“She loved studying. She loved UP (University of the Philippines). She believed that financial limitations shouldn’t be a hindrance to education. She didn’t expect that the system implemented last year would defeat her,” the mother of the University of the Philippines freshman who committed suicide last Friday told the Philippine Daily Inquirer at the wake in Sta. Cruz, Manila.
Blesilda Tejada was referring to the “no late payment” policy of UP Manila which directs teachers to turn away from their classes students who fail to pay their tuition. The memorandum was issued last October and signed by vice chancellor for academic affairs Marie Josephine de Luna.
Two days before she killed herself, 16-year-old Kristel Pilar Mariz Tejada—a Behavioral Sciences student—was forced to take a leave of absence for the second semester after she failed to pay her tuition due to her family’s dire financial situation.
According to Andrea Martinez, Tejada’s psychology professor and program adviser, for Tejada, studying was a coping mechanism as it was not just a way to achieve her dreams but also a way to deal with her problems.
“When I’m in school, I forget the problems at home,” Tejada had confided in her, she told the Inquirer.
Martinez added that Tejada had been wallowing in guilt because she felt that she had let her parents down.
“I’m the eldest child, they have high hopes for me and I’m studying in UP,” Tejada told her once, she said.
She recalled that Tejada had endured weeks of attending classes even though her name would not be called whenever the teacher checked the attendance in accordance with the “no late payment” policy.
“For a teenager, it’s a blow to your self-esteem. She had asked to sit in [in my class] because she was interested in the subject. When she told me she felt embarrassed, I included her name in the roll call,” Martinez said.
In February, Tejada was forced to skip her classes after she missed the deadline for the payment of her tuition although she would still go to the campus and talk to Martinez.
She had told Martinez that she would wake up early in the morning only to realize that she could not go to school anymore.
When she was finally forced to file a leave of absence last Wednesday, Tejada had to surrender her UP identification card, something she found very difficult to do. “The ID was symbolic of her holding on to UP,” Martinez said.
On Tuesday night, Tejada sent her a text message which went: “I’m sorry I told a lie. I said I was OK but I was not and I am not.”
Tejada’s mother, meanwhile, said that “blame” may not be the right word although she believed the system at the university had a part in her daughter’s decision to end her life.
The family has been having financial problems after her husband, Christopher, lost his regular job as a warehouse coordinator when the company shut down, she added.
Tejada, who wanted to be a doctor, was able to finish high school at Manila Cathedral School as a scholar. Her younger sister, also a scholar at MCS, and two younger brothers are all consistent honor students.
Tejada’s father had even pleaded with the UP vice chancellor to give them enough time to pay their daughter’s tuition as Blesilda, who was with him, cried but she said she was told to “stop crying and accept the policy.”
Cleve Arguelles, UP system student regent, said on his Facebook page, “The case of Kristel Tejada was not a suicide. There was no choice—either you pay or you stop pursuing your dreams. She was killed by the system—a system that refuses to recognize that education is a right.”