College degree requirement for elected officials anti-poor – lawmaker

Mara Cepeda
The House's draft federal constitution adds a college degree among the requirements for those running for president, vice president, senator, and representative

ANTI-POOR PROVISION. Residents look for the precinct where they can cast their vote during the 2016 presidential elections. File photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – A lawmaker disagreed with a provision under the proposed draft constitution in the House of Representatives that requires the president, vice president, and Congress members to have a college degree. 

The said provision would rob the poor the chance to dream of serving their fellow Filipinos, said Nueva Ecija 3rd District Representative Rosanna Vergara during the plenary debates on Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) 15 on Monday, November 26. (READ: Highlights of the House’s draft federal constitution)

“‘Wag naman sana nating ipagkait ang mangarap sa ating mga kababayan na hindi pinalad na makapag-aral dahil sa kahirapan,” said Vergara, who was interpellating the sponsor, Zamboanga Sibugay 1st District Representative Wilter Wee Palma II.  

(Let us not deny our countrymen the chance to dream just because they are unable to study due to poverty.)

“I hope they are still able to dream of serving others as a representative, senator, vice president, and president, because what we are looking for in a leader – more than being smart – is honesty, humility, love of country, and the desire to serve without asking for anything in return,” added Vergara in Filipino.

Why does Vergara think the provision is anti-poor? Vergara explained the college degree requirement would “disenfranchise” voters. 

The legislator said that in 2010 only 10% of Filipinos had college degrees. Vergara said this number increased to 36% this year. She also pointed out that the free tuition law has only been recently implemented.

“Thus, requiring college degrees would disenfranchise almost 64% of our voters, narrow the pool of qualified people simply because they don’t have a college degree. And there’s no scientific evidence that a college graduate would perform better a a leader than one who isn’t,” said Vergara. 

The neophyte congresswoman said “none” of the classes she took in college were relevant to her job in Congress.

“The trainings that helped me serve my constituents better have nothing to do with my college educational attainment. Rather, perseverance, the recognition of my strengths and weaknesses, knowledge about the needs of my constituents, and making informed and sound choices when voting and making bills – these are the things that I rely on mostly, none of which I learned in college,” said Vergara.

How did Palma defend the college degree requirement? Palma said the provision essentially aims to “elevate” the kind of service that the future president, vice president, senators, and representatives would give to Filipinos should the country shift to federalism.

He said that he agrees that educational attainment does not define what kind of a leader a person will be. 

But he also pointed out that some blue collar jobs already require a college degree, yet the highest position in the land does not. 

Palma also argued a college degree is crucial for a job that involves the creation of laws.

“We just want to elevate the quality of service…. There are sectors in the government, such as ourselves in Congress, wherein academic standards is needed, especially because we are creating laws here,” Palma said in Filipino. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.