SUC student leaders urge Duterte to sign the Free Education Bill
MANILA, Philippines – While the country continues to face several insurgencies and conflicts, student leaders from all over the country gathered to remind President Duterte that funds meant for the educational sector should not be used to purchase bombs for Marawi or bullets for his war on drugs.
With Duterte’s inaction in signing the Free Education Bill into law, student leaders from state universities and colleges (SUCs) all over the Philippines gathered on Wednesday, August 2, to campaign against the vetoing of the Senate Bill 1304.
Through an ongoing manifesto signed by almost a hundred student leaders, members of Akbayan Youth, Youth Resist, the University of the Philippines, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Technological University of the Philippines, and Rizal Technological University, campaigned against the collection of tuition and miscellaneous fees in SUCs.
“We believe that the long-term solution against poverty and conflict is to provide free, accessible and quality education to the youth,” it read.
A press conference and mobilization were also held at the University of the Philippines Diliman, as a response to budget secretary Benjamin Diokno, who deemed the bill as “too costly for the government” during a hearing on the proposed national budget. (READ: DBM on free tuition in state colleges: 'Di kaya ng gobyerno 'yan')
Unfulfilled campaign promises
While Duterte made education his second budget priority when he campaigned for presidency last year, he made no mention of the Free Education Bill in his most recent State of the Nation Address. (READ: FULL TEXT: President Duterte's State of the Nation Address 2017)
Benjie Aquino of the University of the Philippines, Jeza Rodriguez of Student Council Alliance of the Philippines, Amber Quiban of Bukluran UP System, and Richmond Roxas of the Technological University of the Philippines each argued that much of Duterte’s term has ignored the education sector and has instead focused on the war on drugs.
Quiban called this a flawed analysis of the problem. “Basically, insurgencies daw yung problema. Kaya ang finufund ng government natin ay yung mga counter-insurgency programs."
(Basically, they believe insurgency is the problem. That is why what is ultimately funded are counter-insurgency programs)
Quiban claimed that dealers and pushers are usually driven into the world of drugs because of poverty and unemployment, which are rooted in the lack of access to education.
Unsustainable and anti-poor?
To address qualms about the Free Education Bill only benefitting the non-poor, Quiban and Aquino also argued that the prioritization of education must not only focus on SUCs but should also include elementary and secondary levels.
Because non-poor students from private institutions have higher chances of entering college, the budget for education must also be spent on improving basic education, especially of public schools.
Aquino also claimed that the government has enough funds to implement free tuition. “Hindi sustainable ang free education dahil masyadong malaking budget ang kakailanganin, samantalang ilang bilyon ba ang ninanakaw nila taon-taon?"
(Officials say ‘free education is not sustainable because it requires too big of a budget’ when in fact, how many billions do they steal each year?)
Though both the House of Representatives and the Senate ratified the bill on May 29 and May 30 respectively, the President has until Saturday, August 5, to exercise his veto powers. Should Duterte actively refuse to sign SB 1304, the Free Education Bill shall not lapse into law. – Rappler.com
Gari Acolola is a Rappler intern