Ordinary Filipino families can easily empathize with the grief of the family of 16-year-old Kristel Tejada, a behavioral sciences student at University of the Philippines, who committed suicide reportedly after she was refused enrollment for failing to pay her tuition fees.
Filipino parents are known for their ardent desire to send their children to school, sacrificing so much just to enable them to finish college and eventually land jobs. In fact, they go to the extent of accepting two or more jobs in a determined effort to earn money for the education of their offspring, or of selling their small piece of land, the last of their farm animals and implements.
So what happened to Kristel made ordinary Filipino families and other well-meaning Filipinos cry to high heavens. Why should such thing happen to shatter and end forever a dream for a better future? Why should a student be deprived of schooling just because of poverty? As Kristel’s mother said of her daughter: “She loved studying. She loved UP. She believed that financial limitations shouldn’t be a hindrance to education.”
As if to rub salt in a wound, many politicians tried to gain political mileage out of the tragedy. But people know that these officials, especially the lawmakers among them, don’t really care for the nation’s youth, much less the children of the poor and marginalized.
After all, why did they not bother to do anything to alleviate the difficulties and hardships of students who come from poor families? This question is particularly addressed to lawmakers who profess that they have the welfare of the poor in their hearts.
We can’t help but ask: What have the so-called progressive members of the legislature been doing vis-à-vis the accessibility of education to all, whatever their station in life? Where are the representatives of the party-list groups who claim and proclaim they represent the students, the youth, the poor and the oppressed?
And to think that many of these lawmakers have been associated with UP. We hate to say this but it is a fact that one of them is a former president of the UP Student Council, the other was a professor at UP Diliman, and several are UP alumni. In the Senate, many brilliant lawmakers are UP graduates, but it appears that nobody among them has seriously looked into the plight of poor students.
Education is a right, as students, educators and many others often affirm. And we can surmise that it is one of the reasons why the Constitution mandates that “[T]he State shall assign the highest budgetary priority to education…”
Let the problem of financial difficulties besetting students in their quest for learning be a thing of the past. There should be no more tragedy like that which befell the Tejada family. Kristel left a legacy highlighting the importance and value of education. Let’s not forget the lesson of this tragedy.