We whisper about it during recess, covering our mouths with our hands, taking glances if people around are listening. We talk about it with our closest friends on our way home after dismissal time.
Every school has an urban legend – the raped girl on the second floor whose body was hidden in the library; the kid who cries every night because he was waiting for hissundo; the white lady, the black lady and the red lady; the sound of chains being walked around by a soldier who died during the World War II because your school was once a garrison; the duwende living in an anthill under the tamarind tree and the famous kapre atop the Balete tree. These urban legends have been passed on to waves of new students year after year even after you have left school.
We have countless campus horror stories which publishing houses have compiled into books, sometimes accompanied by vivid illustrations printed out and disseminated by new publishing houses.. They rake in profit, exploiting their readers’ fear and folly.
We have many horror stories from schools around Metro Manila and across the country. But the stories that make our skin crawl, soften our spines and haunts our dreams are those that keep us from our schools and education.
The Silver Lady
Behavioral Sciences freshman Kristel Tejada, 16, from University of the Philippines, Manila campus committed suicide in their humble house in Tondo, Manila. A farewell note in one hand and a silver cleaner in the other, Kristel ended her life because she wasn’t able to pay her tuition.
Kristel, daughter of a part-time taxi driver and a plain housewife, was an Iskolar ng Bayan in the country’s premiere state university. She was a bright kid having skipped kinder to enroll straight as a Grade 1 pupil, she was bemedaled as salutatorian at the Rizal Elementary School in Manila and was a straight scholar in high school at the Manila Cathedral School. Among the graduates of her high school alma mater, only four of them were able to enter UP.
With what became possible thru her high school scholarship was eventually reversed by being an Iskolar ng Bayan in UP. Sure she was a scholar but as the institution continues to redevelop its tuition schemes, the definition of Iskolar ng Bayan changed.
Her mother knelt, wept, and begged to the UP Manila Chancellor for Kristel to be enrolled but none of those things worked
She had incurred an outstanding debt of P10,000 for her previous semester. Both her request for tuition loan and promissory note were turned down due to this debt. She wrote to every councilor in their district in Manila, asking for help so that she can enroll but was brushed off as well. Her mother knelt, wept, and begged to the UP Manila Chancellor for Kristel to be enrolled but none of those things worked. She was forced to file a leave of absence in the second semester of her freshman year.
She made a leave that was longer than absence.
UP raised its tuition by 300% last 2007, making the tuition per unit skyrocket from P300 to P1,000.
Way back in 1989, the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP), dubbed at that time as Iskolar ng Bayan Program, was approved by the then UP Board of Regents.
With STFAP, students are categorized according to their family’s annual income with a corresponding per unit cost. UP raised its tuition by 300% in 2007, making the tuition per unit skyrocket from P300 to P1,000. Bracket A students should pay P1,500 per unit, Bracket B students should pay P1,000 per unit, Bracket C students should pay P600 per unit, Bracket D students should pay P300 per unit while Bracket E students are exempted from paying tuition. Instead of scrapping STFAP, the UP system maintained the anti-student policy and repackaged it as Socialized Tuition Scheme (STS), where students are being charged with P18,000 to P27,000 per semester in tuition alone.
Kristel was ranked to Bracket D. Even so, this didn’t save her from state abandonment. She wasn’t born with a silver spoon, so to speak, but she died with a silver cleaner which she swallowed along with her dreams crushed by the system.
The Asphyxiated Respiratory Therapy Student
Whenever people ask why somebody died, the usual answer we get to the joke (if it is a joke) is “nakalimutan kasi huminga (forgot to breathe).” This next story is the opposite of that joke.
Her body suspended in air by a rope around her neck, Rosanna Sanfuego died by asphyxiation.
Rosanna, like Kristel, was only 16-years-old when she took her life this year in their own house. She was a freshman Respiratory Therapy student from Cagayan State University (CSU).
Like Kristel, she killed herself because she was not able to pay her school fees. Despite CSU’s claim that they have been implementing a “no tuition policy” since 2009, the administration still managed to collect fees ranging from P2,000 to P4,000 from the 40,000-strong university student population. Apparently, she was not alone in this battle. Dialogues conducted by the National Union of Students of the Philippines with CSU students showed that majority of the studentry cannot afford the miscellaneous fees collected by their school.
Rosanna died not because “nakalimutan kasi niyang huminga.” Yes, she hanged herself but she was already asphyxiated by the high cost of education, the kind that strangles every dream for a better future, a better life.
No Child's Play
A thin nylon cord claimed the life of 12-year-old Mariannet Amper in Davao City in 2009. Like Rosanna, Mariannet hanged herself inside their hut. For over a month, she had failed to go to school because her parents can no longer provide for her transportation or baon.
Under her pillow, a letter was found addressed to a television program that grants viewers’ wishes. The letter bared simple dreams for a kid – new shoes, a bag, bike and jobs with for her parents with wages sufficient for their basic needs.
At her tender age, she should be out playing piko, ten-twenty but no, she was already stressing over issues her tender age could not handle.
The Zamboanga Peninsula is known to be one of the many conflict-stricken areas in Mindanao. Lives were disrupted since the fighting between Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and alleged Moro National Liberation front or Nur Misuari loyalists broke out. The clashes came to be known as the “Zamboanga Siege”.
Nilna Habibun, 17, was another freshman student. She was not a direct victim of a military encounter. She was fighting a different kind of war.
Following the separation of her parents, Nilna’s father said he could no longer support her education. She was supposed to be a sophomore student in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay this semester. Frustrated that her family and her dreams fell apart, Nilna did the irreversible. On May 24, 2015, Nilna shoved her sibling out of their bedroom and locked herself inside. She was found dead in the same bedroom of their house that evening with her neck strung from to ceiling.
The education system’s war violence added her to the list of the casualties of war.
January 19, 2007 was a regular day for the academic community of the University of Eastern Philippines (UEP) in Samar. A class of nursing students was silently taking their midterm examinations in Room 106 of the College of Engineering Building. Everything was calm and serene. Everyone was scribbling their way through their test papers until unfamiliar footsteps broke the silence.
Some men entered the room. The scribblings stopped. The ambience was replaced with curiosity then turned into shock with a blink of an eye.
It was not a suicide. A professor was shot to death. It was murder.
Prof. Joma was killed in a time when the people who fight for meaningful change automatically become enemies of the state and earn their way to the Order of Battle of the AFP.
Professor Jose Maria ‘Joma’ Cui, who was administering the midterm examinations, was shot in cold blood in front of his students. Prof. Joma was the 820th victim of extrajudicial killing under the anti-insurgency campaign Oplan Bayanihan 2 of the Arroyo regime. He served as the chairperson of several people’s group including the Alliance of Concerned Teachers-Northern Samar and government employees’ group COURAGE-UEP.
Prof. Joma was killed in a time when the people who fight for meaningful change automatically become enemies of the state and earn their way to the Order of Battle of the AFP. He was killed because he stood for the people who are struggling everyday to stand up against the fascist regime.
Room 106 became his place of death because he freed himself from that four-cornered room to join the people’s struggle.
The Floating Man of Pasig River
He just wanted to tell the truth.
His hands and feet were bound. His face wrapped with layers of cloth and packaging tape. His whole body was rolled in a carpet. He was thrown alive to drown. His bloated, decomposing body was found floating in the Pasig River near Jones Bridge.
Chua was a member of UST’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) intelligence monitoring team. After learning about the corruption inside the corps, Chua and his colleague Romulo Yumol exposed the irregularity to The Varsitarian, the official student publication of their university.
What started off from death threats led to his execution. Four were accused and found guilty in connection with his death.
Chua’s murder catapulted the nationwide call to abolish ROTC. Progressive groups were keen on saying that ROTC was a government-sanctioned fascist training ground of students. It served as a breeding ground for corruption and anti-student sentiments. Across the country, ROTC was being used by the state and school administrations to suppress dissent inside the campus and the academic community. It was a mechanism similar to the government’s counter-insurgency programs that has spawned widespread extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and rape. Some schools in far-flung areas have also been turned into military detachments.
On February 2014, another student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines-Main Campus exposed the hazing inflicted upon her, a cadet.
How tragic and unfortunate that any similar situation happen to anyone ever again but these horrors may repeat themselves as the system persists.
By now, we could see that the Philippine education system and the economic system of the country perpetuate these horrors. Life has been a living hell for all the Filipinos who battle these evils every single day. How tragic and unfortunate that any similar situation happen to anyone ever again but these horrors may repeat themselves as the system persists.
Evil lurks in schools and spares no one, even the person behind you.