“Schooling was her life and hope. There were bigger problems that we faced in the past. Even if we hardly get a good meal, we stayed together. We remained strong. Even when she was hungry, she attended school.” Krizia, sister of UP student Kristel Tejada
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – In the afternoon of March 19, 12-year-old Krizia was busy arranging the candies and chips they placed on her sister’s coffin. She then turned around and told Bulatlat.com, “This is her favorite,” pointing to a local tetra pack juice.
Krizia is the sister of Kristel Tejada, the student from the University of the Philippines, who, on Friday, March 15, committed suicide after the university made her file a forced leave of absence when she failed to pay her tuition on time. She was only 16 years old.
“I just keep in mind that she’s only sleeping. It is a very long sleep. By the time she wakes up, we will all be together,” she said in Filipino.
Krizia said their family is hurting that her sister Star, as Kristel is called by her friends and relatives, had to claim her life. “But we never blamed her for her decision. Not even the most powerful person alive can ever blame her,” she added.
“She wanted to be a doctor because she wanted to save people’s lives. It is no longer possible now. But in a way, I would like to think that she still saved others — the youth who wants to study but could not afford it,” Krizia said.
The young ‘Star’
(Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / Bulatlat.com)
As a young girl, Kristel was very playful. “One could not help but notice that she was a fast learner,” her 75-year-old grandmother Pilar Pangilinan said.
She added that Kristel enjoyed playing with newspapers and would act as if she was reading it. “She would hold it up high and you can see her head turn from left to right. It was really as if she could read and understand it.”
Pilar said Kristel was a “grandma’s girl.” She was her first grandchild. Though the attention that she gave to Kristel would sometimes cause a disagreement between her and her daughter, Kristel’s mother Blessilda, she loved her even more.
“Sometimes Bles would tell me, ‘She’s my daughter. I know what is good for her.’ But I would still buy the young Kristel what she wanted,” Pilar told Bulatlat.com in jest.
Kristel, in Pilar’s eyes, grew up and became a fine young lady. “She also took care of her younger siblings. In fact his two younger brothers – aged eight and five – respected her. They would stop fooling around when she told them to stop,” she added.
“I miss you so much big sister,” Pilar quoted Kristel’s five-year-old brother Khristof.
Pilar said Kristel enjoyed joking around. “She teased me about my favorite celebrities like Piolo Pascual, Coco Martin and Jake Cuenca,” she said, referring to local TV and film artists, “She said that my favorites are too young for me!”
Krizia said her sister wanted to be a celebrity. She auditioned for commercials and shows in big TV network ABS-CBN. But she never got a call. “Her celebrity crushes included Aljur Abrenica and Enchong Dee,” she said sheepishly.
Kristel, her sister said, had what it takes to be a star. “She stood somewhere between 5’5” to 5’6”. She was a graceful dancer and a good singer. She was also good at drawing. She seemed to be good at almost anything she did.”
When she was in Grade 5, Krizia said, she and her classmates asked her sister to choreograph a dance number for them. “And we won in a school contest,” she exclaimed, as if it happened only a few days ago.
“Most of the time she was quiet in the house. But she was sometimes noisy too,” her mother Blesilda, 38, said, “Her singing voice was good for videoke.”
(Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / Bulatlat.com)
The two sisters would also point at each other on whose turn it was to wash the dishes. “Both of us would pretend to be sleeping,” Krizia said, “Then, she would pretend to wake up suddenly, ‘Oh, is it time to wash the dishes?’”
But when it came to academics, Kristel was very serious.
Just below her coffin, her family placed some of the medals she received during her elementary and high school days. “There are more in our house. I think it could fill a half sack of rice,” her sister Krizia said.
Blesilda added that Kristel memorized the multiplication table when she was only five years old.
The efforts Kristel exerted in her schooling at the University of the Philippines did not go unnoticed. On Jan. 30, she got a letter from the university inviting her to attend to the “Linggo ng Parangal” (Recognition week). She received on Feb. 19 this year the “Parangal sa Mag-aaral,” which is given to “students who have brought pride to the university through their academic performance, volunteerism and leadership in campus” in and out of the country.
Rigorous process at UP
When Kristel received the letter from UP informing her that she passed the UP College Admission Test, Pilar said, “she was jumping and shouting.”
“Look, mommy! I passed,” she said, quoting Kristel.
Pilar said she would never forget how happy Kristel was. “She was very happy when she passed. And then this,” pointing to Kristel’s coffin, “would happen.”
She added that getting into UP was a mere continuation of the achievements and recognitions she received – from elementary until her high school days.
“We were really having a hard time. We already decided to go back to the province and live there instead. But then Kristel passed her entrance exam at UP so we decided to stay,” her father Christopher, 38, said, “We want to be there for her.”
(Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / Bulatlat.com)
Just a few days before Kristel passed her father’s income tax return, among other requirements needed to determine which bracket under the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program she belonged to, Christopher landed a job as a driver. He was only earning $10.65 a day.
“We filed a correct and honest data. We didn’t want to lie about the job that I got because we didn’t want it to cause us any trouble in the future,” Christopher said.
After two months, however, he lost his job. “We really struggled to get by. There was a time I was selling newspapers for a living. I would earn $0.05 per copy. Imagine what would happen to us if I only managed to sell six copies?” Christopher said.
“But this did not hinder Kristel from attending her classes,” he added. Kristel survived her first semester as a Behavioral Science student through promissory notes. “It was impossible to meet the deadline.”
In December, Christopher asked his mother if they could pawn a piece of land they own. His mother agreed and the Tejada family got $500, which, he immediately used to settle their house rent and Kristel’s tuition for the first semester.
But their deadline for the second semester was already near. On Jan. 23, Christopher met Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Josephine de Luna who told him that the filing of another promissory note was already “too late.”
De Luna told Christopher that his daughter Kristel needed to file a leave of absence, adding that she would like to see Kristel.
The two returned after a few days but only to be told, “Sorry I can’t do anything about Kristel’s case,” Christopher quoted de Luna as saying. Before ending the meeting De Luna told them, “Do you have anything to say?”
Kristel did not respond at first. And then she eventually said, “No Ma’am. I have nothing to say.”
Her mother Blesilda, for her part, had the opportunity to meet Chancellor Manuel Agulto in an event at UP Manila. She is an active member and was elected to head the Food Committee in one of the events sponsored by the Association of Parents and Councilors in UP Manila.
“She pleaded, almost at the verge of kneeling in front of him,” Christopher said, referring to Agulto. The latter, on the other hand, told Blessilda to write a letter of repentance addressed to de Luna. The couple did as they were told. Christopher wrote the letter and brought it to de Luna’s office only to get a small piece of paper that read, “From the Office of Vice Chancellor. Final decision: File LOA.”
On March 13, Kristel finally submitted her forced leave of absence, together with her school I.D. Christopher believes that it was one of the hardest times for his daughter because she would no longer be allowed in the campus premises.
Kristel, despite not being officially enrolled for the second semester, still attended her classes.
“I’m sure that she is happy now, especially when UP has already returned her I.D.” Krizia said. Her I.D. was returned to her family during her wake. It now hangs in her coffin.
“I know that we cannot put all the blame to UP Manila. But it was the biggest factor. Schooling was her life and hope. There were bigger problems that we faced in the past. Even if we hardly get a good meal, we stayed together. We remained strong,” she said, “Even if she was hungry, she would go to school.”
Krizia added, “If the main reason is our family problems, she could have (committed suicide) ages ago.”
Reason behind her death
Krizia said the biggest problem that had probably triggered her sister to commit suicide was when officials of the University of the Philippines – Manila told her to file a forced leave of absence.
“She never attempted to do this in her 16 years of existence. She loved us. But maybe should could no longer take the depression,” she said, “If this is because of a family problem, she could have done it long ago.”
Krizia, who is close to her sister, said Kristel does not have a boyfriend. “She said if she would have a suitor, that guy would have to wait for 10 years.”
(Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / Bulatlat.com)
At around 3 a.m. of that fateful day of March 15, Krizia said her father woke her up. When she saw her sister lying unconscious at the kitchen floor, she said, she kept praying to God.
Though there are several media reports pinning the blame on Kristel, Krizia said no one can judge what her sister had done. “I don’t care what they are saying. My only concern is to make sure that no one will suffer the same fate as Kristel in the future.”
“(She died) to wake everyone up. She became the voice of the youth who cannot go to school because they cannot afford to pay their tuition. She is now the face of those who are yearning for change. Education is a right,” Krizia said.
Education is a right
Krizia, for her part, criticized the ‘no late policy’ of the University of the Philippines, which was lifted by the UP administration following her sister’s death.
“All students, especially the poor, should be given an opportunity to finish their education. If they are really after the tuition, then there are other ways such as putting students’ card on hold. But it would be a lot better if they would just lower the tuition,” Krizia said.
She added, “As my sister used to say, money is mere paper. It is only us, humans, who gave it its value. What are we going to do if the people, who are supposed to use and enjoy it are all gone because of it?”
She added that the Philippines has a high crime rate because its citizens have no access to higher education and that there are no jobs available here.
Reacting to a statement made by Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, Krizia said she does not believe that the government is helpless in changing the policies in UP and other state universities and colleges.
She added that companies and even ordinary Filipino folk pay their taxes. “Isn’t that supposed to go back to the people in the form of services?”
Although there are several local politicians and senatorial bets such as Teddy Casiño and JV Ejercito who have expressed their sympathies, the Tejada family has not received a single word of sympathy from President Benigno “Noynoy” C. Aquino III, himself.
Christopher reminded the government that it needs to secure the education and health of the people to run a good country. “We need education to nourish our youth. We need hospitals for everyone to be healthy,” she said.
While Krizia misses her sister terribly, she asked for her guidance now that she has to take on the responsibility her sister left her. “I want to be as good as you.”
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Ridiculous story there. What occurred after?
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts about philippines.
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Many journalists acknowledge and applaud Kristel’s suicide as the highest form of
sacrifice or an act of heroism on her struggle against an oppressive UP
system that had deceived her like any other poor students who were
enticed to take the UPCAT & being promised with financial assistance
like STFAP which turned out to be oppressive & ruthless at all.
Ridiculously, UP officials said that Kristel could have gotten the right STFAP
bracket E2(E2= 100% free tuition, monthly allowance, book stipend, etc) had
she completed the more ridiculously electric bill, photo of their humble
abode, etc which were mainly the reasons for them to be ruthless and ruthless
and ruthless towards a very poor soul who was very humbly begging for a slice of her right to education that would get her family out of poverty…Who would not be distressed by this heartbreaking reality? Afterall, why did Kristel appealed against the wrong bracket that was assigned to her originally? Certainly because it was wrong and unacceptable! And by the time the UP officials said that the right bracket (E2) with the right financial assistance was just there waiting for Kristel until she completed the requirements was the time when they, UP officials, admitted that the STFAP is horribly defective and inefficient with its bracket assignment, as verified by the numerous students’ appeals for rebracketing not only recently but countless have been made since STFAP was first implemented in 1998.
Kristel’s one heroic act of sacrifice has remarkably left us hope,
inspiration, and fortitude to perpetually fight for our basic right to
education as embodied in our constitution, which is the only way we
could eventually eradicate poverty.
IN OUR HEARTS, LONG LIVE KRISTEL! LONG LIVE OUR MODERN-DAY HEROINE!