THE Senate minority and militant groups lauded the signing of the free college tuition law on Saturday, but said it would become a reality only if the government allocated enough funds for its implementation.
Opposition senators lauded President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to sign the law even when there was some hesitation from his economic managers.
State colleges and universities (SCUs) and the militant teachers’ group Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) also welcomed the signing of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.
The challenge now, however, is to ensure that the new law will be effectively and completely implemented in 112 state colleges and universities (SCUs) nationwide, the Senate minority bloc said in a statement released by the office of Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.
“We hope that [the President’s]economic managers would not bungle its implementation. Their cooperation is crucial to ensuring the success of this landmark law,” they added.
During the House of Representatives’ budget hearing, Department of Budget and Management Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said that the government cannot afford to finance free education in the tertiary level. They added that this proposal will only benefit the individual and not the country and is detrimental to private colleges and universities.
The Senate minority bloc is composed of Senators Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th, Antonio Trillanes 4th, Risa Hontiveros and Leila de Lima, who is detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center on drug charges.
Congress has already provided P8.3 billion to the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) for tuition fee subsidy in the current General Appropriations Act.
However, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) removed provisions for free tuition in SUCs in the 2018 national budget, amounting to over P3.7 trillion, that was submitted to Congress during the President’s second State of the Nation Address.
Aquino, principal author and sponsor of the measure in the Senate, estimated that the law would require about P20 to P25 billion to be implemented nationwide, way below Diokno’s P100 million estimate.
The minority bloc has assured the public it would ensure that adequate budget would be included in the next year’s appropriation act.
“This great progress also proves that while as members of the minority we may disagree with certain policies of the administration, there are issues that unite us to better our country and the life of every Filipino,” Pangilinan said.
Hontiveros thanked her fellow senators “for crossing party lines in brave support of this law.”
Sen. Winston Gatchalian believes that the free college tuition law will not lead to the “exodus” of students from private schools to SUCs.
The morning after the signing, University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman youth and union leaders were hopeful as
they gathered to discuss the law with the school administration at Palma Hall.
The UP Manila Student Council welcomed the news but asked students to be vigilant because there were hurdles in implementing the law like the protest of Duterte’s economic managers.
Last week, UP president Danilo Concepcion reversed the decision to suspend the collection of tuition in the whole university, which drew the ire of the students.
Technological University of the Philippines said that all its students would benefit from the program. But it reiterated that students under the Student Financial Assistance Program would be the priority.
Aklan State University had made its student assessment form for free tuition available to students for the school year.
Naval State University (NSU) officially announced on its website that it would no longer collect tuition fees from their students.
“We are encouraging out-of-school high school graduates and returnees to enroll this 2nd semester since the budget is large enough to accommodate new applicants,” Dr. Erwin Salvatierra, NSU student affairs director said.
Pangasinan State University shared Senator Bam Aquino’s Facebook post on free tuition with the caption “And now it’s official! #noworries”.
Tarlac State University announced that the budget for the law could cover all students for one semester regardless of their academic standing and financial capability.
“Ninety five percent of the students of Batangas State University are already assured of the free tuition fee program of the government and from the budget given by DBM,” Batangas State University student council said in a Facebook post.
Teachers welcome bill’s approval
THE militant teachers’ group ACT said, “President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing of the law will expand the access of the Filipino youth to higher education. We praise the President for standing against the position of his economic managers.”
Assailing the statements of Diokno and Pernia, ACT’s national spokesman Benjamin Valbuena said, “It seems that these two economic managers are not working for the government, they are more of spokesmen for the private education businessmen.”
“Based from the data the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges submitted to the Senate Committee on Education, 77 percent of the students in SUCs are from the families of minimum-wage earners and below. This shows that majority of students are struggling daily to support their expenses and that imposition of fees (tuition and miscellaneous) may further erode their hope to finish college. We want to help them focus on their studies so they can develop their potentials fully. The Free Higher Education Act will help us towards this end. As educators, this is our goal for our students,” Valbuena added.
Youth groups to monitor compliance
Youth groups vowed to monitor implementation of the law, which orders full government subsidy on the education of students in state universities and colleges (SUCs).
Kabataan Party-list Representative Sarah Elago said the passage of the Free Tertiary Education Act was “a landmark victory not only for the youth today, but also for future generations. Not a peso should be collected if we want to actualize the real spirit of the new law.”
CHEd Commissioner Prospero de Vera said the government’s free tuition policy would be take effect in the first semester of academic year 2018-2019.
According to the 2018 National Expenditure Program, economic managers from the government expect all state-run universities and colleges to collect tuition amounting to P9.1 billion next year.
with RJ CARBONELL, NEIL A. ALCOBER and ELSHAMAE ROBLES