Hearts rage against forgetting Kristel Tejada
The Filipino nation was shocked on March 15, 2013 when Kristel Tejada took her life after filing forced leave of absence (FLOA) for failing to settle a previous loan. Kristel was a 16-year old freshman studying Behavioral Sciences at the University of the Philippines - Manila and the daughter of a part-time taxi driver and housewife.
Politicians, students, teachers and school administrators were thrown into disbelief.
Her death painfully demonstrated that even in a state-funded university, poor students are not excused from the crunching violence of the system that puts profit before students’ welfare.
After a year, it remains painful to remember how such a tragic death could be a part of the history of the University of the Philippines.
The apologists of the untarnished reputation of the University took scandal-management to the media.
The liberals acknowledged the tragic death. But they delivered negative judgment against Kristel by clinging to the abstract notion of individual free will and responsibility. The poor iskolar ng bayan was simply irresponsible.
The moralistic apologists dismissed Kristel’s death as the product of bad family upbringing.
Many psychologists even enlisted their discipline to champion the “suicide-is-abnormal” explanation. They blamed the poor iskolar ng bayan for not acquiring the proper trait of resilience. To buttress their privatistic psychological rationalization, they even pointed out that Kristel would have not survived the rigorous life in the University anyway. Sooner or later she would probably have a psychological breakdown. And death logically follows.
The “pop” psychologists and crisis-managers recommended hugs and peer support as buffers to prevent such juvenile suicide.
Finally, the existentialists decried the politicization of her death. Death is an absurd choice rooted in individual’s resignation before an absurd situation.
In this cacophony of unsolicited opinions, everything is blamed except the system that puts profits before education.
Statistics don't lie
In his recent encyclical, Pope Francis contests these misguided attempts to save the profit-driven system that sacrifices young souls at the foot of the altar of the god of money: “Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles; indulging in unwarranted generalizations, they claim that the solution is an “education” that would tranquilize them, making them tame and harmless.”
But statistics do not lie. Based on the Commission on Higher Education's (CHED) 2008 data, out of 100 Grade 1 pupils, only 66 finish Grade 6 and only 58 of them enrol in first year high school.
Of the 58, only 43 finish high school. Of the 43 only 23 finished high school enrolled in college, and of the 23, only 14 eventually graduate from college. The dropout rate among college students, according to the CHED, has reached an alarming 83.7%.
This means that the country is producing 2.13 million college dropouts annually while graduates stand at close to 500,000 only.
But why don’t the 2.13 million dropouts just commit suicide? Wouldn't that be the best solution of unburdening the state from its obligation to provide free and decent education for its citizens?
Our society has effectively created safety mechanisms to prevent such collective suicide: Filipinos put a premium on education.
Yet poor families are put under pressure in the market to fend for themselves. Many Filipinos still believe in the myth of meritocracy. We are all indoctrinated that if we study hard enough, that if we only faithfully attend schools and avoid rallies, then we can all be successful.
And if we fail, it is our own fault. We just have not tried hard enough.
This collective dissonance might easily lead to collective neurosis and mental breakdown if not for these esccape mechanisms.
We have religions; concerts of Chicksers and Katy Perry. We have gigantic malls, flappy birds, Facebook, and Tweeters and Instagram where our young people vent our rage. But the most effective is the resignation of poor students and their families to such fate owing to years of toil and suffering.
With these escape mechanisms the absurdity of justifying that 2.13 million young people are simply losers become natural! But our society has created shock absorbent mechanism to neutralize such shock.
Unfortunately, after Kristel’s death we found out there are a lot of funds that could have been channelled to subsidize public education.
The “pork barrel” and PDAF scam came too late for us to realize that we could have averted the death of Kristel if we only use the coffers of our national treasury to make education accessible to the poor.
Today, a year after Kristel’s death, her death should be an occasion for us as a nation to pause and re-examine our personal values and the very logic of the economic system that defines our ultimate values.
Our society makes ruthless competition an imperative for young people which forcces them to "end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”
Pope Francis continues, “the culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.” It’s high time that we ask seriously what should the priority of our nation be. It’s time we stop putting our faith in trickle-down theology.
We believe believing that after we experience 7.2% growth in GNP, we can experience prosperity because of the trickledown effect.
As Pope Francis states, “Money must serve, not rule!”
One death is enough
Today, we need to resolve not to allow another death like Kristel’s. Such death is a memory that we cannot bequeath to our children. It is a very traumatic lesson that as a teacher I cannot teach our students.
One death is enough.
And if we share the same humanity, we must acknowledge that we are all responsible for Kristel’s death.
Our inaction and silence only leads to “the toleration of evil, which is injustice.”
Kristel’s death has shaken the very moral fabric of our nation. It has forced us to confront the accumulated structural evils that we have created and participated with as a people. And it is time for us to honor Kristel’s memory by vowing to fight against an exclusionist society.
For as Pope Francis reminds us, “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
Kristel gave a voice to the marginalized. And we the living have the duty to hope and fight for the marginalized students and their families who have been driven to the brink of hopelessness.
We have no right to shrug off this responsibility.
Let’s remember Kristel so that her “dangerous” memory will be our beacon in being persistent in fighting against the system that silently allowed her pointless death, the very same system that everyday crushes poor students under the ruthless profit-worshipping educational machine.
My heart rages against forgetting! We will never forget you, Kristel. – Rappler.com
Gerry Lanuza is a sociology professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman.