Text and photo by Merryll Red Phae Carao
Following the May 10 protests against the Joint Memorandum by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on the P8.3 billion budget for state universities and colleges (SUCs), CHED Commissioner Prospero de Vera called for a meeting to revise the guidelines for the said budget.
The CHED-DBM joint memorandum released April 20 listed implementing rules and regulations (IRR) as guidelines concerning the P8.3 billion budget allocated by the Congress for SUCs as of Dec. 15 of last year.
According to the IRR, students will be prioritized based on socio-economic status and academic excellence to avail of free tuition.
In a statement published by the University of the Philippines – Diliman (UPD) College of Science Student Council on their Facebook page, the Council said “such additional and unnecessary procedures to avail of free tuition go against the very nature of education as a right which should be provided to all without prejudice and restraint. This hindrance only perpetuates the notion that those who can pay should.”
On March 13, the Senate passed on the third and final reading the Affordable Higher Education for All Act which aims to institutionalize a tuition-free policy in SUCs.
Senate Bill 1304 was passed with 18 affirmative votes. Under the bill spearheaded by Senator Bam Aquino, CHED is mandated to facilitate the distribution of funds and to resolve issues regarding the eligibility or disqualification of students from the full tuition subsidy.
Meanwhile, another bill, House Bill 4800 or the Comprehensive Free Public Higher Education Act, filed by Representative Sarah Elago of Kabataan Partylist, seeks to implement a free tuition scheme in all SUCs and local universities and colleges (LUCs), which include the abolition of other school fees.
This bill seeks to impose the “no-collection” policy on SUCs and LUCs in order to prohibit tuition and other fee collections.
Recent protests against the CHED-DBM memorandum reflected contentions against the Affordable Higher Education for All Act, , with youth groups labelling both efforts as “free tuition scam.”
Free Tuition Scam
Youth groups and students from various state and private universities marched to the doorsteps of CHED, Wednesday, to denounce the CHED-DBM memorandum, calling it a ‘sham’ free tuition policy and an instrument to increase the profits of SUCs.
The protest action was part of nationwide decentralized mobilizations calling for a legitimate free tuition policy.
College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) Secretary General Daryl Angelo Baybado described CHED-DBM memorandum as a “blow against the Filipino youth.”
“It is an initial victory for the youth to have Php 8.3 billion of the national budget allocated for free higher education,” Baybado said in a press release distributed during the protest.
“However, the government was quick to seize this by releasing the implementing guidelines that greatly limit students’ access to free tuition,” he added.
On the other hand, according to progressive youth group Anakbayan, the P 8.3 billion budget is more than enough to abolish tuition fees in SUCs.
“Nakabatay ang pondong P 8 bilyon sa tinatayang kita ng lahat ng SUCs mula sa pangongolekta ng matrikula,” the group said in a press release given out during the mobilization.
“Malinaw na sapat ito upang direktang magbenepisyo ang lahat ng estudyante ng SUCs na aabot higit isang milyong kabataan sa libreng matrikula.”
Meanwhile, based on the provisions in the CHED-DBM memorandum, the IRR reveals the policy’s profiteering scheme which may give SUCs the power to hike other school fees to circumvent possible losses, said Elago.
Youth from Pandi, Bulacan also joined the protest at CHED. Most of them were high school students who dropped out of school because they cannot pay for tuition while some of them were supposedly college students who cannot get into universities because of unaffordable fees.
“Imbis na ang iuna ay ang interes ng mga politiko at mga kapitalista, dapat unahin ang interes ng mga kabataan, lalo na ang interes ng mga kabataan mula sa Pandi, kasi practically malaki talaga magiging tulong nito, lalo na kung ‘di na iisipin ng mga magulang nila na magbabayad pa sila sa kolehiyo,” said Levi Ibanez of Anakbayan Pandi.
On the night of the protest, Elago posted an update regarding the CHED-DBM guidelines, citing CHED Commissioner Prospero de Vera’s announcement during the House Committee on Appropriations meeting.
According to Elago, the guidelines will be revised to implement the provision that “no tuition shall be collected from all undergraduate students for school year 2017 to 2018.”
In an interview with the Philippine Star, de Vera said that the revision was to “simplify” the guidelines to make their implementation easier, adding that CHED has noted the concerns of various groups. The revised guidelines are expected to be released before classes start next month.
As of press time, both CHED and Commissioner de Vera have yet to respond to questions regarding the guideline revision.
Student groups saw this decision as a victory of their collective protests.
League of Filipino Students – UPD College of Social Sciences and Philosophy Chairperson Renz Pasigpasigan said the answer to free education is not in CHED but in the militant mobilization of the studentry to demand the government for their rights.
“Pagpapakita lamang ito ng lakas ng sama-samang pagkilos ng mga estudyante dahil naitulak muli natin ang CHED na tumugon sa tunay na implementasyon ng libreng edukasyon,” said Pasigpasigan.
Meanwhile, UP Diliman University Student Council Councilor Ben Te believes that the revision may actually be in favor of the students. He also urged the studentry to fight for the abolition of other school fees.
“Maaaring maging pabor sa mga estudyante ang desisyon na ito kung magpapatuloy at lalakas pa ang mga kilos-protesta ng mga estudyante sa buong bansa,” said Te.
“Dito lang natin matitiyak na matutulak natin ang administrasyong Duterte na tuluyan nang ipatupad ang libreng tuition para sa lahat,” he added.