- It was a selfish, cowardly way out.
- She should not have aspired for something she could not afford, explored other schooling options.
- Her parents should be responsible for being incapable of supporting their five children.
- Activists are just using her death for their own political agenda. There is no basis to demand reforms and change in the system in response to her death.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
It steals with one hand what it lends with the other.
The more they pay, the more they owe.
The more they get, the less they have.
The more they sell, the less they earn.
- Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces (1989)
I. Suicide and death
Each demise, however and whenever it happens, diminishes us in different degrees. That is why we strive to distill sense from loss, try to create change from closure. It is a way of moving forward when the world has come to a standstill, of picking up what has fallen apart.
I remember my first encounter with death willed. It was in 1998 or 1999. A young man jumped off Quezon Hall, the administration building. I can no longer recall the details of the incident; only the sight of blood spilled on its granite steps at dusk, only silence after the word why.
Fourteen years later, on an evening just as dark, a 16-year old student from the University of the Philippines in Manila took her own life. This time, the circumstances surrounding her passing are clearer and more precise. Reports revealed that she was depressed, forced to take a leave of absence from school after being unable to keep up with rising tuition and loan payments; despondent, after her appeals were thumbed down by officials enforcing the policy of delisting and forced LOAs.
She left a note—a “happy” letter, her mother said, full of love for the people left behind: it was something she had to do because she was already tired, a gesture of finality and hope of being reunited in another, hopefully better, world.
The clamor for reforms grows. But some still dismiss her suicide as an isolated and extreme case, a strictly personal act that has nothing to do with policies, “politics” and “externalities.” They question the chain of causality to the point of denying the truth that is staring us all in the face by now.
They imply that the real world is too complex for “simplistic” notions. But is it not precisely because of that complexity of reality why we should weigh and reflect on how the system is likewise accountable? Was it not in UP’s very classrooms where we studied suicide and other phenomena as acts also influenced by factors that are structural in nature? Where we are made to realize, in so many ways and instances, that the personal is also political, that the self is also social?
One does not have to look too far. Every day, there are many invisible deaths piling up in the sidelines, in schools around the country. Departures abound, unaccounted perhaps because they occur outside one’s own limited circles of comfort. There are learners disappearing one by one, dropping out without a trace; students selling their bodies to the highest bidder; educators being eaten up by the system; thousands of children giving up on dreams before these can grow.
Everyday, the massacre progresses; this procession of quiet yet tragic exits equally diminishes us all.
II. Cowardice and choice
I am shaking in anger as I write this now. When news of the student’s death first arrived, I scanned the internet—news sites and social network sites alike—for more information on what happened.
In the course of seeking answers, I have come across many loose comments in cyberspace that are appallingly callous, stupid and cruel. If I summarize, in plain and simple language, the sum of what I understood from these words, it would perhaps boil down to these ideas:
I do not care if these were originally phrased in pa-cool, elegant, official or discursive phrases: they all boil down to plain arrogance, glorified apathy, disregard for human dignity and the sacrifices of the people’s movement for social justice. Has it really come to this, when one can actually take pride in flaunting intelligence without discernment? Excellence without honor? Sympathy without sincerity?
I find these sentiments out of touch with reality. For her story is, somehow, also the story of every student who aspired to complete an education, who saved up and worked, who pawned belongings and took out loans, who appealed to the administration, who dropped out of the rolls due to poverty, who stood up to protect the right to education. Should one fault her and her family for putting their hopes on the dream of being an Iskolar ng Bayan—the nation’s brightest who are, if not of the toiling masses, among those who can help change their lives and that of the people? Should one discredit and dismiss the efforts of activists who have long been opposing tuition hikes, the sham “socialized” tuition scheme, and the commercialization of education from the very start, long before this student was born and swallowed by the system?
Others called on the public to honor her memory by not tainting it with all these “political” calls for reform and justice. How can one honestly believe that when all that she and her family have been appealing for in the past months was urgent action and answers--not rejection and certainly not silence? What is opportunistic in this case –trying to right the wrongs that contributed to her passing, or trying to stop these very reforms from being pursued, on the pretext of respect for the deceased?
But then there are spaces for strength, sobriety, and speaking up against such symbolic violence. Some have implored: suicide is not the solution, don’t give up, there is hope. I agree. The solution is to fight for one’s rights, and to see the struggle through to the end. I will never say that she failed in valor, because—whatever the reason for arriving at the point she did—her sacrifice and her family’s loss has compelled us all to finally confront the painful truth: that there is no other recourse but to act on the situation now.
Time to log out from cyberspace semantics. Starting tomorrow, there will be walk-outs, dialogues, teach-ins and rallies inside the University in response to the tragedy. One can choose to be afraid of action, of the possible academic repercussions of taking a stand, of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles towards reform. Or we can all unite to demand what is possible: change.
III. Education and rights
Often, the visual image can compellingly capture what a litany of words cannot.
In this case, it is the screenshot of footage taken shortly after the 15th of March 2013. A woman lingers in front of the UP Manila building tightly clutching a pair of white plastic sandals, embellished with dainty florets. The woman is the mother of the student Kristel Tejada, who has for the remaining months of her life trudged to school in these shoes, hoping for respite and deliverance.
Kristel Tejada. At the start, questions of media ethics were raised over the identification of the deceased in earlier news reports. But the extent of public outrage has now made any attempt at anonymity futile, as well as untenable.
Kristel Tejada. I write this name, repeatedly and precisely because it has raged against its very disappearance, deletion and absence: from the official classlist, from the rolls of enrolled and subsidized students. It is a name that has made its way to many lists of names to be remembered: on the honor rolls, in the list of UPCAT passers, in the teacher’s class records, and now in the struggle against the commercialization of education.
In their official statements, the UP President and the UP Manila administration say they have attempted to address the situation with new rulings—efforts which the group BAYAN rightly sums up as too little and too late. In a press conference, the Palace spokesperson says that the national government has no control over the tuition policies in schools. Meanwhile, the President is photographed on the same day inaugurating a mega-casino, in the country’s bid to join the ranks of elite gambling destinations; a stray article about his thinning hair and eyebags pops out of the news stream.
Someone posted this earlier on Facebook: dapat kinakalinga ang ating kabataan. I agree—any nation’s youth must be nurtured if we are to prepare future generations for the crisis of sustainability up ahead. But the current framework of generally reducing education (as well as other basic social services) into a privilege and a purchasable commodity must be reversed. Anti-student policies, such as the FLOA, must be immediately revoked.
Some may dismiss these sentiments as old news, outdated calls, in the same way that Whitney Houston’sGreatest Love of All has become a classic cliché back in the 1980s. Some groups in the past believed that conceding to schemes such as tuition and fee hikes and STFAP re-bracketing could address the university’s crisis, and look where that has gotten us all. If the current government can not address the needs of the UP’s students with outmost accountability and urgency, then what hope is there for the rest of the nation’s youth to which we (still) all belong?
The shot of Kristel’s mother clutching her daughter’s shoes continually flashes back in my mind, up to now. I find it hard to shake it off: this image of her holding on to the last material evidence of Kristel's presence. Perhaps this is because it reminds me of countless other hands encountered in the queues, classrooms, waiting sheds, rallies and terminals—all holding on to memory and hope in this university of contradictions.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Attention! Attention! Attention!
The legal clinic to be held this Feb 17th, 2013 from 11 am to 1 pm is NOT going to be at the IWC.
It will be at FAMAS Center, 4708 Van Horne, Room A, 2nd floor (basically just across the street from IWC)