Text and Photo by Nacho Domingo

Students from local universities gathered a second time at the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to call for the implementation of free education on a national scale on May 23.

After mobilizing on May 10 with the same call, the students also protested against the approval of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act of 2017, which acts as a financial assistance program for State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) nationwide.

“We can see that bills such as this one try to make it seem like the government is for free education even though this only helps legitimize the commercialization of our education,” said Misty Pegram of Anakbayan Media Collective.

The Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, also known as HB 5663, consolidates House Bill 2771 filed by Albay Rep. Joey S. Salceda, which was first filed in June 2016. The bill offers a 15-billion peso subsidy for tertiary education to be used on tuition and other expenses.

However, according to Kabataan Party-list representative Sarah Jane Elago, the socialization of tuition may be implemented in the SUCs in the Philippines. This means that tuition fees will still be collected, and will be scaled according to the financial income of each student’s household.

According to the protesters, the passage of this bill deviates from President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise of free education for the year 2017

“Once ma-implement yung HB 5633, kailangan mong patunayan ang pagiging mahirap mo [para makakamit ng libreng edukasyon]. Sisingil pa ng other school fees,” said incoming University of the Philippines Diliman University Student Council Councilor Brian Black.

It can be recalled that the president said earlier this year that free education will only be granted to “poor but academically capable students.”

“It’s one of our basic rights, and you shouldn’t have to worry about having to pay or not when you enroll,” said Pegram.

The students advocated not only the removal of tuition at all levels of education, but the junking of other school fees as well, which again were implemented in the first academic semester of 2017.

The student leaders present at the mobilization were eventually allowed to dialogue with CHED representatives inside the headquarter premises, where their contentions regarding free education were addressed. However, the content of the dialogue was not made public by government institution.

CHED is yet to publicly address the student mobilizations, and has revealed no plans of altering the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education act of 2017.  #


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