MANILA, Philippines - She just wanted to finish her studies and help her four siblings.
Kristel Tejada, however, still owed P10,000 in tuition for this semester at the University of the Philippines in Manila, where the 16-year-old was a behavioral science freshman.
She asked for a tuition loan or installment payment and offered a promissory note.
When these were all turned down, Tejada’s mother, according to some reports, even knelt before UP Manila Chancellor Manuel Agudo and begged that her daughter be allowed to continue attending her classes.
When that still didn’t work, Tejada was forced to file a forced leave of absence (LOA) earlier this week.
At around 3 a.m. yesterday, the despondent girl drank silver cleaner at their home in Tondo. She was rushed to the Metropolitan Medical Center but emergency teams failed to revive her.
Professor Andrea Martinez, Tejada’s program adviser, said the girl had been depressed since going on forced leave.
“We were able to talk via SMS and she told me that her filing of LOA really had a big impact on her and their family,” Martinez was quoted by the student publication Philippine Collegian as saying.
Tuition is subsidized at the state university, where students are called “iskolar ng bayan” or nation’s scholars.
Under a socialized tuition and financial assistance program, UP students from low-income families are classified through a bracketing system.
Those who fall under Bracket A pay P1,500 per unit; Bracket B students pay P1,000; Bracket C, P600, and Bracket D, P300. Students under Bracket E are exempted from tuition.
The financial assistance office evaluates applications and conducts random house visits to verify income declarations.
Tejada was classified under Bracket D. With a regular load of 18 units plus miscellaneous fees, her average tuition for one semester can amount to P7,500.
Her mother, a housewife, said they could not pay the P10,000 since the family depended on the meager income of her husband, a part-time taxi driver.
Tejada, the eldest of a brood of five, wanted to finish her degree without delay to be able to help provide for the family’s needs.
In November last year, however, the UP Manila administration barred students who failed to pay their tuition on time from attending classes.
After a dialogue with UP officials, the “no late payment policy” was eased.
By that time, however, some students had already been forced to go on leave, according to reports from the Office of the Student Regent.
UP students condemned the university policy and held simultaneous candle lighting ceremonies for Tejada yesterday afternoon at UP campuses in Manila, Quezon City, Baguio and Mindanao.
“We mourn the death of Kristel Tejada. Filipino students and youth like Kristel do not deserve this,” said Mariz Zubiri, newly elected chair of the UP Manila student council.
She said they condemned “to the highest degree” the “anti-student policies” of UP Manila and the Aquino administration for forcing students to stay out of school and take their own lives.
Zubiri said the socialized payment scheme was used as a smokescreen for tuition increases.
“Kristel is just one of the hundreds and thousands of UP and Filipino students who are pushed against the wall by the high cost of education and the Aquino administration’s abandonment of Philippine education,” Zubiri said.
– With Rainier Allan Ronda