Student Leaders Launch Free Tuition Watch

by Diego Mina, Class 2021

On the 15th of June 2017, AGHAM Youth, UP Saribuhay, and Rise for Education College of Science Diliman held a press conference wherein they launched the Free Tuition Watch campaign, which would aim to collate reports through social media on the implementation of the Php 8.3B funds for free tuition this school year 2017-2018.

The provision of Php 8.3B was written last December 2016 into the General Appropriations Act for 2017. While it had been explicitly stated that the 8.3B would be used so as to have no tuition collection at least for the school year 2017-2018, the CHED-DBM released a controversial set of rules and regulations that introduced a “prioritization scheme”. There has also been a letter from CHED Commissioner Prospero De Vera stating that medical students would be able to obtain the free tuition as long as they fulfill certain requirements. As of writing however, the College of Medicine has not yet stated that there are rules to be implemented.

The event was opened by Sarah Fernandez who delineated the context of the Free Tuition Watch campaign. The objective of the Free Tuition Watch is to monitor the implementation of the IRR of the funds allocated for free tuition. This initiative is led by AGHAM Youth, as they had done a study regarding the feasibility and applicability of free tuition. Free Tuition Watch is a social media avenue for students all over the Philippines to send reports on how this is being implemented.

The speakers were Ezron Cabrera from AGHAM Youth UP Diliman, who is the lead convenor; Engineer Miguel Aljibe, the chair of the UP Manila University Student Council; Duke Buenaventura from AGHAM Youth PUP; Christian Guevarra, the chair of the College of Science Student Council and also convenor of the Rise for Education chapter in the College of Science; and Charlotte France from the League of Filipino Students.

Ezron Cabrera discussed the importance of free education. AGHAM Youth, as scientists who believe that science should serve the people, supports the campaign for free education as education is useful for national development, and it is a powerful tool to create more scientists to develop our industries. According to the aforementioned study on the free tuition allocation, it was found that according to DBM data, the expected tuition collection for the next school year is Php 7.7B. According to Cabrera, it is simple math that 8.3B is larger than 7.7B. However, the CHED and DBM issued an IRR in the form of the JMC 2017-01 which imposes a “prioritization” scheme, which would essentially be a nationwide version of the infamous socialized tuition system of UP. AY thus scheduled a dialogue with CHED on May 23 to discuss the terms of the new IRR, but as it turned out it was already signed. He asserted that the prioritization scheme would lead to more red tape and more potential for corruption, especially since not all would be able to avail of the free tuition and there would be an excess that did not have a clear destination. Since the FTW is also a data-gathering tool in order to document anomalies in the implementation and to determine the problems of the students, he encouraged that any and all problems that would arise should be surfaced. He closed his speech with an invitation to like the Facebook page of FTW and a call to the iskolar ng bayan to be vigilant especially on attacks on our rights, in particular education.

With the text of the General Appropriations Act for 2017 stating that the 8.3B would be used so that there would be no tuition collection, and the IRR of CHED going against this, Miguel Aljibe mentioned that some schools have stood their ground that they would not collect tuition fees or undergo an STS scheme. In light of this, he invited the students to report on the implementation of the free tuition policy to the FTW page, with the format being simple: Name, School, School Address, and the report itself. He added that they are not just looking for anomalies, but also positive manifestations of the free tuition policy, since to obtain a bird’s eye view, all data is necessary.

He recounted that in UP Manila, during the recent university council meeting on student affairs, it was agreed upon that there should be no tuition collection, and thus he said that the students are not alone in the fight for free education, as even the faculty are supportive. They had even reached a unity in recommending to the Board of Regents that UP education be made free, which according to Aljibe is a great tactical victory. He mentioned that the BOR were meeting the next day, June 16, and among the concerns discussed was free tuition.

Duke Buenaventura reported that in PUP, students were able to enroll without paying tuition, and posed a challenge: “Kung kaya ng PUP, kaya ng ibang SUC!”.

Christian Guevarra directed his message to the Board of Regents who met the next day: that, as Aljibe had recounted, the UP Manila University Council already gave a go signal to No Tuition Collection for the upcoming school year, and the General Assembly of Student Councils also passed a resolution on free education. He challenged the BOR, and in particular President Dan Concepcion, “Nananawagan kami na mapakinggan kami. Matagal na itong panawagan na gawing libre ang edukasyon. Bakit hanggang ngayon di pa naging libre?”. He expressed his expectation that these questions be answered in the BOR meeting.

She reiterated the calls for no tuition collection, abolish tuition and other school fees, and no tuition increase in private institutions, and challenged the youth to strengthen alliances and to intensify the struggle for free, nationalistic, liberating education that would free the country.

The Free Tuition Watch page can be found at https://www.facebook.com/FreeTuitionWatch.

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