“As if to mock Kristel and all the victims of the rotten education system, Duterte’s cohorts in Congress and Senate are pushing for a ‘free tuition’ policy that will allow the nationwide implementation of UP’s STS – the very policy that killed Kristel.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Youth groups remembered Kristel Tejada on March 14, even as, they said, the high cost of education that pushed her to death four years ago remains unchanged in spite of government’s pronouncements about making college education free.
In 2013, Tejada, a freshman at the University of the Philippines-Manila, took her own life after being forced to take a leave of absence when she failed to pay tuition under UP’s then Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP), later renamed Socialized Tuition System (STS).
Coincidentally, this week, on March 13, the Senate approved the proposed “Affordable Education for All Act,” or Senate Bill 1304, to guide the implementation of the increased education budget.
But instead of the much-flaunted free college, progressive youths said the bill, which was approved on third and final reading, will only implement a nationwide STFAP.
“As if to mock Kristel and all the victims of the rotten education system, Duterte’s cohorts in Congress and Senate are pushing for a ‘free tuition’ policy that will allow the nationwide implementation of UP’s STS – the very policy that killed Kristel,” said JP Rosos, spokesperson of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) in a statement.
Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago said contrary to its title, the premise of the bill is still socialized tuition that would restrict access to higher education, instead of making it available for all.
To call for justice for Tejada and for free education, groups LFS, Kabataan Partylist and Anakbayan staged pickets on March 14 at the Palma Hall in UP Diliman, and at the office of the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) in Diliman, Quezon City.
‘Socialized tuition scheme is profiteering’
The proposed law will establish a Tuition Subsidy Fund, to be administered by Ched. This year, the agency was allotted P8.3 billion ($170 million), which can translate to free college for some 1.6 million students.
Elago said that although the bill claims to make it state policy to “make higher education accessible to all,” she cited Section 2, which stipulates that the state shall provide “tuition subsidy and financial assistance to students in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), private higher education institutions (HEIs) and technical-vocational institutions (TVIs).”
Section 8 of the bill also mandates SUCs to establish a “qualifying mechanism, which shall be meritocratic and equitable,” before the SUCs can access the Tuition Subsidy Fund.
“Such words have been the rationale behind the STS of the UP System, as well as Ched’s pronouncements pointing toward a nationwide STS scheme for all SUCs,” said Elago.
UP Diliman University Student Council Councilor Ben Te said socialized tuition only resulted in a “massive tuition hike” in UP, from P40 ($.79) per unit in 1989, to P1,500 ($30) per unit today.
Te also said that in 2015, the UP administration amassed P11.4 billion ($226 million) in savings from tuition and other fees alone.
Elago said that generated income from tuition and other fees was also used to fund the building of the Acacia and Centennial Dormitories.
The Centennial dorm, which was worth P40 million ($794,992), is one of the most expensive dormitories in the UP Diliman campus with P1,500 per month lodging fee, according to the report of Philippine Collegian.
The STS that replaced STFAP also did not increase the number of students with fully subsidized tuition. In a report by Philippine Collegian, only three out of 100 students in UP Diliman received free tuition under STS.
Subsidies for private HEIs
They also slammed what seems like the government’s voucher program in basic education as the bill provides tuition subsidy for students who wish to enroll in private HEIs.
Section 11 of the bill, states that Strengthening Financial Assistance Programs (STuFAP) “programs shall also be made available to cover the cost of tertiary education, fully or partially, to students who wish to pursue tertiary education in other HEIs or TVIs.”
“The bill actually admits that public higher education will not be free. This provision further gives leeway for schools to still impose hikes in other school fees, under the excuse that these could be waived through financial assistance that students have to apply and prove their worth for,” Elago said.
The SB 1304 also retains the collection of miscellaneous and other school fees, although it prohibits the collection of fees other than those.
“It does not address the deregulated nature of the determination of cost of other school fees, which can be used to legitimize collection of redundant, exorbitant and dubious fees and further profiteering,” Elago said.
Call for free education continues
“After Kristel’s death, justice remains elusive,” said Rosos. “Even under the new regime of Rodrigo Duterte, neoliberal policies on education, responsible for the sky-rocketing cost of education, are still being implemented.”
Rosos said the continued implementation of neoliberal policies like Education Act of 1982, the Higher Education Modernization Act and the K to 12 further hamper the youth’s right to free education. He added that the education system will remain rotten as long as these policies are not scrapped.
Vencer Crisostomo, Anakbayan chairperson also assailed Duterte’s inaction to end incessant tuition increases.
“As we call for justice for Kristel, we vow to stand against intensified neoliberal attacks on education under Duterte,” said Crisostomo.