By Krysten Mariann Boado and Pathricia Roxas
With the impending responsibility of representing the University of the Philippines (UP) student body, UP Diliman University Student Council (USC) candidates expressed their sentiments on free education at UPFRONT 2017, Thursday.
In the largest USC election forum held at the UP Film Institute, the USC councilor aspirants explained their respective stances on the issue and proposed alternatives to the current state of the country’s education sector.
“Simula’t sapul malinaw ang tindig ng STAND UP (Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP) that we are for free education, not just free but also nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented,” said STAND UP councilor bet Almira Abril.
Abril further rooted the cause of the absence of free education in UP to “neoliberal attacks” such as the Socialized Tuition System (STS), which decides students’ tuition discounts via an online questionnaire.
The system has been in the works since 2011 but was first implemented in the first semester of 2014.
The councilor hopeful also expressed opposition against the Magna Carta for Students’ Rights, which she claimed would only legalize STS.
“Yung mga dating nagsasabi na ang edukasyon ay isang pribilehiyo, biglang nagsasabi na karapatan na raw ang edukasyon,” she said.
“Kailangan maging malinaw ang tindig ng STAND UP; tayo ay para sa libreng edukasyon, para sa lahat, regardless kung may kakayanan kang magbayad o wala,” Abril added.
UP Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (UP ALYANSA) councilor aspirant Cassie Deluria argued against this, however.
“UP ALYANSA has always been for accessible education, and the reason why we say accessible is because we have to remember that even when everybody’s tuition is free, there are still other expenses that will prevent other UP students from coming here to UP,” Deluria said.
She also emphasized that while students deserve free tuition, student leaders must also question its accessibility in terms of transportation, dormitories, books, and other expenses.
The ALYANSA councilor also said their party was part of the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines, the team that drafted the Free Higher Education for All Act.
“This bill is not yet free education that we deserve,” Deluria said. “And until it is, we are not ready to stop fighting for accessible education for everybody, for every Filipino student.”
The Senate Bill 1304, approved on its final reading by Senate last March 13, aims to provide a tuition-free policy in the country’s 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs) and private higher learning and vocational institutions. However, students can only qualify based on merits, similar to UP’s STS.
Independent councilor candidate Paolo Sevilla also vouched for accessible education, saying that it would be possible if students would not let it turn into a business.
“[Education] should not be commercialized. I believe that we should fight not only for free education, but free basic social services,” he added.
KAISA-Nagkakaisang Iskolar Para sa Pamantasan at Sambayanan councilor runner Arvin Agapay also agreed with Sevilla and said that education should not be a businsses but a right.
Agapay also expressed his party’s support for free education that goes beyond college education.
“Kailangan pati na rin sa primary [at] secondary [level] ay free ang ating education, dahil ang buong education system ang kailangan natin ina-address as an issue,” Agapay said.
Independent councilor hopeful Carlos Cabaero also expressed his support for quality and accessible education; however, he also brought up other sectors in need of funding besides the education sector.
“When we talk about 8.5 billion going towards free education, we also need to think that yes, it gives access to the poor, which is something that we want,” Cabaero said.
“But it also gives funding to people who are rich and people who can pay,” he added.
The aspiring councilor further explained that the every funding that goes to those who can pay “is less funding in ways to improve our educational resources.”
“And that’s why we believe that we need the money to go to the sectors of the people that need it the most,” Cabaero said.
Abril, however, rebutted Cabaero’s statement, saying that free education will not cut the allotment for other sectors.
“Walang matatanggal sa free education. Ang matatanggal lang ay yung kita ng unibersidad na hinuhuthot mula sa bulsa ng bawat isa sa atin,” the STAND UP councilor said.
“Magbibigay siya ng access sa mga anak ng magsasaka, manggagawa, katutubo na hanggang sa kasalukuyang ay hindi nakakatamasa ng edukasyon,” she added.
As for independent councilor aspirant Juan Gonzaga, he believes that every student deserves free education.
“Everybody deserves a right to learn about our futures and everything that we need to equip ourselves for a better future,” said Gonzaga.
Besides free education, the USC bets also discussed other issues such as the General Education reform and the improvement of the registration process in UP, among others.
Meanwhile, Deluria insisted the STS be fixed, despite the system being criticized as “ineffective and a profiteering scheme” by student groups.
“If it’s a question of a system that doesn’t work, then we’re going to work to fix it. If it’s a question of equality inside the university then we can look at reforming taxes outside so it will be equal for everybody,” Deluria said.
Sevilla however, rebutted it saying that free education and having a system which commercializes and turns it into a profiteering scheme do not go together.
“If a system is fundamentally dysfunctional, if a system is fundamentally oppressive, you do not fix it, you remove it,” Sevilla said.