What would have happened had I tried my luck in UP

THE naked truth in UP these days is plain for everyone to see. (www.kulay-diwa.com)

THE naked truth in UP these days is plain for everyone to see. (www.kulay-diwa.com)

I CAN’T help but feel sad and disturbed when I learned that a certain Kristel Tejada, 16, a former University of the Philippines freshman, killed herself recently after being barred from school for being unable to pay certain dues on time.

THE late Kristel Tejada (www.koolbuster.net)

THE late Kristel Tejada (www.koolbuster.net)

The poor child, in all likelihood, was saddled with personal and financial problems, and being deprived of the chance to get affordable but quality education was the last thing she needed. But I don’t believe that the bureaucratic and seemingly heartless UP officials’ refusal to give her one more chance drove her to kill herself.

But it was certainly the rod, so to speak, that pushed her into fits of utter despair. Since her life seemed to have revolved around her education, going to UP gave her a sense of hope, pride and focus, which helped her cope with whatever problems she and her family were dealing with.

Temporary setback

A more tenacious and optimistic individual might also view the development as a major blow. But instead of ending her life, she would probably consider it as a temporary setback, as she pounded the street in search of part-time work.

TEJADA'S wake in their Sta. Cruz, Manila residence (www.gmanetwork.com)

TEJADA’S father holds a baby picture of Kristel at her wake. (www.gmanetwork.com)

Alas, we’re all built differently, have distinct mindsets and values systems, and come from different social and personal backgrounds. This explains why certain individuals are more adept than others at handling adversity.

But once you deprive a person, no matter how tough she is, of hope, chances are, it won’t be long before she subjects herself to something as tragic as what Kristel did.

Instead of going berserk by hacking others, Kristel chose to inflict violence on herself by ingesting poison. I don’t want to point fingers at UP officials directly involved in her case, but now is as good a time as any for the country’s state university to do some soul searching.

Presidential discretion

After all, if UP can turn a blind eye by allowing mediocre but well-connected students entry into its hallowed halls through the much-abused PD or “presidential discretion,” an euphemism for palakasan, why can’t its officials extend some consideration for poor and nameless scholars like Kristel?
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What is UP’s purpose for if not to help improve the lot of underprivileged members of our society by giving them world-class education? UP officials have a lot to learn from and answer to for this sorry episode. I hope Kristel didn’t die in vain.

THE annual UP Lantern Parade (diversityhuman.com)

THE annual UP Lantern Parade (diversityhuman.com)

If I had my way, I would have probably studied in UP. Passing the UPCAT (UP’s dreaded entrance exam), of course, was a totally different matter. The problem was I never even gave it a try.

My dad, who, up to now, is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, would hear none of it. Although Ninoy Aquino’s assassination was two years away when I first entered college, the Marcos dictatorship was no longer as invincible as it once seemed.

It was already starting to show visible cracks from the outside. It was only a matter of time before student rallies became an almost regular occurrence in Metro Manila and other urban areas.

Hotbed of student unrest

My father, who equated UP as a hotbed of student activism, wasn’t comfortable seeing any of his children enter the state university. He was afraid we’d get too radical for our own good.

STANDING at attention (hungeree.com)

STANDING at attention (hungeree.com)

He’d rather lose his children to the convent or seminary than see them disappear for good in the mountains. Of course, no such thing happened in both earthly and heavenly realms. If Dad only knew that some UP students were as bourgeoisie as Marie Antoinette even in those days, he would have probably given us his blessings.

Instead of pursuing the idea, I simply stayed at the University of Santo Tomas, where I finished elementary and high school.

Because of my relatively good grades in fourth year, I was exempted from taking UST’s version of the UPCAT, a far easier college entrance exam if my good friend Ivy, who took the test, is to be believed.

Oblation Run

Since she was eligible for admission to both UST and UP, Ivy naturally went to UP where the tuition was lower, the grounds bigger (and flood-free during rainy days) and the scenery, especially during the annual Oblation Run ;-) and Lantern Parade, much more interesting and “in your face.”

HAD UST staged its version of UP's annual Oblation Run, runners would probably be clad in priests' vestments, but without underwear. :-D

HAD UST staged its version of UP’s annual Oblation Run, runners would probably be clad in priests’ vestments, but without underwear. :-D (my_sarisari_store.typepad.com

Having settled for UST, I was unsure up to the last minute if I wanted to take up commerce or behavioral science (also the ill-fated Kristel’s chosen course). Instead, I decided to cool my heels first by enrolling in AB, or what T-squares from the college of engineering derisively called the “aral-baon” gang.

IF they can do it, so can she! (glenlom.multiply.com)

IF the guys can do it, then so can she! (glenlom.multiply.com)

I enjoyed my stay so much in AB that the transition period soon became permanent. Before the first year was over, I was dead set on staying and pursuing a career in media. And since I was (and still) uncomfortable in front of the cameras, my first choice was journalism.

My younger sister Farida was much more determined to give UP a try. Since she belonged to the top section of her batch in high school, she was influenced by not a few of her classmates in UST, who tried their luck and eventually passed the UPCAT.

UP coed, like Ivy, Tanya and Sue during their time in UP, enjoy the scene at the Oblation Run.

UP coeds, like Ivy, Tanya and Sue during their time, enjoy the scene. (my_sarisari_store.typepad.com)

She wanted to be a physical therapist. But with such a short fuse, I wonder how she’d ever manage. She later opted for engineering. Again, my dad, who held the purse strings, won out in the end.

None of us ended up studying in UP. Even Ronnie, our youngest, pursued an engineering degree at the University of the East.

De facto scholars

Since money was tight, we were, in a way, de facto scholars, as our immediate relatives from the US, particularly my grandparents, regularly sent money to the Philippines to help defray the cost of putting us through school.

If not for their help, I would have quit school or been forced to lessen my load as I divide my time between school and work. And since the first ever McDonald’s opened in nearby Morayta Street less than a year after I entered college, I would have probably applied there.

Who knows? Had I worked there, I would have been “colleagues” with a future superstar like Richard Gomez, who’s not ashamed to declare in interviews that he once flipped burgers and shoveled French fries as a part-time employee of McDonald’s.

Had that happened, I could say with a straight face every time I bumped into the lovely Gomez couple, Richard and Lucy, during social events and media functions: “Miss Lucy, una siyang  (Richard) naging akin…sa pagkain ng Big Mac.”  (I was the first with Richard…when it came to eating a Big Mac.) :-D

WHILE  a number of high school classmates moved to UP and La Salle, I stayed in UST. (www.demotix.com)

WHILE a number of my classmates in high school moved to UP and La Salle for college, I stayed in UST. (www.demotix.com)

10 thoughts on “What would have happened had I tried my luck in UP

      • True-to-life indeed. I thought I was going to a “poor man’s university” when I picked UP, but boy was I wrong. It’s not the rich’s fault that they are rich, it’s just a painful irony that privileged kids, who can go to any university they want, when they end up in UP, take their UP education for granted but for this girl who desperately wants it and works for it, it would have to be a dead end, no pun intended.

      • Hanna, even as an outsider, I used to wonder about the UP paradox myself until a number of people within and outside UP explained to me why. I don’t know if it’s true, but they told me that more kids from rich and middle class families have a bigger chance of entering UP simply because they’re better prepared to take and pass the UPCAT. Apart from those review classes, their elementary and high school education acquired in private schools are much better than those acquired by poor kids, no matter how bright they are, who went to public schools. The situation was totally different, say, 50 or 60 years ago when kids educated in public schools could hold their own and even beat those coming from exclusive schools. This, they say, partly explains why there are so many “burgis” in UP and not enough poor kids, which are the ones who would benefit the most from the subsidized and quality education UP offers. As for those who got in because of PD, that’s another story. Probably a UP alumnus should write about it more thoroughly. :-D

  1. Setting aside the issues of tuition fee timeliness, personal/family problems or other issues which we may not know about, it is still terribly sad when a gifted 16 year old thinks the only answer to eliminating her pain/problems is suicide. Unfortunately, we as a society have failed her as well as the other groups which should be there for people in need e.g. governments, religious institutions, etc. but that’s another story.

    • Indeed, Bob. Di ba, it’s been said that a death diminishes us all. More so if that death takes away the life of someone so young, so bright and so promising as Kristel. It is this sense of extreme hopelessness brought about by so many factors that ultimately forced her to commit suicide. No matter where and how you look at it, it is sad. Sayang or nakakahinayang as we say in Filipino. I don’t want to blame anybody anymore, but this should give us pause to reexamine ourselves as a society. As always, it is good to hear your insights. Thank you.

  2. I don’t think UP is to blame for Kristel Tejada’s death. Though many like her existed during my time as a behavioral science student in UPM (not so much when I was already in Diliman, taking graduate studies), suicide is usually caused by many factors. Reading about Tejada, I am inclined to believe that she is a depressive person who had a lot of heavier underlying problems. The forced LOA might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    I do admit, however, that ever since PNoy stepped into his role of president, budget for education has become one of the lowest priorities. And I didn’t think that that rank could go lower. That tuition fee hike of 300% was actually the result of small tuition fee hikes that should have happened decades ago but didn’t. And even with this increase, faculty members, who must produce/publish/present researches every year, are still paid peanuts. The university resorted to leasing parts of its lands just to be able to sustain itself. I don’t think people who blame UP realize this.

    Our priorities as Filipinos are also very skewed. See, we have a budget of PhP2B on education, but are spending as much as $1,2B on gambling (there are talks of turning the Philippines into the next Macau or Las Vegas).

    • I agree with you, Skysenshi, on everything. I’ve already articulated my thoughts on UP and Kristel. She is one troubled girl who, dare I say it, deserved stronger more capable parents to look after her. In hindsight, her father made it sound as if UP was solely responsible for killing her girl. In deference probably to the grieving family, I have never come across any reaction blaming Kristel’s parents. In truth, they are equally answerable for failing to provide for their family. And also for not having the foresight that their five children will soon need all the monetary and moral support due them as they enter higher education. Of course, the society, as you said, is equally at fault. From the government down. We are a “showbizified” culture that puts premium on appearances and the amount of money one has in the bank. As for the government’s full throttle investment and/or support for gambling, I’m afraid to think of its consequences. The disadvantages far outweigh the benefits. With inadequate airports, poor infrastructure and a volatile peace and order situation, I don’t think a lot of foreigners would be attracted to come in droves to the country as they do in Vegas and Macau. Majority of the gamblers would still be Filipinos. That is sure to wreak havoc financially as well as morally on the country 10 to 20 years down the road. The thought scares me.

      Thank you for your feedback.

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