Senseless suicide: Did the University of the Philippines kill Kristel Tejada?

kristel_tejada_suicideTragic is the only thing that accurately describes the way student Kristel Tejada ended her life at 16 over an inability to pay tuition fees due to the University of the Philippines (UP) where she was enrolled in a Behavioural Science course. As to the conclusions that were drawn from all that, debatable is the only word that comes to mind.

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What are the odds?

How many UP students have committed suicide in the last 20 years? Perhaps before we go into hysterics about how bad the UP is, somebody should check first how the suicide rate among UP students compares to the national average. According to the National Statistics Office, the rate of death by suicide in the Philippines has gone up over the last two decades. According to the numbers, Kristel Tejada’s being a 16-year-old and already a college student (by itself a fact that should be raising eyebrows as well) puts her squarely within the highest-risk demographic (boldface added by author for emphasis)…

While the figures might seem insignificant compared with those from neighboring countries that recorded the highest suicide rates, the numbers have gone up from 1984 to 2005, especially among the Filipino youth, said Dr. Dinah Nadera, a psychiatrist and an associate professor of the University of the Philippines’ Open University who has been working on a suicide prevention strategy.

“This simply means that there is an increasing trend of suicide [especially] among the youth, particularly in the age group 5 to 14 and 15 to 24,” Nadera said at last week’s media consultation on suicide prevention conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Manila.

Did the UP administration “kill” Tejada? Perhaps there was some much-needed room for compromise and a bit of effort to to consider appeals on a case-to-case basis. But we need to be careful in what we choose to think with regard to this issue. This is an election year, and politicians and attention brokers are always sniffing around for things to turn into the latest outrage fad around which “campaign platforms” can be spun.

“Right to education” depends

Why is a college education important in the Philippines? Because a high school education alone gets you nowhere. At least that is the thinking that prevails in Philippine society. To many Filipino parents, kids who do not acquire a college education are failures. Filipino kids are therefore under intense pressure to secure that university degree at all costs. Failure to do so is tantamount to a death sentence in Philippine society.


Perhaps this was what was in Tejada’s mind in the final moments of her life.

Was it the UP that put that extremist notion in Tejada’s head? Think again. As the old saying goes, point your finger at someone, and you will find the other three pointing back at you.

Law of supply-and-demand

Employers of clerical labour can demand university degrees from their applicants because they can. If even people with college degrees are making beelines to submit their CVs to employers offering clerical positions — bank tellers, filing clerks, customer service representatives, etc. — it means employers can choose applicants who offer them the best value. It’s called a buyer’s market. Employers (buyers of labour) are in that rather peachy position of being able to buy the labour market’s equivalent of Mercedes Benzs for a pittance.

Trying to control that deluge of credentialled talent into automatonesque jobs is like trying to prevent flash floods from ravaging Marikina by building a dike around the city. The only real sustainable solution to flash flooding is to plant forests big enough to absorb all the water being dumped by the hammering monsoon rains that hit the Philippines every year. As much as it is essential to life, water in excessive doses is toxic. Same principle applies to a talented labour force available in value-crushing abundance. You need to grow the forest of opportunity that will absorb this deluge of warm able bodies so that their value appreciates and is appreciated.

Leave-of-absence is not permanent and certainly not the end of the road.

Many students (including some friends of mine when I was a student) take leave-of-absence from UP when they fall into personal cirumstances that render them unable to meet the demands of the UP system. Such circumstances include health issues, family issues, and, yes, financial issues. One friend of mine took a year off to help set up the family business. That put him behind by 21 units to our batch but nevertheless came back, picked up from where he left off, met his future wife in his new batch, and graduated with honours.

Think then whether a policy requiring students who are unable to pay their tuition to take a leave-of-absence is really that unreasonable. Should this policy be repealed in the aftermath of Tejada’s suicide? In this case, the answer to that question may not be as obvious as some people make it out to be.

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It’s really an exercise of telling people to suck eggs when we emphasize how complex an issue suicide is. And so being complex we shouldn’t really be quick to jump into one conclusion bandwagon or another in our desperation to make sense of the senseles.


Post Author: benign0

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144 Comments on "Senseless suicide: Did the University of the Philippines kill Kristel Tejada?"

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I agree. I have gotten out from school because I have no money only to return after I have the money. Temporary setbacks should not be considered permanent derailment of your ambition to uplift yourself from the doldrums of ignorance. But that is me not Kristel. However, UP should provide you with a totally different experience. It is supported by tax money but only the rich monopolized the student quota of the school. The concept of socialized tuition and financial assistance program, (STFAP) was conceived to address that disparity and level the playing field. It is similar to “affirmative action”… Read more »

“16-year-old and already a college student” – I actually find nothing wrong with this. Of course, a few years ago, I was also a 16-year-old in college.


I know someone that took him ten years to graduate engineering just because he lacked the money. He had to drive a pedicab to save up, and he also supports his family so it was really difficult. his school wasn’t even ateneo or those other expensive schools, it was a state university in davao del sur. i wondered then why there was no assistance for him, i just can’t understand it.


Is it solely her LOA/tuition issues that drove her to commit suicide?

The only positive thing that came out from the unfortunate suicide of a 16 year old, UP student, was the realization: why does UP- a university funded by the blood and sweat of the Filipino people, opens @ accepts a good number of students from affluent family? Why not the government opens UP, solely to the deserving poor students who also come from public high school @ give them education with allowance, totally FREE??? There are too many deserving students from public high school who deserve to be in UP, but since it opens also to students from private and… Read more »

What was going on with this poor girl is anyones’ guess. Blaming anyone or anything other than the the poor girl herself is to try to escape responsibility.

The truth is that , for whatever reason, the young lady sought a permanent solution to a temporary may sound harsh and I actually wish someone could have done something to prevent it, but that obviously did not happen. The guy who posted that life is not fair is goddamm right, it is not, and it will not ever be.

btw, condolences to the family and,R.I.P..

meldy parungao
its true, suicide is not the answer to this problem….but the feelings of having nothing and so eager to take the exam is something that is so painful to bear for a student who is academically excellent. the pressure of getting a college education, of having her dreams of emancipating her family put to an end is so painful to handle. imagine for a sum of ten thousand pesos, the school could always hold her credentials…UP is operated by the taxpayers money…di to mauubos…at ang kawalan ng pambayad ng ay di pang matagalan…hahanap at hahanap yan ng pambayad to get… Read more »
I agree with the points here and some points by the commenters but I do not agree on one major point. UP should not be exclusively for the poor. When you apply to UP, you are required to submit your family’s income bracket and I know it is also required to indicate how many appliances and what kind they are there. Whether rented or owned. This allows them to asses your family’s capabilities in paying for your tuition. From that bracket, there is a set amount of “dicsount” you will be entitled to. And also, there is random spot checking… Read more »

Suicide after all is the person’s decision, so they have most of the blame for it. They decided to go the easy way, they went… and let others suffer in the end.

And on the social aspect, perhaps she, or others who aren’t committing suicide, are the ones rushed through college so they could be milked by their dole-out seeking relatives? Is that the point of going through college? Get a high-paying job so everyone else can milk you?


And the Spinsbusters site seems to imply this:

Was this tuition issue the real cause for the girl to commit suicide? Or was it something else?

We need to ask this question. Even I doubted at first that tuition reason that most media outlets gave. And to think, Rappler is one of those that spread this angle.

I went to UP, thinking I will fit in and somewhat get a degree from the most reverend university in the country. I thought it was easy and boy, I was utterly wrong. After 2 years of attending, I left and that leaving gave a peace of mind that troubled me during my stay. It is certainly not the money aspect but the culture and standards of UP – also similar to the Filipino mindset that a person like me can spend time, money and effort and just walk away like nothing happened. I think nobody knew how much pressure… Read more »
Robert Haighton
I have read this story last Saturday in PhilStar. And the first thing that came to my mind was this (okay, pls dont shoot me yet. I am thinking in western, European ways): How can a system or parents put so much pressure on a kid (16 year old) that she MUST support her mom, dad and 4 other brothers and sisters? Any kid or adoloscent must be free of any burden to choose a school and major to become successful as student and hopefully become a fine and good employer. Whether this pressure was “self-inflicted” or imposed, that doesnt… Read more »
Robert Haighton

Typo: employer = employee


This is not a time for you nor your friends who have struggled while completing your respective degrees to flaunt to the world your achievements despite the situation. This is not the time for you to judge the weak. How self-righteous!

This is a time for us to unite and ask ourselves, “Why is it a struggle for our children to claim their basic rights to education?” You simply don’t get the point. I hope that my taxes were not used to fund your education because you don’t deserve it.


Thank you for this article. I’ve been very bothered with the very sensational approach to how this tragedy was covered.

Certain things cannot be helped. In her case, she is obviously an intellectual who was able to be accepted to her chosen college. How many of us losers can brag about this? Certainly not me. That fact alone already leads us to the conclusion that she is used to getting things her way if she sets her mind to it- but life is definitely unfair and things do not go your way regardless of how much effort you put into it. Failure is not an option for her. She has failed because some system is not perfect. That is not… Read more »
My take on the UP Manila issue, and yes, I might take flak for it: While a university of the Philippines may mean a university free from any tuition plus allowances, it must also espouse research, innovation and world-class quality. It must also represent and embody the latter. Something that UP badly needs funds for. How can you both serve these two masters at once? TOFI was initiated around 20…06-07 to the chagrin of most poor students to increase funding to the fledgling university because of warranted increased funding. I was one of those fellow isko that sat at the… Read more »
Nalulungkot ako dahil kailangan pa ni Kristel kitilin ang kanyang buhay dahil sa hindi siya pinayagang mag-enroll or makapatuloy ng kanyang pag-aaral dahil sa kakulangan sa pambayad ng kanyang tuition fee, kung sana mas may nagawa lang yung mga magulang niyang paraan para makapagproduce sila ng pera para ipambayad, sana may mga taong tumulong sa kanila ng nilapitan sila ng magulang ni kristel o lumapit sa kanila yung bata, sana kahit papano nilapit nila sa mga congressman or baranggay captain nila na pansamantalang pahiramin ng pambayad since alam nila na matalino si kristel o sana may mga kamag-anak na nagmamalasakit… Read more »

Thank you for this. Thank you very much!