Photo taken during the First Day Fight mobilization, Jan. 17, 2017. 

By Jeuel Barroso and Ara Nacario

Amidst the loud convergence of college organizations from various universities, 17-year-old Caella Serrano stood on the platform beneath the Mendiola Peace Arch with words that far outgrew her small frame and young age.

Decrying the ‘false promise’ of free education proliferating in the Batasan Hills National High School, the League of Filipino Students member aired the struggles of the youth sector on the National Day of Action for Free Education, Friday.

Aside from condemning President Rodrigo Duterte’s proclamation on free education, Serrano also brought up the issue of the K-12 curriculum, which she fears is in danger of being buried under several other social issues.

“Ang pag-iimplementa ng tinatawag na K-12 ay isang aspeto ng pagpapahirap sa mga estudyante at magulang,” Serrano said.

The K-12 curriculum was implemented in 2013 in all public schools under the Department of Education (DepEd) and in over 2,000 schools nationwide. It added three more years–one to kindergarten, two to senior high school (grades 11 and 12)–to the previous 10-year education system under the Basic Education Curriculum of 2002.

Despite the 33,608 classrooms DepEd has started constructing as of 2014 as well as their plan to establish 5,899 Senior High Schools nationwide, Serrano said her school still cannot accommodate all the high school students who will move-up from grade 10 to grade 11.

“Sinasabi nilang libre yung edukasyon pero bakit may babayaran parin kaming 22,000 ‘pag tungtong namin ng senior high? Bakit hanggang ngayon wala pa din kaming maayos na pasilidad sa aming mga eskwelahan?” she added.   

Moreover, she said her school is “pushing” them to enroll in private colleges for their tertiary education,  such as Centro Escolar University and Systems Technology Institute (STI).    

“Mas maraming prino-promote sa amin na mga pribadong paaralan kung saan hindi namin kayang tugunan ‘yung matrikula, hindi talaga siya angkop sa pamumuhay namin,” Serrano said.

The young activist said she wants to study in state universities such as the University of the Philippines (UP) as she dreams of being a teacher in future.  

“Kami namang mga high school [students], may mga pangarap din pero ‘yung pangarap namin ay nagiging pangarap na lang dahil sa kabulukan ng edukasyon,” Serrano said.

Same old scheme

Prior to the protest in Mendiola, around 150 students from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman gathered at the Palma Hall lobby for a twofold purpose—condemning the persisting Socialized Tuition System (STS) and forwarding the right to free education.

Although the UP community is no stranger to these rallies, student organizations soldier on with their plight until quality education is accessible to all.

On Dec. 16, 2016, Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chairperson Patricia Licuanan confirmed that students from state universities and colleges (SUCs) would enjoy free tuition after an additional budget of P8.3 billion was added to the commission’s budget.

A week later Licuanan’s statement, President Rodrigo Duterte said the Higher Education Support Fund will prioritize financially disadvantaged but academically able students. Duterte had asked the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) and Department of Budget and Management to issue guidelines for said fund.  

This was done in spite of the president’s goal to invest in human capital development, including the education system, as stated in his 10-point socio-economic agenda.

The students also slammed Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chair Patricia Licuanan’s statement on free education. In a television interview with Winnie Monsod which aired Jan. 16, Licuanan said if CHEd had its way, it will subsidize those coming from the “poorest segments” first.

UP Diliman University Student Council Councilor Ben Te said that the notion of prioritizing the academically excellent is problematic, adding that this has no other effect other than profit from the poor.

“Ang totoo, walang ibang ginawa ang socialized tuition kundi magkamal ng kita. Mula sa mga tuition fees, tinatago nila ang kita sa mga bangko para gamitin sa karagdagang projects nila,” Te said.

UP has been practicing a socialized tuition scheme since the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) was established in 1989. STFAP placed students into brackets based on their economic status; these brackets indicated the price students pay during registration.

The STFAP was criticized for its tedious processing time, which usually lasted up to 10 months. Its successor, the Socialized Tuition System (STS), reduced the STFAP’s 14-page application form to two.

The STS also implemented income cut-offs for bracketing, increase in monthly stipend, streamlining of bracket assignment and appeal process, although some student leaders observed otherwise.

Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP) Chairperson Josiah Hiponia said the faulty system only pushed students to tell lies about their real economic status, hoping to be assigned to lower brackets.

“Hinaharap pa rin natin ang kontradiksyon dahil hindi tayo hinahayaan ng ating estado sa mukha ng administrasyong Duterte na makamtan ang dekalibreng edukasyon,” he said.

“Kaya napakaraming mga kabataan ang hindi tumuntong sa ating pamantasan dahil napakamahal, napakahirap ng proseso, kailangan mong patunayan na napakahirap mo.”

Expensive fees, cheap facilities

Youth leaders also slammed CHEd for being the primary institution charging expensive fees from students.

In a 2014 interview with Bulatlat, the Office of Student Regent (OSR) said that since the STFAP was implemented in 1989, UP tuition rates have “skyrocketed” from P40 per unit to P1,500 as the default rate per unit–leading to “a steady increase in the number of appeals for late payment and loan applications.”

Members of the university’s largest stakeholder, however, are not satisfied with the apparent lack of results from the heightened fees, which are coupled with even more charges that come in the form of energy fees and laboratory fees, among others.

UP College of Engineering Representative to the USC Alfrey Oria noted that despite costly dues such as laboratory fees, UP’s facilities remain in dire need for rehabilitation and restocking.

“Nagva-vary yung lab fees depende sa program, sa iba more than P8,000 to P10,000. Pero nagpapatuloy yung mga kakulangan sa kagamitan tapos iba pa yung mga miscellaneous fees,” Oria said.

He also added that even students taking their on-the-job training (OJT) outside the campus need to pay miscellaneous fees.

However, according to Oria, consultation with the students and dialogues with the College of Engineering administration continue in order to address student concerns.

“Syempre patuloy yung pag-oorganisa at pagkilos ng mga estudyante para ma-pressure ang administrasyon. Pero alam natin hindi ito agad-agad maibibigay kaya dapat hindi mapagod lalo yung mga lider-estudyante na manguna sa laban ng mga Iskolar ng Bayan,” Oria said.

While quality education remains inaccessible to those in the margins of society, the likes of Serrano, Te and Oria will continue to air their concerns and take the battle to the streets.

Age will be no hindrance and economic status shall bear no weight when the youth band together to take action like the nation’s future they are expected to be.

As long as finishing college or entering school remains a fairytale for most, the youth shall persevere, and the streets shall witness the struggle to obtain the means by which such future can be attained—through free quality education for all. #


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