MANILA, Philippines – The Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) on Friday, August 4, expressed disappointment over President Rodrigo Duterte's signing of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act – a law opposed by his economic managers.
"The approval is disappointing given the powerful arguments advanced by his economic managers about the anti-poor aspects of the law," FEF president Calixto Chikiamco said.
He added: "However, he's in the best position to balance the economic and political demands of his office, especially so in the light of a much-needed tax reform bill still pending in the Senate."
Members of FEF – a public advocacy organization – include former and present Cabinet secretaries and undersecretaries, leading figures in the academe, respected media personalities and opinion makers, and prominent members in the business and finance community.
FEF had earlier called the proposal to increase funding for free tuition in SUCs as "anti-poor" and a move that will hurt private higher education institutions.
In a February 6 statement, the group said funding free tuition in SUCs is anti-poor for two reasons:
Duterte signed the bill into law on Thursday, August 3, following a meeting between lawmakers and economic managers in Malacañang.
According to Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Duterte was convinced that the law's benefits outweigh the cost of its implementation. (READ: Economic managers: Tuition-free policy in SUCs to benefit 'non-poor' students)
Earlier this week, no less than Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said government cannot shoulder the estimated budget requirements of providing free tuition in state universities and colleges.
"We estimate that the cost of this bill, it will cost us something around P100 billion. Hindi po kaya ng gobyerno 'yan (The government cannot shoulder that)," he said.
Some lawmakers later argued that figures shown by the economic managers were misleading and that only around P14 billion would be needed to fund the law.
A study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies sided with the President's economic managers, pointing out that the measure could result in poor families subsidizing students from richer families. (READ: Mr President, before signing the law on free college tuition, please read this)
Cabinet members react
On Friday, Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo lauded the passage of the bill.
"This is a very positive step forward in our collective efforts as a people to democratize access to education and help ease the financial burdens of so many Filipinos who want to improve the quality of their lives and their chances at a better future by gaining college degrees," Taguiwalo said in a statement.
Herself a college professor at the University of the Philippines prior to her appointment, Taguiwalo congratulated the students and parents who rallied for free college education.
"We deeply recognize the value of education and with the passage of this law, we hope more Filipinos will become empowered to build better futures for themselves, their families, and this country," she said.
Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor Chairperson Terry Ridon also thanked the President for signing the measure. Ridon has campaigned for free education as representative of the Kabataan Party-list in the House of Representatives.
"Millions of urban poor families aspiring for a better future of the children and families will benefit from the new law. In fact, this is a culmination of decades of struggle of the student and youth movement in the Philippines," he said.
"As we enter the golden age of infrastructure under the Build Build Build program, it is in the best interest of the nation to have new engineers and professionals from our state schools contributing their talent and expertise to the development of the country," he added. – with reports from Pia Ranada and Patty Pasion / Rappler.com
Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.