The sight of the sun rising behind the Oblation and Quezon Hall of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman is nothing short of breathtaking.
Passing by the iconic Oblation, students get a potent reminder to keep pushing and dreaming toward the goal of graduating and standing before it one day. The sight of the Oblation and the toll of the Carillon Tower’s bell, the rhythm of a rally’s chant are just some of the distinct everyday goings-on that make UP Diliman a unique environment.
Last July 30, however, many students going to UP for the first time were greeted with another striking scene at the country’s premier public university: long lines of people.
Sometimes nicknamed the “University of Pila,” the UP Diliman campus had multitudes of applicants, all wanting to join the next generation of “Isko” and “Iska” (university scholars) by taking the UP College Admissions Test (Upcat).
To get into any branch of the UP System, students must attain a specific University Predicted Grade (UPG). This UPG is a combination of one’s grades from high school (40 percent) and from that of the Upcat (60 percent).
Graduates of any Department of Education-accredited secondary school and foreign students passing the Philippine Educational Placement Test (PEPT) are eligible to take the Upcat.
Imposing an approximate 10 percent admission rate, the Upcat allowed entry into UP Diliman only 1,500 of 10,000 applicants in 2016.
The five-hour exam, set for Sept. 16 this year, will be taken by an estimated 167,000 applicants.
The increase in the number of test takers is widely attributed to the return of schools who have adopted the K-12 system and have added an additional two years to their curricula.
In 2016 and 2017, the Upcat experienced a decline in the number of test takers from the usual 80,000-90,000 to around 10,000.
On July 13, two weeks before the initial given deadline, the official Upcat-UP System Facebook page announced that it would accept applications from all Metro Manila private school students until July 27; Aug. 3 from all Metro Manila public school students; and Aug. 10 from all non-Metro Manila schools.
Applicants were asked to bring a printed and filled-out copy of Form 1 (personal information), which is available online, and Form 2 (transcript of records), which was distributed in schools.
However, after a series of class suspensions due to inclement weather and work suspensions in connection with President Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address, the UP System extended the application process to July 30, for Metro Manila private school students.
Some 10,000 applicants and their families reportedly camped out on campus, some as early as midnight or on the eve of deadline, to file their applications.
Social media was flooded with pictures and videos showing the severe congestion, the tight lines and even street-side litter around the Office of the University Registrar (OUR) building.
Adding to the crowds was that the first day of UP’s enlistment for 2018-2019, set aside for student athletes and PWDs, coincided with the last day of Upcat application submission.
“It was a mess,” said UP graduate student Martin Consing.
“I saw several people get injured and carried away for medical attention, and a few who lost their belongings. Both the Upcat applicants and administration are at fault. The administration shouldn’t have let the enrollment coincide with the filing of application, and the Upcat applicants, by the thousands, should not have waited for the last minute to file their applications.”
Many applicants claimed that they did not have enough time between the date of the announcement of opening of Upcat applications and the final date of document submission.
“While it was very hot and tiring, we didn’t encounter problems since the overall process was quick and organized. However, we did notice that out of the 10 counters designated for Upcat application submissions, only two were accommodating applicants despite the really long lines,” said Muntinlupa senior high school student Bea Atanacio.
“I honestly think that students, schools and employees had a difficult time because of the late opening for Upcat applications—especially since everyone in our batch was planning on applying. Senior high school students needed more time since we were given only two weeks to prepare our forms, and since Form 2 takes several working days to process. Moreover, many students were unable to come on any other day because of the weather and the suspensions.”
Senior high school students also reportedly complained about the behavior of some parents accompanying their children to submit application forms.
De La Salle University Senior High School student Luis Mendoza claimed that it was not the students who caused problems in the lines, but parents—some of them cursing and pushing people.
Mendoza’s phone was crushed in the process. He compared the crowd’s density and intensity to that of the procession on the feast day of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo.
Reportedly understaffed, the OUR did release a statement calling for volunteers to help in the registration process.
Fake news made matters worse. It was falsely announced online that test permits for Upcat would be available only until 11 a.m.—hence the frenzy, with people camping out as early as Sunday night.
This prompted the UP System to announce online that all applicants who submit documents—even through a courier—would be accepted as long as they are sent on July 30.
Dropboxes were also set up around the OUR to lessen the congestion in the building.
While UP is the home of time-tested traditions, the system can’t seem to solve the recurring issues of long lines and arduous application process.
Some believe that such long queues at UP are like a rite of passage—they’re part and parcel of the formative process of becoming an “Iskolar ng Bayan.”
However, others believe that the lines, more than being a nuisance, are a custom that deserves to be phased out.
“Well, it’s been almost traditional that such long lines and other things become symbolic of the toil that you undergo in the university. In a sense, I guess it’s part of the experience,” said UP alumnus and former University Student Council member Carlos Cabaero.
“More importantly, though, I don’t think any person, much less any institution, should box itself in a tradition or identity for identity’s sake. UP is always said to be a reflection of a country, but I also think it should be a reflection of its journey. Yes, long lines are part of the experience, but we go to the University so that eventually these experiences would just be tales from the past. We hope to grow, to move on, and these are among the small things we must eventually move away from as well.”