“We remember that she should never have been pushed away from an institution she deserved to be in, because of a flawed and unjust system.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — It was in March 2013 when news of the tragic death of a freshman student of the premier state university shocked the whole country.
Kristel Tejada, a Behavioral Science major in the University of the Philippines-Manila, lost hope after failing to pay her tuition and decided to end her own life. She should have been graduating this year.
Youth groups commemorated Tejada’s third death anniversary on March 15, Tuesday, as they vowed to continue the fight for higher budgetary allotment for public education. UP Manila students lit candles to remember their fellow student.
“Today, we commemorate her death. We look back, and we remember. We remember that she should never have been denied her right to education, because of its higher costs. We remember that she should never have been pushed away from an institution she deserved to be in, because of a flawed and unjust system,” the Manila Collegian, the official campus publication of UP Manila said in their commemoration of Tejada’s death.
Kabataan Partylist first nominee Sarah Elago said three years after Tejada took her life due to financial constraints that barred her from continuing her studies, the state of education in the country has gone from bad to worse.
“After Kristel, five more education-related deaths ensued, and what’s the Aquino government’s response? Grim, hard-hearted inaction,” she added.
A total of six documented cases of education-related suicides have been recorded by the Kabataan Partylist, including Tejada’s. The most recent recorded case was that of Jessiven Lagatic, a graduating student of Central Bicol State University of Agriculture, who reportedly ended his life after losing his scholarship.
“The death of these students should have jolted the Aquino administration into the reality that the education system in the Philippines has become vastly unaffordable, even for students in state universities,” Elago said.
Instead, government through the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) allowed even more schools to increase tuition and other school fees. Elago noted that for the next academic year, some 400 private colleges are set to increase fees.
The National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP) said in a statement that the worsening state of tertiary education in the country is President Aquino’s “lasting legacy.” The group said the Aquino government deregulated and “treated education as a lucrative business,” which allowed capitalist-educators to accumulate profits from students.
The youth groups vowed to continue the fight for free public education for the Filipino youth.
“In memory of our fellow students who were killed by the rotten education system perpetrated by Aquino, we vow that we will be ever determined in fighting for the right to free public education,” Charisse Bañez, League of Filipino Students national chairperson said.
The Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND-UP) also pledged to continue fighting for justice for all iskolar ng bayan (scholars of the people), and to always remember Tejada.
“We will always see Kristel’s light in the weary faces of poor students and their parents. We believe that the liberation of Kristel’s memory from the brutalizing narrative of state abandonment of education can only be accomplished if we persistently work to liberate the iskolar ng bayan from forced subjection to daily despotism of the profit-worshipping educational machine. We will abide by the teaching of Katipunan: ‘Defend the oppressed and fight the oppressor!’” the group said.
The NUSP called on all student councils, formations, governments, and unions to intensify the fight against commercialization of education.
They said six lives are enough to realize that the current educational system is neither liberating nor educating the Filipino youth, “rather it is oppressing our constitutional right to a quality and accessible education.