“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 behind closed doors and twisted sheets is thriving. In this context however, those who were referred here are those that engage in the trade specifically to pay for their university’s steep tuition fees. Students who engage in this kind of business are called TF (tuition fee) girls or TF boys. They exchange their selves for a college degree. Their 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 a translated excerpt from her said confession:
“I was one of the students in AdDU who came from a province. My family is not rich, so when my parents decided that I would be studying in AdDU, the first thing I asked them was, ‘Will we be able 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.’
“I had a lot of classmates who were rich. Some of them changed their bags every day, and another one bought a new phone almost 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.
“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.
“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?’
“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.
“’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 usually generate reactions of disappointment, or sometimes pity, the confession which was put up on Facebook generated feedbacks of compassion. These reactions show that Ateneans are more accepting and understanding of the predicament of these students, rather than shaming.
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. dili lang mag dali. Apili jud ug pag-ampo ang tanan.”
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.
A factor may be how the tuition and other school fees of universities in the Philippines increase annually. In 2009, data from CHED says that the national average tuition rate has increased by as much as 89.93 percent as compared to other years. In addition to that there is recurring difficulty of acquiring a high paying job, combined by the rising cost of living.
But, every student has a dream.
With a dream in mind, students and parents alike fight their daily struggles to pursue that dream, even if it means paying a high price for it.
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.
TF girls are everywhere, according to 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.
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 Mass Communication graduate Jerrick Luy, there is no need for judgment, but instead, understanding, of the individuals who have this kind of job. “It’s just work and they are doing it so they can continue studying. 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.
The SAMAHAN Central Board is always ready to provide assitance, former SAMAHAN External Vice President and Campus Clubs Organization (CCO) Chairperson Kahlil Alcomendras said. “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.”
“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.
Word has it that the business of tuition fee girls continue to go on presently, reportedly with their own system of identification and pricing. Although these reports are unverified, the facts are hard to catch when these girls and this trade is hidden under the veil of secrecy.