STUDENTS from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman expressed their indignation over the cancellation of the free tuition policy in state universities and colleges (SUCs).
In front of UP Diliman’s College of Arts and Letters building, students gathered yesterday and protested against the UP administration’s withdrawal of its initial announcement to suspend tuition fee collection the university.
“Being a student council member, we see the dismay, anger, and disappointment of fellow students,” said Isaac Punzalan, a representative of the UP Diliman university student council. “Pinaasa na naman kami, patuloy ang paniningil sa amin, at patuloy ang pagkakamal ng kita mula sa mga estudyante.”
On July 11, UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan officially announced the suspension of tuition collection for first semester 2017-2018. The suspension was made despite Pres. Duterte’s veto message limiting the coverage of the P8.3-billion budget for free tuition in state universities and colleges (SUCs) due to “budget limitations”. Other chancellors from different UP units also reportedly met to discuss the possibility of following Diliman’s suspension.
But in a memorandum released on August 1, UP President Danilo Concepcion announced that the initially-approved “free tuition policy” for academic year (AY) 2017-2018 would be revoked. “In the assessment of tuition and other fees, and in providing financial support to students from low-income households, UP shall use the Socialized Tuition System for AY 2017-2018,” Concepcion’s statement read.
It should be recalled that in December 2016, the Congress approved the P8.3-billion additional budget for the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) for free tuition in SUCs. However in his speech on the 2017 national budget, Pres. Duterte announced the “conditional implementation” of the free tuition policy.
CHED and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) also released a joint memorandum in April stating that given the budget limitation, a system of priority will be put in place. Student beneficiaries of nationally-funded student financial assistance programs will be the first to be enrolled. After that, the remaining students will be prioritized based on the given bracket.
But the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP) believes that the state university’s cancellation of the free tuition policy is a result of its “profit agenda”. According to the group, UP stands to earn at least P370 million from the funds of the free tuition policy (FTP). This, the student group said, is on top of the profits from the university’s Socialized Tuition System (STS) as well other miscellaneous fees.
“Sa halip na gamitin ang budget ng FTP 2017 para gawing libre ang edukasyon, tinitiyak pa rin nito na iilan lamang ang makakakuha ng libreng matrikula. Dagdag pa, pilit ipinapalaunok sa mga mag-aaral ang Socialized Tuition Scam na sa esensya ay iskema ng panghuhuthot ng UP,” STAND UP said in a statement.
“Patunay na hanggang komersyalisado ang pamamaraan ng paggana ng ating pamantasan, wala tayong aasahan mula dito kung hindi walang katapusang paniningil,” it added.
According to Punzalan, students have long demanded for the abolition of the socialized tuition system. “Napatunayan natin na kapag tayo ay nagbabayad ng tuition, nagiging profit ito ng administrasyon na lumobo over the years– ilang bilyones pero hindi siya napupunta sa benepisyo ng estudyante,” Punzalan said.
Punzalan expressed how the UP administration and Pres. Rodrigo Duterte failed in the youth’s legitimate call for free education.
“Naging malaki kasi ang kampanya talaga ng free education, at noong nag-allocate na ng P8.3 billion pesos na additional budget para sa free tuition sa SUCs, very victorious talaga ito. Batay sa suri natin, talagang kaya nilang mag-allocate ng budget sa lahat ng SUCs,” Punzalan explained.
Now, the students are enraged at the Duterte administration’s removal of the P8-billion free tuition allocation in the proposed 2018 budget. Moreover, ACT Teachers party-list representatives Antonio Tinio and France Castro revealed that the budget allocation for the CHED would decrease from this year’s P18.7 billion to P12.42 billion in 2018 or a huge 33.6 percent budget cut.
“Ang nakikita natin dito, gagawa at gagawa ng paraan ang pamahalaan para hindi nito tugunan ang panawagan at pangangailangan ng mga estudyante,” the student council officer said.
Amid the state university’s decision, the students vowed to continue their protest against tuition fee collection.
“Syempre simula’t sapul naman di talaga tayo naniniwala na dapat sinisingil at dapat binibigyan ng presyo yung karapatan natin sa edukasyon. Tinututulan natin ang tuition, in its very essence ang pagkulekta nito dahil ito mismo ang pangunahing hadlang sa mga estudyante para makamit nila ang edukasyon,” Punzalan explained.
The students will conduct a series of university-wide protests for the whole month, including a broad mobilization on August 31. They also plan to organize educational discussions to enlighten and gather the support of more university students on the demand for free education.
“Nakikita natin na doon mismo sa militant collective struggle ng mga estudyante, nakakakamit tayo ng tagumpay,” Punzalan said.
Report by Elinor Bola and Raye Peralta