THE world stopped for all of us when we heard the news – we, who went through the same gauntlet of economic difficulties in pursuit of higher education even in the country’s so-called National University. We have all been victims once of the same system, trying to get by with our meager allowances from the loans our parents’ had to raise just to pay for our tuition and lodging.

We know how it feels when a callous bureaucracy crushes everything that is promising and hopeful within us. But while we endeavored to shore ourselves up by compromising with the system, by making do, you did not. It had to stop, you said to yourself.

All of 16 summers long. You could not wait for the next summer to arrive. Because they did not understand the weight that has been placed on your shoulders as the eldest in your family and the heady promise of reprieve with a college education from the country’s premier state university ending up in betrayal.

They did not understand how a burning stomach feels with just mint candy for lunch. They did not understand the pain of coming to class and meeting requirements with the identity of that of a ghost while still alive. You were still breathing but the flame of your personal struggle against a system which speaks such a strange cruel language had slowly worn out. The ruthlessness must stop and so you offer them your final muted silence.

But it was the final act of the system to rob you of your last glimmer of hope when they barred you from that last illusion that finally did you in – the illusion that as long as you can still enter the grand hallways of this famed institution, you still have a foothold on your dreams; that as long as you can spend time with your classmates, their glowing bright futures can be reflective of your own still. But they took even these last desperate dying embers of hope. This cruel game had to stop.

And stop it, it you did. With a burning liquid down your throat. After all, what good is it to plead when nobody listens? The substance went down your gut. There is nothing left there but the hurt and pain inflicted upon you by the systematic cruelty you faced. You have long been disemboweled and you have been left empty by a system that did not listen. And everything for you stopped.

The maddening truth, however, Kristel is that the world continued spinning even after your painful departure.

A year after your death, the inertia of the bureaucracy with technocrats at the helm that ran you over still barrels through the hopes and dreams of young Filipinos like you. They remain unfazed and oblivious to the blood on their hands. They have considered you a psychological outlier, an aberration to what they assume to be the natural resilience of the young. And they have even used your death to push for divisive measures to make education even more inaccessible to your kind.

Your death presents to us a truth that we have known all along – that the system kills not just young innocent lives, but the hopes and aspirations of an entire generation. But it also a bitter truth for us to learn that if we fail to respond to the urgency of this problem, many more young dreams would be lost.

It pains us to know that we have lost one among our ranks because of our own failures. We feel the guilt of not being able to stand with you in your desperate moment; we who know how cruel the system is and have banded together to fight it; we who have been scarred by the system’s inequities but instead of succumbing to its power, have decided to struggle against it.

We have taken it upon ourselves to not forget instead. As your story resonates with many of the young in this generation, they will be touched by what your life and death has come to mean. They will retell your story in the bonfires of their hearts, spinning your tale with the age-old tales of injustice in this land. They will look at each other and see in each of their hearts your pain, and the pain of the exploited.

But from this pain, will be anger and a stronger resolve to stop this murderous system from claiming even more innocent victims. These heartless bureaucrats must be stopped.