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Monday, March 18, 2013

The Many Sides Of Suicide

“UP student kills self over unpaid tuition.”

“Unable to pay tuition, UP student commits suicide.”

Those were two of the headlines that appeared online on March 15. Upon further reading of the news articles, and the subsequent stories that came out after, the following are what we can clearly establish:

[1] Kristel Tejada, 16, taking up Behavioral Sciences at UP Manila, was forced to file a leave of absence (LOA) because she could no longer pay her tuition fees.

[2] In an interview in The Philippine Collegian, official student publication of UP-Diliman, professor Andrea Bautista Martinez of the Department of Behavioral Science claimed that Kristel was extremely affected by her LOA. According to Ms. Martinez:
[a] “We texted each other and she told me how sad she was and how much her taking an LOA affected her life and her family.” [b] “Since February, she has not been going to school. She was always texting me, telling me she couldn’t handle the problem.” [c] “She was ashamed that she had to file a leave of absence and work to earn money and pay for her tuition in June.”
[3] Excerpts of the contents of a suicide note were revealed yesterday, March 17. The note was allegedly found in the pocket of Kristel’s pants. Most of the excerpts focused on love:
“I love my family very much, and all those who love me. I just could not take it anymore. I hope that they will forgive me and pray for me. Thank you for everything and we will see each other again. Sorry but I really need to do this. Remember: Without true love, we’re nothing.”
[4] In a press conference on March 18, UP Manila Chancellor Manuel Agulto, M.D. revealed that Kristel was unable to give supporting documents that would allow her to get to a bracket more favorable to her family’s financial situation.

[5] And according to records, UP Manila officials allowed Kristel three extensions to pay for her P6,377 student loan incurred during the first semester. The deadline for the payment was moved to Nov. 30, Dec. 7, and Dec. 19 after several appeals from her parents. That’s almost three weeks.

I personally am taken aback at how a lot of people have simplified the story: UP student is unable to pay tuition. UP forces her to go on LOA until she is able to pay for tuition. Student gets depressed and commits suicide. Therefore, UP caused her death.

Meanwhile, I like to ask questions:

[1] Did Kristel clearly mention in her suicide note why she was taking her life? What was she referring to when she said she “could not take it anymore”?

[2] Did the family allow the full contents of the suicide note to be revealed? If not, what were the stuff left out?

[3] Prof. Martinez’s statements are her personal conjectures. Sure, it sounds reasonable that Kristel’s anguish over her failure to enroll may have caused her to end it all. But is that the only reason?

[4] Prof. Martinez also said that Kristel “...was always texting me, telling me she couldn’t handle the problem.” Did Kristel actually mention suicide to Prof. Martinez, and did the professor do anything about it?

[5] The people who claimed that Kristel killed herself because she couldn’t enroll were Prof. Martinez and her parents. How are we sure that these people aren’t mistaken? Or worse, what if they have other agendas in mind?

[6] Why were Kristel’s parents unable to give supporting documents when such documents are essential to the application process? And why were they still remiss in paying for the student loans, despite three extensions given by UP Manila?

Suicide is a complicated issue. Sometimes it is not just one reason but a combination of several factors which can push someone to end her life. To simplify the cause to the failure to enroll is unfair. And for the media that initially reported the story using that particular spin, it was sloppy journalism and a downright irresponsible act.

It is understandable why people with agendas will use Kristel’s suicide as the impetus to question, reconsider, or review the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP). And maybe STFAP is a flawed program that deserves to be improved. But let us refrain from saying that a flawed program and a school administration strictly following its rules should be blamed for a student’s suicide.

If you really want to point blame on someone’s suicide, remember that suicide is self-inflicted.


Mac Callister said...

She's so young pa... This is so sad.

rudeboy said...

Thanks for this, Joel.

I was refraining from commenting on this issue, especially on FB, as I couldn't be bothered to have the wrath of the self-righteous upon my head.

Suicide is complicated, and to pin the blame on U.P. is simplistic and knee-jerk. And yes - it is the ultimate selfish act.

Selfish in that the suicide believes he has ended his/her suffering. And selfish in the pain he/she leaves behind.

pinoyadonis K said...

1. I can feel how depressing it is to work hard for requirements for half a semester for how many subjects then be advised to just file a LOA.

2. STFAP (UP's socialized tuition) application is hard work. Money and time (lost salary perhaps) are involved in completing the documents and on passing them. She did tried that is why she is in bracket D. Appealing [for a lower bracket] is more rigorous. I am one of those who thought it is not even worth to try.

3. They simplified the story to be like that because the filing of LOA is a fresh and big factor. I do agree not to discount other factors. It might be true that some persons involved are not telling the whole story. Their are some groups that used this incident for their own agenda.

joelmcvie said...

@PINOYADONISK: We all get depressed, and we all know what it feels to be under such heavy weight. But ultimately, she still had free will, even if in her mind, she "thought" she had no choice. That she chose suicide is her decision and her responsibility. It was her hand that grabbed that silver cleaner, and her lips that opened up to drink the liquid.

I disagree with simplifying stories. If a story is complicated, then break it down into the different sides. But always show the other sides. And there is a world of difference between simplifying and jumping to conclusion, which "Student commits suicide because of unpaid tuition" patently is.

BK Santos said...

Couldn't agree more. This is NOT a simple issue! And it ain't the chancellor's fault!