Kristel and the UP Dream
by Jose Mario De Vega
This paper is a continuation of my article, “Self-Destruction: The Question of Suicide and the Tendency to Harm Oneself (GetRealPhilippines.COM and Blog Watch Citizen Media, March 19 and the Human Rights Online Philippines).
Last Wednesday, a freshman student from the University of the Philippines-Manila ended her life, two days after “she was forced to put her studies on hold because she could not pay the tuition”.
Her tragic death stirred the whole nation. In fact, the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s headline for March 19th is titled “Coed suicide sparks soul-searching at UP”.
The pertinent facts of this horrendously sad case are not in dispute, as reported by Dona Z. Pazzibugan (PDI, Metro, March 16th):
“Kristel Pilar Mariz Tejada, a 16-year-old Behavioral Sciences student, was found dead in her house in Tayuman, Manila, before dawn Friday. She reportedly drank a sliver cleaning solution.”
According to UP Manila’s student publication, Manila Collegian, “Tejada was forced on Wednesday to file a leave of absence for the second semester of school year 2012 – 2013, despite her and her parent’s appeals to extend the payment period for her tuition loan”.
I concur with the said student publication that Kristel’s “desperation over her financial problems with forced her to defer her studies was believed to have triggered the suicide”.
To those morons who, tries to evade the issue and divert the truth by claiming that suicide is a “complex phenomenon” miserably failed to realize that a person more often than not decides to do the act only after they reached their limits.
Those idiots cannot hide the irrefutable fact neither can they wash their dirty hands.
The blood of this young girl is on their hands! Shame on all of them!
Kristel’s act of filing the forced leave of absence on the ground of late payment, despite the repeated request of her family to the authorities of UP Manila is the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
According to the elder Tejada:
“Vice Chancellor, you know how we asked for your help and humbled ourselves before you”.
The family begged and beseech repeatedly before the big dogs of the university, but sadly all their pleas and lamentations fell on deaf ears.
There is nothing complex there. Only an idiot will fail to see the truth behind the sequence of events.
It is my firm and fervent view, sad but true, that it was the unjust policy of the University of the Philippines-Manila and the seeming ruthlessness and cold-heartedness of the officials of the said school that served as the decisive triggering factor that finally drove Kristel to kill herself. Shame on them!
Suicide is not the answer, they say! However, if I may inquire: but what is the question?
To those critics who questioned the propriety of Kristel’s action, let me state that we owe ourselves! Our bodies, our souls and our minds belong to us. Only the person knows what he/she is going through.
At the end of the day, society as a whole cannot fathom what’s going on inside the head of an individual, nor has it the power to check the feelings and agony suffered by a lonely heart.
Every individual is unique and special, every soul has its own mind and feelings, which society can never ever fully conquer nor decipher.
We may never understand the prevailing thoughts that animates the mind of a desperate heart that led an individual to do such a drastic act, yet instead of condemning the said person, it would be better if we will pause and reflect on the whole episode!
Why a lonely soul decided to end her life?
To those idiots who condemn and ridicule those people who committed suicide; let me state that:
We are not the same entities. We must celebrate and respect our differences. We are all special and unique in our own ways.
I may not agree to the grim decision undertaken by Kristel to end her life; for purposes, it seems to me of ending her suffering, yet it is my ardent contention that I do not have the moral right to condemn her action!
She acted on her own will, albeit forced by extreme desperation (notably both moral and financial) and compelled by the ruthless and heartless policy (no late payment/forced leave of absence) of the supposedly humane and activistic institution that she is studying.
It may not be the right thing to do before the eyes of some creatures, yet our poor girl saw it the other way!
Rather than condemning or criticizing this unfortunate soul, let us collectively ask ourselves: what led Kristel (and other people like her) to choose that decision? What compelled them to do what they have done?
Did we as a community also failed them? During those hard and turbulent moments that they are suffering, are we there for them?
Instead of criticizing Kristel, why don’t we condemn as a whole the unjust society and the inhumane institution that forced her to end her life?
It is on that great sense that we are all guilty of her untimely and gruesome death!
There are no special words that I could say to comfort the grieving parents of Kristel, especially her valiant father. I feel their personal lost tremendously, but suffice it to say that she did not die in vain nor was her sacrifice wasted.
There is no iota of doubt whatsoever in my mind that due to the tragic and horrendous thing that happened to her, a lot of our people have been awakened!
Indeed, Kristel’s shocking death has definitely grabbed the attention of the whole nation and put into the forefront the sorry plight of our entire rubbish educational system.
Now, more than ever, the public has finally realized the brutal truth of what the student activists has been shouting and screaming in the streets of Manila all through these years that: EDUCATION IS A RIGHT, NOT A MERE PRIVILEGE.
In fact, in a statement issued by Faculty and Staff of the Department of Behavioral Sciences in UP Manila said that:
Kristel’s death gave us a human face to the longstanding struggle against state apathy and neglect of the education of our youth.
Call to the Chancellor Agulto and the Vice Chancellor de Luna
Kristel has already done her part, now do yours! Do the right thing Sir/Madame, resign and spare the UP from further shame, humiliation and attacks (whether collateral or direct).
Mr. Chancellor, your act of condoling with the family of the deceased, your explanation of your side and your melodramatic act of crying to the public is not enough: you must leave and you must go — now!
Further, if you are an honorable man, you should apologize first to the family!
It’s never too late to do the right thing. The ultimate purpose of the apology is to admit one’s crimes, to bear responsibility for the said wrong act, to atone for the mistakes and transgressions wittingly or unwittingly committed, to remember the dead, to honor their memory, to vow that this gruesome event will never recur again and to forge a sense of closure, both personal and institutional; both to the perpetrators and also to the victims and their families.
I welcome the reforms announced by the UP president with regard to the STFAP, the no-late payment and the so-called forced leave of absence, yet Mr. president please don’t tell the whole country that you arrived at the said decision a “day before the suicide happened”. It like you are telling us that perhaps tomorrow it might rain!
Lastly, I concur with the novel and noble proposals of Professor Randy David (UP and Kristel, Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 21st) that:
Financial problems are fairly common among students in a public university like UP. I am therefore distressed that a student is barred from enrolling for failure to raise money for tuition. That is not an acceptable reason to keep her out of school. Having served a number of times as guarantor for student loans, I know that UP students will never run out of professors to run to for help. If the faculty cannot draw from their own meager pockets, they will usually find a way to tap other sources.
With its long list of prominent alumni who have gained much from a UP education, the university should not have any difficulty building a special fund dedicated to giving emergency assistance to students in dire financial straits. I would like to help start such a fund. But, equally important is the need to institute a more personalized mentoring system. In addition to the program adviser, an undergraduate student will benefit immensely from being assigned a senior student or alumnus to whom she can turn for advice.
These are essential tools of solidarity that go beyond state subsidy for education, and which cost so little to maintain. UP has always had a special heart for the poor; it is a shame that it could not do enough for Kristel.
To paraphrase a central line in the Broadway play “Les Miserables” in reference to Kristel:
Now, the University of the Philippines has killed the dream that I dream!
The University of the Philippines must return to its roots.
I dedicate this humble tribute to the memory of Kristel Pilar Mariz Tejada! May she lives forever!
Jose Mario Dolor De Vega
Masters in Philosophy (2004)
Philosophy lecturer, PUP and FEU
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