A Student’s Gamble

I wrote this article for Atenews. This photo is a screen grab from Latagawa short film made by my classmates. This film and this article tells the story of a tuition fee girl.

“Mga gwapa na sila. Di gyud nimo mailhan nga ga ingun-ana diay sila (They’re all so beautiful that it’s hard to tell that they actually do that).

This is just one of the many lines that imply that the business that goes behind closed doors and twisted sheets is no kept secret, and so is the business that goes behind paying for a University’s steep tuition fee. Students who engage in this kind of business are called TF (tuition fee) girls or TF boys. They say that this form of “business” has been going on for years. What do these girls and boys get in return? A college degree. For some students, flesh is the price of quality education.

A Tuition Fee Girl’s Confession

Although it’s not uncommon knowledge among Ateneans, the topic is still talked about with hushed voices. AdDU Confessions which is an online confession site for Ateneans became a platform for the TF students’ voices to be heard.

AdDU Confessions burst into popularity in 2013 after featuring inspiring, entertaining, and intimate stories from anonymous confessors. The confessors send in their stories through a google document form. One of the confessors was a girl who claims to have been a TF girl when she was studying in Ateneo de Davao University. She says that she was able to graduate from this “agreement,” and also told the readers that being in her shoes at the time was very difficult.

The confessor narrated how she met the person who supported her tuition fee, in exchange of something else. Below is an excerpt from her said confession:

Isa ko mga taga province na nag skwela sa addu. Dili mi datu, katong nag desisyon akong parents na sa addu ko muskwela ang akong una na napangutana sa ila kay ‘kaya kaha nato ang gasto didto? mahal kaayo ang tuition, boarding house pa, libro, baon’ ug ang tubag sa akong parents kay ‘kaya lagi nato na bsta maka graduate ka ug gwapo na skwelahan’.

(I was one of the students in AdDU who comes from the province. My family is not rich, so when my parents decided that I would study in AdDU, the first thing I asked them was, “Are we going to make it?” We wouldn’t pay for the tuition only, but also the boarding house, books, allowance, and others. But my parents just said, “We will make it. The important thing is you can graduate from a good school.”)

Sa among section dghan jud kaayo ug datu, naa koy mga classmate na halos adlaw adlaw naga change ug bag, naa koy classmate na halos taga bulan naga change ug phone. And naa koy na classmate na datu jud sya, gwapo, tangkad, humot kaayo, medyo bugoy ug ang naa sa utok puros ra kabuang. Seatmate mi.

(I had a lot of classmates who were rich. Some of them changed their bags every day, and another one changed phones every month. I also had a classmate who was really rich. He was tall and handsome, and he smelled really good. He was also kind of a bad boy. In my mind, I thought he didn’t know anything serious. We were seatmates.)

 Ako kay maulaw man ko sa iyaha kay syempre datu ug unsa ra man ko. Sige ko niya ginasturya ug ako dili kaayo ko mutingog sa iya kay hunahuna nako dili man ko angay makig sturya ani sa iyaha. Sige syag ka late unya pag attendance dili sya maka attendance, kadugayan niana sya mangayo syag number sa ako para itext lang dw ko niya kung magpa attendance sya so ako gisulat nako akong number sa papel unya gihatag sa iya ug niana sya na isave nalang pud dw nako iyang number incase dw ganahan ko mutext sa iya.
(I was too shy with him. He was too rich, and I’m just like this. He kept on chatting with me, and I wouldn’t answer too much because I didn’t think it was proper for me. He was always late for class. Eventually, he asked for my number so that whenever he comes in late, he could text me to write his attendance for him instead. I wrote my number on a piece of paper and gave it to him. Later, he asked for my phone so he could save his number there, just in case I’d want to text him.)


Nahuman ang 1st ug 2nd year nako na malinawon. Ug classmate gihapon mi sa akong classmate na datu ug kani na time medyo close nami. Ug kani na panahon naa syay uyab na classmate namo. Ako wla koy gusto sa iya kay bugoy kaayo.
Niabot jud ang time na na delay ug padala akong parents sa prelim exam so nakulbaan ko ug niana akong papa na magpadala lang dw pagka next week pero wla jud gihapon. Sa akong pagka stress nag open ko sa akong classmate na wla nagpadala ug pang exam akong parents ug allowance, niana man kaha na sya pila man imong kailangan?

(I finished my first two years in college with no difficulty, and I was still classmates with the guy. We were closer then. He also had a girlfriend in our class. I never liked him then because he was too much of a bad boy. And then one time, my parents weren’t able to send money in time for my prelim exam. I was so worried. I opened up about this to my classmate. What he said shocked me. He asked, “How much do you need?”

Ako kay gusto lagi maka exam ug wla najud koy kwarta so niana ko sa iya pang exam lang ug allowance nako bayaran ra nako kung magpadala akong parents. Niana mana sya lahi dw ang bayad. Ana sya ihatag dw niya unya 6pm kay mag withdraw sa dw sya ug agian ko niya. Naa nakoy hinala kung unsa man jud iyang gusto. Naghulat ko ug 6pm sa roxas gate ug nisakay ko sa iyang sakyanan.

(I really wanted to take my exam, but I had no money. I told him that I needed enough to take my exam and for my allowance, and that I’ll pay him as soon as my parents sent me money. But he told me that he was going to take a different kind of payment. He told me that he’d give me the money by 6pm after withdrawing money from the bank. I already had a clue of what he wanted. I waited at the Roxas gate and got in his car when he arrived.)

Niana sya sa ako ‘kagets naman ka noh kung unsa akong gusto’ so ako murag kapit na sa patalim. Sa akong pagka desperada niuban jud ko sa iyaha.

(“You already understand what I want, right?” He asked me. Because of sheer desperation, I agreed to go with him.)

Although the terms TF girl or TF boy generates reactions of disappointment, or sometimes pity, the confession which was put up on Facebook generated feedback of compassion. These reactions show that Ateneans are more accepting and understanding of the predicament of these students, rather than shaming.

But the twist in the confessor’s story was that it had a happy ending. She says she is now happily married to the person and advised the students who are experiencing the same difficulty in school to trust God instead.

“Para sa mga naga struggle sa ilang pang tuition diha, dili ko mag advise na sundugon ninyo akong nabuhat pero si God maghimo jud ug way para ana. And sa mga hopeless romantic, time will come muabot lang si mr/ms right ninyo. dli lang mag dali. Apili jud ug pag-ampo ang tanan.”

The Gamble

The struggle for a good and sustainable future is no surprise among Filipinos, especially when the price of living is very high. Subsequently, the cost of education is also higher.

Based on 2008 data from the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), out of 100 Grade One pupils, only 66 finish Grade Six. Only 58 of the 66 go on to enroll in first-year high school and only 43 finish high school. Of the 43 who finished high school, only 23 enroll in college and only 14 of the 23 graduate from college.

Tuition and other school fees in the Philippines also increase annually. In 2009, data from CHED says that the national average tuition rate has increased by as much as 89.93 percent, from P230.79 ($4.526 at the average 2001 exchange rate of $1=P50.99) in school year 2001-2002 to P437.10 ($9.829 at the 2008 average exchange rate of $1=P44.47) last school year. The Metro Manila average rate, on the other hand, went up by 94.54 percent, from P439.59 ($8.62) to P855.20 ($19.23) in the same period.

For the school year 2015-2016, CHED approved the TOFI (Tuition and Other Fees Increase) for 313 private colleges and universities.

Simultaneously, the unemployment rate of college graduates is also high. From the data gathered by the PSA (Philippine Statistics Authority), it was found that the unemployment rate in July 2015 was estimated at 93.5 percent, where 22.2 percent of the unemployed were college graduates.

With a dream in mind, Filipinos fight their daily struggles to pursue that dream, even if it means paying a high price for it. The fight begins with education.

Taxi driver James (not his real name) says that he had a “suki” passenger before. He said that the girl was a student from Ateneo de Davao University. “She was beautiful,” described James. James said that a mutual agreement formed between him and the girl. He would pick her up from school after class and drop her by her dorm where she would hurriedly dress herself up.

“I would wait for her to finish changing her attire and then I would drop her at a hotel. I would still pick her up afterwards and drop her by her dorm so she can change back to her uniform again and then go back to school,” narrated James.

But TF girls are everywhere, said James. “Kami sa mga drayber, gina storyahan man namo na kay musakay man gyud ug taxi nang mga bayhana. Lahi-lahing skwelahan, naa gyud, (We talk about it [TF girls] amongst us taxi drivers because these girls would always ride a taxi. They’re not just in AdDU, but in other schools as well),said James.

While for some, selling the flesh means an investment for the future, this trade is also for basic survival, and a mother’s sacrifice. Atenews was able to interview a sexual worker in Davao City. Requesting for anonymity, “GM” described what life was like in the trade of flesh.

GM had a dream. “Gusto unta nako maging sales lady karun pero mas gusto jud nako makahuman ug skwela kay pangarap man nako na mahimong abogado (I wanted to be a sales lady, but what I really want is for me to finish school because I dream of becoming a lawyer)”, said GM.

GM acknowledges poverty as the main reason that pushed her into this line of work. GM comes home every morning after her duty to 6 mouths that were waiting to be fed. Her duty as a sexual worker comprised of standing by the street at night, outside a bank, waiting for a customer to come.

“All I want is for my children to graduate from a good school,” said GM.

“I’m doing this because I don’t want them to end up like me,” she added.

National Situation on Sexual Trafficking

Philippines is one of the countries in Asia that have the worst situation in terms of sexual trafficking. In the recent years, not more than 800,000 women were reported to have been victims of sexual trafficking, of which 50% were reported to have been minors. 500,000 were reported to have entered prostitution, according to the Philippines Sex Workers Collective.

According to Julius Bungcaras, head of the International Justice Mission (IJM) Cebu’s Community Mobilization for Churches and Students, 10-15 percent of every 1,000 students (10 out of 100) resort to prostitution (Ursal, 2011). As prices grow day by day, a number of people who engage in such employment also increase.
A member of the “Women Hookers Organizing for their Rights and Empowerment” (WHORE) said that Baguio City has the worst case of prostitution, which they recorded to have around 3,000 sexual workers. Baguio City is one of the country’s top tourist destinations.

According to another group, Lawig Bubai, which aims to provide education and livelihood for prostituted women, said that there are around 900 women who are working as Guests Relations Officers (GROs) in bars.

Some of these women came to Davao in search of a job, but wound up in the sex trade instead, according to Lawig Bubai Spokesperson Lory Paburag.

“Poverty, lack of education, and unemployment are the main reasons why individuals engage in prostitution,” said Jeanette Ampog from Talikala, which is a non-governmental organization run by women who offer support, advice and counseling to women who have been forced into the sex trade in Davao.

“These women are forced in the trade just so they can meet their daily needs,” Ampog added.

Ampog added that sufficient support and alternative livelihood should be provided for the “survivors” of prostitution, and that these should fit their skills and capacity, in order for them to provide the needs of their families.

Ampog also said that many of these women initially did not know what they were getting in to, but instead were lured into the trade.

Maria, not her real name, is a survivor of the trade. She claims that she was deceived into the job by a roommate who was a sex worker herself. “I asked her where she works and earns money from because I was very hard up at the time. She told me that she works at a massage parlor and that she would help me get a job there because they were hiring,” Maria narrated.

“When I got there, I was given a bottle of alcohol, a basin filled with warm water, and a towel. When I entered the room of the first customer, I saw that he was naked. I screamed and ran to leave the place,” said Maria.

Dili man nako gusto. Pero kinahanglan man gyud nako ug kwarta. Hantod sa nasanay nalang ko, ug nahimo kong prostitute sa usa ka tuig ra pud, kay gusto jud nako maluwas. (I didn’t want to (work like that), but I really needed the money. Over time, I got used to it, and I worked as a prostitute for about a year only, because I really wanted to leave that job).

For the self-claimed tuition fee girl who confessed in AdDU confessions, they cannot be blamed for entering in that kind of job because of the need for money. “My goal was to graduate, so I just told myself that this is for my future. I held on to the last resort that I had. You really can’t blame me for entering into that kind of job,” she said.

Ateneans’ Stance on the Issue

The issue of tuition fee girls and boys is no kept secret among Ateneans, but many try to be understanding and compassionate.

For 4th Year Mass Communication Student Jerrick Luy, there is no need for judgment, but instead, understanding, of the individuals who have this kind of job. “I think we should understand them because it’s just work and they are doing it so they can continue studying. We shouldn’t judge them because they’re only doing what they can to support themselves,” said Luy. “Who knows, really, they might not be receiving any support at all from their family,” Luy added.

When asked about what he thinks the school should do, Luy said that the school can’t do much to eradicate the trade because for him, it’s a personal decision made by the individuals. “What the school can do is respect them, welcome them, and not criticize them. Even if they are called TF girls, that’s for their future,” said Luy.

The SAMAHAN Central Board is always ready to provide assitance, said SAMAHAN External Vice President and CCO (Campus Clubs Organization) chairperson Kahlil Alcomendras. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help because something can be done, if you go through proper channels. Don’t be afraid to ask SAMAHAN to help you, the admin of the university, or even your friends,” said Alcomendras.

Approach the people whom you think will be able to help you, and you have to trust that they can. You need to be brave enough to ask for help when you need it,” she added.

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Red Light

I was inside the jeepney, waiting on a red light, when this kid came and sang for money.

“Red light” is inspired by the street children who wait on cars, especially jeepneys, during heavy traffic. They hop up on the entrance and sing songs, begging for money. This scene always strikes a cord in me. When my editor in Atenews asked if I could submit a poem for “Habi” which is a collaborative folio of Jesuit schools, I wrote this one.

Ang kulay ng langit ay pinag-aagawan ng asul at pula
habang si Dodong ay naglalakad na naka-paa
nakadukong binibilang ang hawak na mga barya

The dusk turned the blue sky red
while barefoot, Dodong walked
counting the money in his hands

Kinse lang ang kaniyang kinita
sa buong araw na pagkanta
sa mga dyip na naka-para

A whole day of singing in jeepneys
was only 15 pesos worth

Walang maramdamang init ang makukubal na mga paa
ramdam lang ang umiinit na mukha
sa tuwing kumakalabit siya
sa dyip na sakay ay pamilya

Dodong’s calloused feet didn’t heed the pavement’s heat
but his face always burned in shame
whenever he hops on a jeepney with a family 

Tuwang-tuwa sa isa’t-isa
Tingin lang ang ibibigay sa kaniya

Sharing laughter
but will only spare him a glance, maybe two

Si Dodong ay bababa
Magihihintay na muling umilaw
ang bilog na kulay pula

Dodong will hop off the jeepney
and wait for them to stop again
when the light goes red.

Photowalk: Talking with subjects

DSC_4029

I met Carlos Abilla when I first went photowalking. He pointed to my camera and said he wanted to be a photographer, and because money was sparse, he somehow found a way to illegally move out of the country to go work in Malaysia as one. He was caught, jailed, and now he’s residing in Davao City working odd jobs.

I saw him at San Pedro Church selling strings of the fragrant sampaguita.

He pointed to my camera again and said, “I used to do that before, too”.

I nodded.

A few awkward seconds of silence passed.

And then he said, “I still want to be one.”

Photojournalism: Bucana

Informal Settler at Kabacan, Bucana, Davao City
Informal Settler at Kabacan, Bucana, Davao City

This is Nanay Violeta holding a baby she was paid to babysit for a day. Nanay is one of the informal settlers in Kabacan, Bucana, who have no access to proper sanitation facilities. The large pond near their makeshift houses serve to be their “comfort room,” where they throw their wastes wrapped in old rice sacks and bags of cellophane. Nanay recalls that in her younger days, she’d use cut up strips of old white shirts during her menstrual period when she couldn’t afford feminine napkins. #communityjournalism #informalsettlers#urbanpoor #davao

Feces filled fish pond that serves as toilet for informal settlers at Kabacan, Bucana, Davao City
Feces filled fish pond that serves as toilet for informal settlers at Kabacan, Bucana, Davao City

In one of Davao City’s largest villages, Bucana, lies an old fish pond that used to be a home for milk fishes, but now houses tons of cellophane bags of human excrement from informal settlers in the area who have no access to proper sanitation facilities. Further, a septic tank from nearby was reported to have been disposing its waste directly into the pond.

The residents claim that they have been suffering for a long time headaches and nausea due to the foul stench emanating from the murky green waters of their village.

Until now, no action has been given from officials to address health concerns, save for the dengue-prevention fogging, said the residents. But it was funded by foreigners, not by the local officials, said one.

It was in February 2010 that the Davao City Council passed the Davao City Septage and Sewerage Ordinance which states in a provision that the local government, through its barangay unit, should construct communal toilets and septic tanks in areas where informal settlers cannot afford to build.