have Latin honors tied to his degree and is bound to start with a salary that is only as high as P13,000. This graduate, most likely, is someone who lives in a rented apartment with aging parents and two to three younger siblings that he is expected to support once he starts earning.
What is P13,000 these days? P13,000 is the cost of a Nokia phone with 3 or 5 megapixels primary camera, a VGA secondary camera, a music and video player and an internet browsing capability. P13,000 is the monthly amortization one needs to pay if he has a 30-year Pag-ibig housing loan for a 2-BR condominium unit in a low-rise complex in the suburbs of Taguig (not the Bonifacio Global Complex, my dear!). P13,000 was an ordinary UP student’s tuition fee for the entire year during my time (2001-2005). P13,000 is the cost of a three to four day hospital stay in a semi-private ward at the Philippine Heart Center, a specialized government hospital. P13,000 is the total cost of a Philhealth-subsidized dialysis treatment for an entire month at Hemotek, a renal center in Manila.
P13,000 is… not enough. For the upper and middle class, yes, maybe, it just simply isn’t enough. But what about the poor? What about our average Filipino graduate whose entire family relies on him after he gets his degree? Let me provide custom-fit calculations:
INCOME AFTER TAXES, ETC.: P11,500
Transportation fare for a 22-day work month: P352.00 roundtrip (if employee’s office is only a jeepney-ride away with P8 as the normal fare)
Food at work (P10 mineral water, P5 1/2 rice, P15 viand…x 22 days): P660.00
Cellphone credits (let’s face it, this IS important these days): P100
Electric bill: P500
Water bill: P500
Apartment rent: P3000
LPG tank (for cooking): P500
Rice for a family of four: P600
Grocery for a family of four: P4000
Budget left for other expenses: P1,288
P1,288. Can our fresh graduate manage to put something in the bank with this remaining amount? What if, God forbid, someone gets sick in his household? What about the expenses he incurs just to get to those government institutions that provide medical assistance? How about his siblings’ tuition fee and daily school allowance?
I may be wrong with my calculations. I may have underestimated or overestimated this and that. But the figures I presented were based on how tight I could be if my dad did not have thrice weekly dialysis treatments or if we’re not shelling out more than P15,000 monthly on his medicines (and that’s with the 20% Senior Citizen discount already!).
So what about our medical professionals?
In the Philippines, private hospitals offer between P6,000-P10,000 a month as a starting salary for its nurses. Public/government hospitals pay a little more and with great benefits but is still no different or better than our P13,000 example earlier.
Doctors, in the meantime, ordinarily receive P500 per patient. Big, huh? Wait ’til you find out about just how much is the chunk that goes to their overhead expenses (utility bills, assistants’ salary, etc.).
Comparing these figures to what medical professionals receive abroad, it is no wonder that though we have a surplus of graduates in the fields of health and medicine, we still have a shortage of applicants willing to receive such meager amounts.
In Canada, a typical 8-hour shift of a fresh nursing graduate renders a salary of P9,000 per day. Multiply that with a 22-day work month and deduct the taxes (let’s be generous, this country is rich, anyway: 40%) and you still get a net pay that’s more than enough to afford families comfortable lives.
Many will surely find tons of loopholes in my argument. I know, for sure, I’ll get bombarded with cost of living comparisons, etc., but hey I’m not stupid. If my parents scrimped and saved and even sacrificed their own needs just so I could be a nurse or a doctor or even just an ordinary college graduate, it’s them that I would first think about in terms of finding a job. This is not to say I would also not think of myself. I would. And if that meant a job abroad that affords me a better life for me and for my family, I’d say, why not?
It’s disappointing that many UP students and graduates come up a little too short-sighted with the reality that’s facing many of their fellowmen. Sure I can’t expect or convince everyone to side with me but I beg my fellow alumni to think about this:
UP, along with other state universities and colleges in the country, exists mainly to provide the best possible education for poor but deserving students. It recognizes that not all students who go to UP are rich or at least have a family that’s financially capable enough to support their kids through two (or five) years’ worth of RSAs after graduation. Not everyone can afford to hop from one company to another, test the career waters and meditate about their true purpose in life. Not everyone can choose the path of the righteous and the ideal over the path of the practical if their family’s life is already at stake.
Lest we forget, the university hymn, “UP Naming Mahal” (UP Beloved) talks about vows of being a loyal son (or daughter…to the country) wherever one may be. And I quote:
|Filipino lyrics||Original English lyrics|
|U.P. naming mahal, pamantasang hirang||U.P. beloved, thou Alma Mater dear|
|Ang tinig namin, sana’y inyong dinggin||For thee united, our joyful voices hear|
|Malayong lupain, amin mang marating||Far tho we wander, o’er island yonder|
|Di rin magbabago ang damdamin||Loyal thy sons we’ll ever be|
|Di rin magbabago ang damdamin.||Loyal thy sons we’ll ever be.|
To say that if one did not wish to serve the country after [graduation], one should just go to private colleges and universities is not, in any way, fair. Again, we have poor students who do not have this choice. Hopefully, we do not fail to realize or accept that serving the country is not limited to staying.
We can be honorable men and women, excellent in our fields, wherever we may be. Just look at our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). They’re one of the biggest boosters to our economy.
We can choose to be practical and ideal at the same time by refusing to taint our images with unlawful acts that could be the source of shame not just for our loved ones but for our fellow Filipinos alike. We can choose to be better students – attending lectures instead of cutting classes to join extracurricular activities and actually passing our subjects instead of abusing the Maximum Residency Rule (overstaying, hello!). We can think of those who have it harder than us but are actually as deserving as us in the role that we play as state university students and graduates. And then when all is said and done, we can choose to not forget: To return to the country to help and to contribute.