Free tertiary education 'lasting legacy' of Duterte gov't

MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers across the political spectrum on Friday, August 4, lauded President Rodrigo Duterte's signing into law a measure that would provide free tuition for students of 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs).

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, former chairman of the Senate committee on education and principal author of the measure, thanked Duterte.

"Estudyante, magulang, at pamilyang Pilipino ang tunay na bida ng batas na ito," he said.  (Students, parents, and the Filipino family are the real heroes of this new law.)

Senator Francis Escudero, the current chairman of the Senate education committee, said the law would be "one of the lasting legacies of [Duterte's] presidency and administration."

Aquino is a member of the minority while Escudero is part of the majority.

"This law occupies a place among landmark social legislations. If a teacher affects eternity, so does a president who removes obstacles to learning," said Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto.

"It's the first administration that will have such a law and we laud the President for signing the free tuition bill despite some advising him to veto it," said Senator Juan Edgardo Angara. 

Despite the qualms of his economic team, Duterte signed the law Thursday evening, August 3, following a meeting between legislators and economic managers in Malacañang.

The Palace, in announcing Duterte's decision, said the President was convinced that the bill's benefits surpassed its cost.

Members of the Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives also praised Duterte for "heeding the call of the people rather than the anti-people recommendations of his neoliberal economic managers," according to Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate.

Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago said the law is "an initial victory not only for the youth today but also for future generations."

The Makabayan bloc had earlier called on Duterte to sign the measure into law and ignore the worries of his economic advisers. Members of the bloc had met with Duterte before his second State of the Nation Address, to relay key concerns of their constituents.

"I find objections made by his economic managers contra the passage of the law counter-intuitive, treating it as if its proponents have advanced the measure as a magic pill that will cure all of the educational sector's ills. It is but the first yet necessary step towards reforming the system," said House Deputy Minority Leader and Kabayan Representative Harry Roque.

"With this single mechanical act, he has turned years of what once were unfulfilled dreams into the tangible reality of having a college education," said Valenzuela Representative Wes Gatchalian.

House opposition member Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin said the law is a "victory for the youth and students who have relentlessly fought for the right to free education over the years."

"This is an investment to further equip our most precious resource – the human resource," also said Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, one of the principal sponsors of the measure.

AKO Bicol Representative Rodel Batocabe, who belongs to the House majority, said the signing of the measure into law means "finishing college is no longer a pipe dream for most of our youth and their families."

"The millennials are the future of our country. Now is the time to invest heavily in their college education," said Aangat Tayo Representative Neil Abayon.

PBA Representative Jericho Nograles said Congress will now have to make it a point to "invest more in quality education and our SUCs to support the increased number of scholars."

The bigger hurdle for the new law will be in Congress, which is now discussing the proposed 2018 national budget. The Palace has said it will be up to Congress to fund the bill.

Several lawmakers said they plan to propose amendments to fund the free fees in SUCs, local universities and colleges, and even the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. They urge the executive branch to submit amendments or an errata in the proposed budget. –