Students from different University of the Philippines (UP) system units scored President Rodrigo Duterte’s failure to prioritize education despite a P8 billion Higher Education Support Fund (HESF) under the government’s free tuition program for 2017.
In a rally on the first anniversary of Duterte in office Friday, the protesters recalled Duterte promised before typhoon Lawin victims in October 2016 that his government’s thrust would be education, followed by agriculture and health.
League of Filipino Students – UP College of Social Science and Philosophy spokesperson Renz Pasigpasigan said Duterte’s P8 billion additional budget for state colleges and universities (SUCs) actually came from funds earlier earmarked for the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
“Students do not want education funds to come from realignments originally intended for other sectors and regions. Education must be given as a basic service, which means it should never be a money-making scheme that victimizes the poor,” Pasigpasigan said.
Pasigpasigan said Duterte’s education policy is characterized by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM) April 20 joint guideline on the so-called free tuition policy for SUCs.
Free tuition and assistance for a select few
Under the memorandum, the country’s 114 SUCs shall receive a budget based on their respective estimated tuition income submitted to the DBM.
The UP system, for one, is still expected to earn P367.87 million from tuition payments for academic year 2017-2018 that will be part of its P13 billion annual budget, the biggest expense of which is earmarked for the Philippine General Hospital. UP has earned a total of P2 billion in 2010 to 2014 from its collections which goes directly to a revolving fund, only P150 million of which is spent for its students.
To help poor students, UP implements a student financial assistance (SFA) program that provides “deserving” students with free tuition while its “Tulong Dunong” program provides “qualified” students an assistance of P12,000 per semester.
But the students said only a select few can avail of the programs who still must undergo rigorous process of filling out forms to prove their incapacity to pay for their tuition as well as other fees.
Education as struggle
Government’s failure to provide free college education makes it a difficult for students to pursue a tertiary level diploma, the protesters said.
University Student Council College of Social Work and Community Development representative Gabby Lucero applied for SFA to help her mother pay for her schooling. The incoming second year social work student was disappointed however to find out that the SFA is just another socialized tuition scheme (STS) which is part of the national university’s income generating projects.
She also revealed that only dirt poor students are given assistance by the university.
“The SFA helps because we also have to worry about our monthly house rent and our daily expenses for food, water and electricity,” Lucero said. “But I was asked about the number of appliances we own, what type of house we live in or if we had a toilet bowl,” she said.
Second year applied physics student Jim Bagano also applied for the SFA wanting to eliminate the burden of paying a high tuition.
Like Lucero, Bagano is also asked to pay P600 per unit plus the other school fees worth P2,000 which prompted him to apply for the “free tuition” under the SFA.
Lucero and Bagano were asked to submit numerous forms to prove their poverty, including their parents’ income tax return and a Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) certification.
“The requirements are difficult, as most poor families hardly have complete and organized documents,” Lucero said. “I now have to worry about fixing my parents’ BIR documents before I can even apply for SFA,” he added.
The students said the Duterte government’s free tuition policy is not totally free.
“What we need from the Duterte government is a policy that would declare free tuition and miscellaneous fees for all students,” Bagano said.# (Report and photos by Mark Kevin Reginio of UP-CMC for Kodao Productions)