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‘Bakit kami mahirap?’: Fresh grad Leo Jaminola reflects on struggles as working student

by Gaby Agbulos

ON July 29, 25-year-old UP Diliman graduate Leo Jaminola made a post on Facebook talking about his life as a working student. In it, he detailed how he would often have to work a number of jobs – taking up as many as six – to finance his studies. 

In an interview with republicasia, he explained that he had to do so because his parents couldn’t afford to send him to school.

In 2019, Jaminola earned his political science degree from UP. Later on, he went back to pursue a Master’s in Demography. 

It was then that he shared his story about his struggles as a working student with the world, and over 34,000 people found themselves relating to his message. 

At first, Jaminola’s posts only reached his immediate friends and family. But soon enough, it went viral, garnering over 33,000 likes and 800 comments within less than a month. 

Speaking in earnest, Jaminola said that virality wasn’t his goal when he first made his post. He simply wanted to share with his friends and family the news that he’d finally gotten his master’s degree from UP. 

But given Jaminola’s touching story and the hardships he faced, which thousands of others could easily relate to, how could it not go viral? 

‘Hell Week’

Jaminola wasn’t picky with the work he did as a student. During exam seasons, people would often hire him to be their tutor, for example. Many students would also have him transcribe interviews for their thesis papers during Hell Week. He also worked as an encoder at the Department of Social Welfare and Development one summer. He would even sell food from his dorm.

Jaminola’s classes started at 10 in the morning and ended at 4 in the afternoon. After classes, he would take up his shift at the library because, at some point, he worked as an assistant there. 

Then, at 4 p.m., he’d start tutoring his clients, then transfer to encoding or transcribing – whichever he had lined up on that day – and use the remainder of his time to study or do his requirements. 

Jaminola would only go to sleep at 5, sometimes 6, and then at 10 the next morning. It was the same routine over and over again. 

Often, many of his jobs would pop up during Hell Week at UP, but of course, as a student, that meant that it was Hell Week for him too. He, however, didn’t have the luxury of focusing solely on his academics during those trying times. 

As an undergraduate, he would often get ill during Hell Week due to the fatigue and stress that he was putting both his body and mind under.

“I couldn’t prioritize yung outputs ko, makukuntento na lang ako in submitting [a] half-baked output na feeling ko hindi talaga pasok sa standards ko,” he admitted.

There were many classes where, if he hadn’t been working, he was sure to have passed them with flying colors. He also failed a few of his classes, given his workload. 

Even at a university where you weren’t supposed to worry about the financial aspect of your education, Jaminola still struggled immensely. 

More than that, he would have to go out of his way just to prove that he deserved free tuition. 

Issues with the system

“For most of my Bachelor’s Program in UP, hindi talaga free yung tuition; we had to apply to this system called [the] Socialized Tuition System,” Jaminola shared.

“Kailangan mong patunayan na mahirap ka para maka-afford ng free tuition, and for some reason, parati akong nap-place in a higher bracket.”

He explained that whatever bracket you end up in decides how much of your tuition you’re meant to pay; the highest bracket, for example, would have to pay P5,000 per unit. This continues to go lower and lower until you reach the last bracket, where you pay nothing.

Jaminola was quick to call it a faulty system; he was always placed in the wrong bracket.

He would often have to grovel before his institution, having to tell his life story over and over again to be allowed free tuition. And given his financial situation, Jaminola would find himself applying for over a hundred scholarships just so he’d be able to pay not just for his educational needs but for his living expenses in Manila as well.

And time and time again, he’d get rejected. 

“Never akong natanggap kasi may grade requirements, eh pa’no yun? I’m a working student to begin with, so hindi ako nakatutok sa studies ko,” he said, smiling sadly. 

He admits that he struggled heavily under his university’s system and wasn’t happy with how their system handled things, especially with how they handed out their scholarships.

He said that while it was based on a certain concept of meritocracy, it probably failed to take into account the struggles financially challenged students face daily.

Yes, there was support from the institution in some forms, like the Socialized Tuition System, wherein those in the lowest brackets would get stipends to help them get by. But often they were only given P3,500 per month. 

Given the current state of the economy, it’s likely not enough to get by for more than two weeks, let alone a month. 

The reality 

Given the many hardships he’s faced, Jaminola admits that there were times wherein he would get angry and blame his parents, wondering: “Bakit kami mahirap?”

He knows, though, that this is something out of their control – that his situation and that of his parents are products of structural challenges. With this in mind, he continued to tread on, building a bright future for himself no matter how rocky the path to it may have gotten.

Since graduating, Jaminola has found a job as a Development Worker for a global non-profit group, monitoring and evaluating different environmental projects. He’s dedicated his life to improving local solid waste management as well as advocating for zero-waste practices in the Asia-Pacific region.

Even now, he still finds himself struggling against the system. 

“When I was finding jobs, I got rejected from my first five jobs; I didn’t even hear back; it was just a flat-out no,” he recalled. 

At the time, he was 20 years old and practically broke. During the first month of his first job, wherein he was required to wear black shoes and black pants, he’d have to recycle the same pair of pants over and over again, at least four times a day. 

He spent his first paycheck buying himself another pair.

Jaminola’s struggles reflect those of thousands of Filipinos today: those who deserve an opportunity just like everyone else but struggle throughout their lives because the system is stacked against them.

For Jaminola, many of the world’s issues today stem from poverty and the inefficiency of those responsible for solving them. 

As someone who comes from a coastal community, he has witnessed firsthand just how many hardworking Filipinos do not get the life that they deserve.

He stated: “The very people that provide our food can’t even afford to feed their own families, [or] to put food on their tables. I think there’s something inherently wrong, unjust, [and] unfair with that.” 

Despite the current efforts of the government to address this, Jaminola feels that these attempts are still lacking – that the response should instead focus on the structural issues.

He also emphasizes the need to appoint the right people in the right places. By this, he means appointing individuals with the proper qualifications needed to bring about reforms meant to benefit the public..

“Sinasabi natin ‘Education is the key to success,’ but what are we providing our learners?” Jaminola asked.

“Ano ba yung natututunan talaga nila?” 

He says that while it’s hard to discount what the government is doing at present, that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t ask for more, especially when it concerns the future of the new generation.

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