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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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