Student groups from across the country slammed President Duterte for his statements reversing the previous pronouncements ensuring free tuition for all in state universities and colleges (SUCs).
“Limiting free tuition for ‘poor and qualified’ students put undue burden on the part of students in exercising their right to education,” said Rara Ada of Sanlakas Youth, a national organization of student activists upholding the democratic rights of the youth.
“Distorting the recently passed law ensuring free tuition in SUCs through its implementing rules betrays the promose of free tertiary education flaunted by the Duterte administration and its allies in the Congress,” she added.
Ada cited the experience of some SUCs, most notably the University of the Philippines, in classifying students by ‘brackets,’ saying that such bracketing systems led to increasing tuition and other fees and a drastic decrease in the number of impoverished students enrolling.
“What is being flaunted as a progressive step in ensuring tertiary education as a right to be accessed by those who choose to is really just a deceptive mechanism in justifying the increase of tuition and other fees, as those who were considered unqualified for free tuition are deemed rich enough to cope with higher fees,” she explained.
“Rather than providing motivation for impoverished students to pursue tertiary education in SUCs, it actually burdens them with an adversarial process where they are deemed rich until they proven poor enough to qualify for free tuition,” Ada said.
Scholar-activists also pointed out that the increased allocation for education is still not enough to meet the international standards set for education spending in developing countries by the United Nations.
“The present budgeting process speaks volumes about where education stands in the national government’s priority,” said Zaira Baniaga, Chairperson of KAISA-UP. “While we are automatically appropriating a large sum of our budget to paying for our foreign debts, the budget for education has never significantly exceeded 3% of our Gross National Product (GNP), a far cry from the UNESCO standard of 6% from the GNP, set as far back as 2008,” she added.
Baniaga said that a legislation ensuring the automatic appropriation of 6% GNP, dubbed as the SixWillFix Bill, will ensure that free education in all levels will not suffer in its quality and accessibility, ensure just wages for teachers and workers in the education sector, as well as quality facilities needed by students in all levels.
“If the President is serious in his promise of delivering change, he must do so by prioritizing the SixWillFix Bill as urgent, ensuring that free quality education will not suffer from arbitrary changes, nor be subjected to annual competition with other parts of the national budget,” said Baniaga.
“The right to education in all levels by all citizens is not up for debate,” Baniaga said. “If the President believes in investing in the country’s future, he must not be among those who stand in the way of free education,” she concluded.
The SixWillFix Bill has already been lobbied by KAISA-UP in both Houses of the Congress.