New enrolment ruling: If only Kristel had known

Evelyn Macairan, Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - A day before a University of the Philippines freshman committed suicide reportedly due to failure to pay her tuition, the president of the entire UP System had instructed all heads of the state university's campuses not to bar the enrolment of qualified but poor students.

"It happened a day after I instructed the chancellors at our council meeting held last Thursday that we should not deny access to qualified students who cannot enrol because of financial constraints," UP president Alfredo Pascual told The STAR yesterday, referring to the death of Kristel Tejada.

"I didn't know something like that (suicide) would happen," Pascual said.

The 16-year-old Behavioral Science major at UP Manila reportedly committed suicide after filing a leave of absence from her studies due to her inability to enroll this semester.

"I am deeply saddened by the tragic death of Kristel Tejada... I want to get to the bottom of what happened," Pascual said.

He said he was still waiting for a complete report on the incident from the chancellor of UP Manila.

"If there is a linkage (between the suicide and the student's reported tuition problems), we want to know the policy implications," he said.

According to Pascual, he was already pushing for reforms in the socialized tuition and financial assistance program (STFAP) application process.

"To think that the reforms I am pushing to simplify the STFAP application process and increase the financial aid for poor students are already planned for board action next month," he said.

"It is unfortunate that it takes time to implement change. We can easily be overtaken, as we have seen, by a sudden turn of events. But I am confident we can turn the tragedy into a greater resolve to act and make UP accessible to the poor," he said.

UP Manila public affairs director Anthony Leachon said the student had an outstanding balance of P10,000 from the first semester of the school year.

Leachon said the teenager was allowed to enroll for the second semester on condition that she would pay the balance, which she failed to do.

Her father reportedly applied for tuition loan last January but this was denied because it was already the middle of the semester.

Kristel filed for a leave of absence on Wednesday, so she could still enroll next semester.

Suicide note

A suicide note was found in the pocket of Kristel’s pants. The words, written in red, were expressions of love for her family.

She also sought their forgiveness because she ended her life.

“Mahal na mahal ko ang pamilya ko. At lahat din ng iba pang nagmamahal sa akin. Di ko lang talaga rin kinaya. Sana mapatawad at ipagdasal niyo ko. Salamat sa lahat magkikita pa ulit tayo. Sorry pero kailangan ko lang talagang gawin to (I love my family very much, and all those who love me. I just could not take it anymore. I hope that they will forgive me and pray for me. Thank you for everything and we will see each other again. Sorry but I really need to do this),” read Kristel’s letter.

She also said that love was not limited to romantic relationships and can be expressed to family members, classmates, friends and most of all, to God.

“Tandaan (Remember) : Without true love, we’re nothing,” she said in her letter.

Kristel’s mother, Blesilda, 38, said she would keep her daughter’s suicide letter.

“I have read it already. What she wrote in her letter was not a heavy burden to bear. In fact, it was a happy letter and that she just had to do this (commit suicide), because she was already tired… We will see each other again,” Blesilda said.

Kristel drank silver cleaner at their home in Tondo around 3 a.m. last Friday.

She was rushed to the Metropolitan Medical Center but emergency teams failed to revive her.

Meager income

The family of Kristel had been experiencing financial problems since her father Christopher was laid off from work as a warehouse coordinator in 2009.

Blesilda said that they have already sold several of their valuables such as their car just to make ends meet.

Christopher is currently working as a part-time taxi driver while Blesilda takes care of their children and sells white t-shirts in order to get extra income for the family.

During the last five months, they have been renting a small room located on the third floor of an apartment building in Tondo.

The room has a small kitchen, bathroom and living room area that is just enough for the couple and their four children, including Kristel.

“My mother-in-law offered to pay for our rent which is P5,000 a month. We were supposed to move to my husband’s family in Nueva Ecija but when Kristel passed the UP entrance exam, we decided to stay in Manila,” she said.

Blesilda admitted that their family has been experiencing financial problems, which was the reason why they were unable to pay Kristel’s P10,000 tuition during the first semester and was also unable to meet the two deadlines set in the promissory notes they gave to UP.

The mother said that sometime January or February, she attended an event of the Association of Parents and Counselors of UP Manila held at Robinsons Manila where she got a chance to talk to the UP Chancellor Manuel Agulto for 30 minutes.

“Let me clarify I did not go down on my knees to beg. The right term is I pleaded to the chancellor that they spare my daughter, make her an exception to the rules and not to give her an LOA,” she said.

But the chancellor reportedly told her that they cannot bend the university’s regulations.

“He said that we would learn something from this experience, that we really have to follow the rules. I never thought that this (losing a daughter) would be the lesson learned,” she said.

Smart kid

Blesilda said that even at a young age, her daughter showed signs of being smart.

At five years old, Kristel already memorized the multiplication table.

She also skipped kinder and went straight to Grade 1.

She graduated salutatorian at the Rizal Elementary School in Tayuman, Manila.

In high school, she was a scholar at the Manila Cathedral School (MCS), a private school in Tayuman where she was a proficiency awardee.

She was one of four students from MCS who managed to enter UP.

Beauty and brains

“She was really beauty and brains. Her idol was Shamcey Supsup who also graduated from UP and became Miss Universe-Philippines in 2011 and represented the country in the Miss Universe beauty pageant that same year where she was named third runner-up,” Blesilda said of Kristel.

At 5’4” feet, Kristel was not fond of joining beauty contests when she was in high school, but was named Miss Behavioral Science when she entered UP Manila last semester.

The victim wanted to become a doctor and put up her own clinic at home.

She also wanted to conduct medical missions in far-flung areas.

Financial assistance

UP Vice Chancellor Josephine de Luna dropped by the wake of Kristel at a funeral parlor in Sta. Cruz, Manila yesterday and gave some financial assistance to her family.

Blesilda said they accepted the assistance from UP.

“I am also a lector/commentator in Church. The Church teaches that if someone dies, we should learn to forgive because that would lighten the burdens of the one who passed away,” she said.

When asked if the UP official said “sorry,” Blesilda said no apology was made.

Kristel’s professor, Andrea Martinez, also went to the funeral parlor while professor Honey Libertine Achanzar-Labor, director of the Office of Student Affairs, came to condole with the family.

Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim attended the wake yesterday morning and promised the Tejada family that the city government would help in the burial expenses.

No discrimination

Professor Danilo Arao of the UP Diliman Department of Journalism said the UP administration should make sure the incident does not happen again.

"We shouldn't discriminate," Arao said, noting that the only way to get to UP should be either through passing the UP College Admission Test or transferring from another school with good academic credentials.

He said the policy of not allowing a student to enroll due to failure to pay tuition should be rescinded.

Other 'Kristels'

There were some 50 students who were called upon by the UP Manila administration late last year for outstanding balance in their tuition, and half of them were in a situation similar to that of Kristel.

This was revealed to The STAR by the student council chairman of UP Manila, who said they had monitored Kristel's case since last year.

"We've been dealing with the issue since it started. We were part of the consultation process," Jason Alacapa said in an interview.

According to Alacapa, the earlier agreed upon date to settle these balances was on Nov. 23 last year.

"We got several reports that some of the students would not be able to settle the amount on time (and that) instead of extending the deadline of payment, the vice chancellor for academic affairs would be calling for another meeting (for those who could not pay)," he said.

Alacapa said the university student council gathered the names of the students and the following week, around 50 were convened and were asked why they were unable to settle their balance.

Alacapa said half cited their schedule while the other half - which included Kristel - had financial problems.

According to Alacapa, there was a "mutually agreed upon deadline" for each of the students following the meeting.

The deadline for Kristel was sometime in December, Alacapa said.

But on the day of the deadline, the family failed to settle the amount.

The Tejadas reportedly showed up just before 2012 ended when school officials had reportedly gone on leave.

In January, the family again requested for an extension but it was denied.

Alacapa said the family also tried to raise the fund through the student board loan but even this was denied since Kristel had a previous loan that had yet to be settled. - With Rey Galupo

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