Crowd-funded free school

By JASON BAGUIA |August 04,2017 - 10:01 PM


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte this week signed into law the bill mandating free tuition for students of public colleges, universities and vocational schools across the country.

Under the law, money from the state’s coffers shall also be allotted to cover students’ library, computer, laboratory, identification card, athletic, admission, development, guidance, registration, medical, dental, cultural, “and other similar or related fees.”

The enactment of the law was catalyzed by the Senate’s earlier realignment of P8 billion in savings from this year’s budget to free tuition for state colleges and universities.

To the President’s credit, he went against the advice of his economic managers who argued that the cost of fully subsidizing higher education would be too high at around P100 billion.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, according to CNN Philippines, had contested that figure, saying that the government needs only P25 billion to enforce the law.

With trillions of pesos approved for public expenditure through the annual general appropriations act over the years, I wonder why it took our leaders such a long time to unite behind this measure.

I hypothesized in an editorial I once drafted for Cebu Daily News that the reason must be that keeping constituents in the shadows of ignorance is well within the interests of most of our politicians for whom an enlightened, knowledgeable citizenry is a threat.

Apparently the tide has shifted and hearts have been converted.

Even the President went against his own inclination when he argued that the rehabilitation of the battle-scarred Islamic City of Marawi left the state incapable of sustaining free tuition.

Courtesy thanks goes to the appointed and elected officials who made this possible ministerially. Congratulations to the students who have been lobbying for full financial backing for their right to education, on and off the streets.

At the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu, student political parties Nagkahiusang Kusog sa mga Estudyante and the Union of Progressive Students have been at the forefront of demanding greater state subsidy for education in divergent ways.

Deepest gratitude should go to the ordinary taxpayer, whose contribution to our treasury will make sure that this new law works.

The free tuition law now awaits implementing rules and regulations on top of the usual effectivity 15 days following its publication in the Official Gazette or in a newspaper of general circulation.

Students who will avail of this new benefit from the state must embrace education with a sense of gratitude and responsibility. The reality of the state is not that of a mechanical machine that funds their studies. Funding is made possible because people pay their taxes. Education is free for students because the public pays for it.

At the same time, the free education law should be juxtaposed with the impending reform of the tax system so that financing learning does not become extra costly for taxpayers.

UP Prof. Emeritus Solita Monsod in her Philippine Daily Inquirer column had pointed out that lobbyists for the mining, car and tobacco industries had managed to secure lower tax rates for their sectors.

This should not be the case. Taxes from these profit-rich, high ecological impact businesses can constitute a good chunk of education funds.

The new law constitutes an important victory for young people whom our national hero Jose Rizal calls the hope of the nation. May they maintain a sense of responsibility in receiving what they asked for and not take education for granted.

A student can always say that learning is not restricted to the four walls of the classroom, but it would be a waste to behave as if missing class or underperforming academically count as indicators of responsibility for the gift of fully funded learning within a formal setting.

A colleague said the new law is likely to cause a spike in the popularity ratings of the Malacañang occupant. That may be true. But if quality pedagogy is delivered in our publicly funded institutions, they are likely to produce more critically minded persons who will sooner or later critique our polity.

The chief executive, if he is not just scoring brownie points, should be ready for a more enlightened populace whose inputs must be considered by public servants.

Now let us go back to the government’s war on drugs.

How consistent is free education with such a war?

If Digong is sincere, he must take a new approach to fighting addiction that afflicts many of our young; otherwise, few will be left to benefit from going to school for free. Rehabilitate the wayward and send them to school.

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