MANILA, Philippines – Sometimes, he still places 6 plates on the table instead of 5 – not because of the unborn child in his wife’s womb, but because sometimes, he forgets Kristel Tejada is already gone.
“[Kristel’s death] is a permanent pain na kahit sabihin ng tao na move on, hindi ka makakamove on. Andun `yung space na `yun. Palaging may blanko,” Christopher Tejada, father of Kristel, tells Rappler.
(Kristel’s death is a permanent pain, and even if people say it’s time to move on, you just can’t. There will always be a void.)
One year ago on March 15, Kristel, then a Behavioral Science freshman of the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila, took her life. (READ: UP student kills self over unpaid tuition)
People say it was due to depression, while others claim it was because she had issues with her boyfriend. But her family insists her failure to pay tuition, which caused her to stop schooling, “pulled the trigger.” (READ: On the whys of suicide)
While they struggled to pay the bills, tuition used to be the least of their worries. As a scholar, she enjoyed a private education in high school, even winning awards for her alma mater.
Kristel studies hard to cope with their plight, Christopher fondly remembers.
When she was about to enter college, the family held on to the promise of a state university – of no less than UP – to give their eldest child an affordable but quality higher education.
“Once naka-step ka sa UP, maganda na future mo, kasi trabaho na maghahanap sa 'yo. Ganun kataas hope namin nung nakapasok si Kristel sa UP,” he says, on the verge of tears.
(Once you step into UP, you have a bright future because jobs will come to you. That's how high our hopes were when Kristel got into UP.)
But what they didn’t know was that while entering UP is difficult, staying there is even harder. They had to learn this the hard way. (READ: ‘I survived UP’)
“Kaso lang, 'yun nga 'yung pangarap niya na makapasok sa school, 'yun din ang nag-alis ng pangarap niya [na makatapos].” (Her dream to enter UP was the same dream that took away her chances of graduating from college.)
‘No guilt’ for UP
Barely finishing her first year in UP, Kristel had to file for a leave of absence (LOA) on March 13, 2013. This was after a semester of trying out different ways to stay enrolled: late or installment payments, student loan, even promissory notes. The school repeatedly denied her requests.
UP Manila Chancellor Manuel Agulto said, however, they did everything to help Kristel. (READ: UP Manila Chancellor: No guilt)
It was a sad day for Kristel, as the LOA had a great impact on her and her family, her professor Andrea Bautista Martinez earlier said.
Two days later, she committed suicide.
What happened to Kristel resurrected policy issues and debate on the affordability of a UP education. It also prompted the UP Manila administration to lift the ‘no late payment’ policy being practiced in the school. (READ: 'No late payment' lifted; UP students want STFAP scrapped)
Coincidentally, the UP administration also reformed the Socialized Tuition Financial Assistance Program (STFAP), a policy that became even more controversial following Kristel’s death.
One year after
Nothing and no one can replace Kristel, Christopher says. Not the new baby on the way, nor their family’s better living conditions.
No longer a taxi driver, Christopher now works at the Manila city hall. “Nakapagrent na kami ng maayos na bahay, [but] nothing compares sa absence niya (We are already renting a decent house but nothing compares to her absence),” he says.
Despite what happened to her favorite daughter, Christopher admits he would still allow his children to enter UP if they want to.
“Actually ang joke ko sa kanila nun, ‘Kung makapasa ka ng UPCAT!’ As it is, iba ang prestige kapag nasa UP e,” he adds.
(Actually, my joke to them was they can go to UP as long as they pass the UPCAT. As it is, there is prestige that comes with studying in UP.)
But if his children do become the next Iskolar ng Bayan (state scholar), the kind of UP education he wants for them is an education that accepts students on the sole basis of their potentials, and not on their capacity to pay. – Rappler.com