Photo by Migui Sunga

Text by Jane Bautista

The fight for free and accessible education for all continues as the University of the Philippines (UP) community gathered at the Engineering Theater to criticize the loopholes and flaws of the Free Higher Education Law, Thursday.

The event was also held to commemorate the fifth death anniversary of former UP Manila student Kristel Tejada who committed suicide after being forced to file a leave of absence due to her incapacity to pay for tuition. Tejada’s parents, Christopher and Blesilda, were also present during the gathering.

Despite the passage of Republic Act No. 10931 or the Universal Access for Quality Tertiary Education Act last Aug. 2017, only 86 of the 114 State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) waived tuition for the academic year but continued to collect other school fees (OSF), said Raoul Manuel, Deputy Secretary-General of the National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP).

Moreover, Manuel slammed the delay of the implementation of free education by highlighting the technicality of the process. “August 2017 napirmahan ni Duterte ang batas. 60 days after signing the law, kung may IRR man o Implementing Rules and Regulations, mayroon man wala, dapat gumulong na at implemented na agad yung pagbibigay ng libreng edukasyon,” Manuel said.

Manuel further explained that these consequences resulted from a ‘commercialized’ Philippine education system where the interest to ensure profits from SUCs remains the top priority.

A parent’s perspective

Christopher Tejada, father of Kristel Tejada, also shared his insights on the Free Higher Education Law and recalled how former UP President Alfredo Pascual lifted the “No late payment policy” after the passing of her daughter.

“Nagalak din ako dahil nga nagkaroon na ng bill for free education so ang sabi ko paano na? Paano na yung mangyayari? Macoconsider ba natin as a victory talaga sa youth sector? Kumawala na ba tayo sa hawla na hindi na natin iintindihin yung tuition and ang po-problemahin na lang natin is yung perseverance ng bawat estudyante na makatapos?” Tejada said.

Meanwhile, Kristel’s mother Blesilda Tejada said she was delighted when she heard of the passage of the law. “Natuwa [ako] pero kasabay noon, siyempre, parang nanghihinayang na sana, buhay si Kristel. Sana kasama siya dun sa batch na naranasan na libre nga ang edukasyon,” she said.

Tejada also said that whenever their acquaintances in the government discover that they are the parents of Kristel, the officials and lawmakers tell them that they pushed to pass the law because of her.

Understanding the challenges

UP Student Regent Shari Oliquino discussed the neoliberal attacks against the education system in the Philippines, as well as the developments and challenges of the fight for free education.

One of the flaws that Oliquino pointed out is the exclusiveness of the said law. According to her, the opportunity is not granted to everyone because students who are delayed, overstaying, and are in their second (Master’s and Doctor of Philosophy) degrees are not qualified for the said law.

“Ibig sabihin, hindi pa rin tinitingnan ng kasalukuyang rehimen, ng ating estado na ito ay karapatan na dapat natatamasa ng lahat,” she said.

Moreover, Oliquino also questioned the provision of the said law where a voluntary opt-out option from the program should be ensured by the SUCs. She mentioned during her talk that the College of Business Administration forced students to opt out of the program last semester, saying that they (students) are “already rich and can afford to pay.”

After the gathering, the attendees proceeded to Quezon Hall where a candle lighting protest  was held to remember the death of Kristel Tejada and call everyone to join the fight for free and accessible education.



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