Kristel Tejada story: Signs of the times

Notebook Mar 22, 2013 at 3:49 pm

BY HERMIE GARCIA

The tragic story of Kristel Tejada brings back memories of my years in the UP Diliman campus decades ago.

To be sure, there were many, I mean a lot, of UP students then who came from the far-flung rural areas of the country. You would know because they talked about their towns and barrios in the dormitories. And they usually banded together. They were bright students who graduated at the top of their high school class and who spoke with thick regional accents.

Now, it’s very different in UP. A joke sent by writer Ed Maranan was about the common belief that the main problems of the students in the campus then were imperialism, feudalism and bureucrat capitalsim. Now the main problem is the availability of parking space! Ed goes on to say that in the lobbies and corridors of UP buildings you can witness a natural parade of student fashionistas flaunting their latest wardrobe. And in the parking lots you’ll find the latest car models you usually find only in Makati.

Notwithstanding this dominant presence of students coming from wealthy families, there are still those who come from the poor, providing a mirror image of the widening gap between the rich and the poor in the national scene.

Check the speech of Student Regent Cleve Keving Robert Arguelles, reprinted on page 15. The title of his piece tells it all: “Bawal ang Mahirap sa UP”. With statistics and anecdotes, Arguelles makes the compelling point that the UP system that’s supposedly designed to subsidize the education of the bright but poor Filipino students nationally doesn’t work.

Hence the story of Kristel Tejada who committed suicide over her failure to enroll for the second semester for financial reasons. She couldn’t afford the P6,000 ($147) tuition fee needed to enroll. And she had to file a student leave of absence and surrender her UP ID. That must have devastated her, a 16-year old freshman in her second semester, and led her to end her life.

$147? That amount can buy a nice dinner in a decent restaurant for a family of five in Toronto. To a UP student, that’s a matter of whether he or she will be accepted as a student or will have to surrender the UP ID.

Let’s see it from the perspective of Tony Lopez who wrote in his The Manila Times column recently:

“The country is destroying its human capital, systematically and with impunity.

“This destruction is taking place amid money of unprecedented amounts — $85 billion in foreign reserves (equivalent to P3.485 trillion or 1.74 times the national government budget); $22 billion in foreign remittances (equivalent to P902 billion, nearly half the national budget); and $16 billion in income from call centers and BPO (equivalent to P168 billion). In addition, parked and idle at the Bangko Sentral is P1.45 trillion in deposits placed by commercial banks which are too timid to lend it out to needy borrowers.

“We have P6 trillion of surplus money. Deploying just ten percent or P600 billion of that can finance the tuition of 600 million UP hopefuls for one semester or 300 million students at UP for one year or 30 million students for ten years.

“Thirty million students for ten years! With just ten percent of the surplus and idle money the Philippines already has. The $85 billion foreign reserves, in particular, can send hundreds of thousands—in fact, millions—of Filipino scholars abroad to rebuild our technocracy and our technology when they come back.

“UP students are barking up the wrong tree. They should be throwing Molotov cocktails , if not bombs—at the Congress, the Senate, Malacanang, and yes, including the central bank.” (End of quote)

What a “recommendation”. The author must have been very frustrated. This only speaks of the astoundingly wrong priorities of the Philippine government. They talk of building airports, casinos, more roads and bridges and highways and they’re slashing the budgets for state universities and colleges while asking them to earn on their own like businesses.

There’s this story about Kristel asking her teacher if she could sit in her class in Nov. 2012 because she was not enrolled. She was allowed though she had missed two weeks already. After the first major exam in January, she got a grade of 1.75 and a very impressive result in the essay test.

She attended class for months short of money, maybe even hungry, without being enrolled and got impressive grades. Not long later, she was asked to leave school and that devastated her. She’s no longer on campus, not in this world either.

Signs of the times, as they always say, when something as tragic a story like this happens and touches a sensitive chord in our hearts. What a waste of human life and a beautiful mind. As a protest song we used to sing years ago says: “When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?”