By Conrado de Quiros

I’m aghast at and overwhelmed and thoroughly defeated by the death of Kristel Pilar Mariz Tejada. Some deaths do not particularly weigh heavily on the mind; others do. This is one of those that do.

… UP officials theorize that Tejada may have had all sorts of personal problems. But they do not rule out the possibility that her financial troubles might also have contributed to it. They have since sent their commiseration to the Tejada family and, not a little ironically, financial help to see them through in their hour of need. They cannot blame the Tejadas if the Tejadas regard their overtures less than appreciatively and remember the saying about “Aanhin pa ang damo….”

It’s tragic in all the ways that tragic can be.

At the very least, it’s so in that it’s truly tragic to be poor, mahirap ang mahirap. Many years ago, I wrote a speech titled “Tongues on Fire,” which also became the title of a book of speeches I later published. There I talked about a horrific insight I got about what it means to be poor. I’ve known poor, I’ve breathed poor, I’ve lived poor. And I’ve not forgotten the sight and sound and smell of poor, I’ve not forgotten the fear and trembling of poor.

But nothing quite prepared me for a news story I read about someone not just taking his own life but those of his entire family from having nothing in life. Nothing to see him through, nothing to look forward to. The guy had tried to keep his wife’s and five kids’ bodies and souls together, but adversity kept thwarting his efforts. The sound of his children crying themselves to sleep on their empty stomachs haunted him, and finally he and his wife decided to end it all and drag their children into it. The man came home one day, mixed insecticide into a last meal, and they went to sleep without ever waking up.

An insanity? The action of a thoroughly deranged man? To be sure. But it also gives glimpses into the pit of desperation, into the darkness of despair, into the nightmare of the poor. It is the feeling of having no one to turn to, no refuge to go to, no means of escape. It’s the feeling of being boxed in, you cannot move an inch however you squirm or thrash about.

You look at it with rich or middle-class eyes, you’ll find P6,337 or even P8,000 the silliest thing to die for. Indeed, the most incomprehensible thing to kill yourself for. Which, too, should give us whole new insights into our relative valuations of value. A peso may be bubog to us, but it is life and death, or at least food and hunger, to the street kids that regularly scour the streets badgering cars for coins.

But what makes this even more tragic is that it has to do with education, with learning, with enlightenment. It has to do with escape, with freedom, with a heroic effort to better one’s lot. What makes this even more tragic is that whatever drove Tejada to still her breath, whatever other grief she may have had in life, a good part of it was also that she could no longer go to school, she could no longer escape, she could no longer dream the dream. How can you not weep at the utter wastefulness of the wanton destruction of this girl? How can you not feel bereft at the loss of so precious a life?

That Tejada was studying at UP to begin with must suggest that she was a bright and promising kid. You cannot get to UP without being so, poor alone doesn’t cut it. That she was taking up behavioral science hammers home the loss, or the irony of that loss, all the more. To want to understood how people behave, why people act the way they do, but to not understand in the here and now why people do what they do, why life takes on the aspect of something unfeeling, something cruel, something deadly—that is the most infuriating and depressing thing of all.

Tejada may have died by her own hand, but so only literally, so only visibly, so only immediately. In the end, her hand may have been pushed to it by other things, by other beings, by other people. In the end, her death is an indictment of this country, it is an indictment of all of us, that we can allow things like this to come to pass. John Donne once said that the death of a single person diminishes us all. Certainly, the death of this one person diminishes us all.

The death of this one child impoverishes us all.




  1. So in my neck of the islands, about a year ago, a truck with bad brakes rolled down the mountain killing 15 people, mostly young people. Why are their deaths invisible? Was it because they were not in a university in Manila, but were just poor provincial chaff?

    • Joe, there likely was no profitable story on the 15. Here, there are big fish to fry: the imagined insensitivity of bureaucrats, the 15 minutes of fame to be gained in the blogosphere if you can do your hand-wringing well enough, the political mileage from demanding that education be a right that all the rest of us should pay for, etc. etc.

      Incidentally, many might gladly pay for the right to shut up certain folks (so-called bishops) on certain matters, but it won’t work because of the constitutional right to free expression. And yet, some now seem to want to say that if you disagree with them on this ‘suicide as a national issue’, that you should just shut up. That ought not to work either. Still, political correctness is an epidemic.

    • @Joe,

      You know, suicide here is unbelievable unless proven otherwise. It’s always a cry of “murder” first before getting to the bottom of things.

      Another example is Ted Failon’s late wife. Similar sensational status…

      • Always someone to blame, eh? Suicide is ging to happen, whether through genetic disposition or a lifetime of pains or the lack of counseling. In incident would not cause it without a bigger illness in which to feed. I’d say poverty is one of the elements of the illness, but it is interesting to note that the suicide rate in the US is way higher than in the Philippines. So there is something more.

        Thanks for the perspective.

  2. manuel buencamino

    All the fuss from a conclusion drawn from haka-haka. Let’s determine the cause of her suicide – based on facts – before we start with grand theories about systemic failure and man’s inhumanity to man. We can actually get something positive done, to improve our lot, if we approach issues with sober and fact-based analysis.

    I am not dismissing all those wonderful insights by those moved by the young lady’s suicide, they do point out what is still lacking in our system, but it is a big leap to make a direct connection between that and the suicide. We cannot discount that the suicide is unrelated to her tuition problem. So how are we going to move from here to there when we are not sure where here is?

    • So are other factors. Mind you there is confluence of factors from several cascading failures.

      I believe the surrender of the U.P. ID card that the system dictates triggered the end for her. But does that mean the system failed her…or that kind of school mechanism of barring non-students in entering the campus “murdered” her?

      Only through a psychological autopsy will you know the cascading failures often seen in suicides.

      • baycas, while finding out why she did it is good, it remains that whatever it may have been, suicide is not the healthy response.

        i’m still surprised why no one is talking about mental health, counselling, etc.

        i read that when something like that happens in other countries, the FIRST THING they say is: if you feel you need to talk to someone to process (input whatever reason here), please do so. here are some contact info for counselling.

        bakit walang ganun?

        • Five thumbs up, GabbyD. I understand there is a stigma attached to psychological counseling, that it is for the crazy and therefore one pursues it at the risk of being discriminated against as “unbalanced” when, in fact, it may be the healthiest decision a person can make. It is important to seat the notion among young people that knowledge of one’s emotions is as important as knowledge of history or chemistry.

        • I don’t know…perhaps it was present but not broadcast. Mainstream media has a way of concealing some important things. Or, perhaps really ignored or neglected.

          You are also talking of a possible system failure, i.e., suicide prevention.

          Root cause analysis will tell if indeed there was no mechanism to prevent the suicide. The behaviorial science professor knew that going to class even if unenrolled is the victim’s coping mechanism against compounding problems. We don’t know how the professor acted during the course of interaction with the victim without a thorough psychological analysis.

          Root cause analysis may be kinda reactive in nature but can also be proactive. Determining the causes that led to the suicide will somehow help in strengthening or even crafting preventive measures for suicide.

    • Not being able to cope up the tuition problem coupled with lack of support mechanism was a big factor of losing the chance of fulfilling her dreams. Her threshold of overcoming uncontrolled depression which if not addressed by medical therapy complicated by poverty may have triggered a defeatist emotion of self=pity given the continuing depression the family as reported. Hence, to Kristel suicide was a heroic act to spare the family further burden on her siblings tuition problem. My two cents of analysis.

  3. I also cannot discount one’s eternal thought of saving the family from its financial quagmire often expected from firstborns…only to be deprived of that chance to fulfill the dream.

    If system is to be blamed…perhaps the system of expecting something in return for the years of providing education to children must be abolished. I always believed children should be educated because someday they will have a life of their own…someday they will provide for their own children…

    And they just need to pay their family forward.