On March 15, Kristel Tejada, a 16-year old University of the Philippines freshman, committed suicide because she was despondent that she couldn't pay her tuition on time and as a result was faced with having to sit out the semester. The University, a public institution, has taken a lot of heat for its purported inflexibility in not working with the girl and her family. However, the school was in the midst of changing its policy towards its economically disadvantaged students, and if the Kristel had waited a few more days, under the new guidelines, she would have gotten a break.
But who's really to blame for this tragedy? Was it really the school's fault? Or instead as one newspaper columnist submitted, was Kristel herself personally responsible for making the decision to end her life? I think the latter opinion is too harsh. Kristel was still an adolescent which is a time of life when problems often seem magnified out of proportion and when emotional maturity and rational thinking are not yet fully developed. This is especially the case in the Philippines where according to my wife Lydia, a psychologist, emotional maturity is impeded even further due to overly intense family interdependency. (And BTW the combined number of years of study for pupils in Philippine public and many private elementary and high schools is only 10 years rather than 12 as in many other countries. So sixteen is the typical age for starting college).
In my opinion it was the parents who were at fault, not for pushing Kristel academically (in her case that wasn't necessary anyway as she was a brilliant scholar who loved her studies) but rather for placing the financial future of the family, which included several siblings, on her shoulders, a burden which she evidently took very seriously. In Philippine culture it's common for poor families which usually include several children to try scrape up college tuition for one of the kids, usually the eldest, and charge her or him with the task of completing school, landing a good job, and then not just "paying forward" the school costs of the other siblings, but also becoming the main source of the family's income. If the parents lack the funds to cover the full tuition expenses of even one child, well "bahala na"—just leave the matter in God's hands. Somehow things will work out.
But as Kristel's death shows, such arrangements are fraught with risk. Evidently, she believed that she had failed her family and just couldn't handle (what she perceived as) the shame for letting them down. To quote her father."The UP deprived my daughter of her only hope to help us". This says it all. Why did Kristel have feel that way? Was it her fault the family had too many mouths to feed in the first place? Who should be supporting whom? She should never have been made to feel for an instant that her sole purpose in life was improving her family's living standard.
Then yesterday, I read about a young man, also from a large, poor family who was putting
himself through college by working at night, but he was killed in a
mugging on his way home from his job. As with Kristel, his parents had
pinned their hopes for a better life not just for their son but for the whole family on his eventual completion of his studies and a starting a successful
In short, for his and Kristel's parents, it seems that these children were considered a ticket out of poverty, little more than means to an end. But will people see it that way? More likely they will blame everything but the
parents' participation in a way of life of irresponsibly bringing more children into the world than they can afford and then expecting their kids to pick up the slack for their own short-sightedness, a toxic tradition which in the end needlessly cost these two young people their lives.
The End of American in Davao
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