Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago called on the Duterte administration on Saturday to swiftly implement the new free tuition policy in state universities and colleges and allow all students to benefit from it.
In a news conference Saturday, Elago contended that the “conditional implementation” of free tuition in state universities and colleges (SUCs) starting the first semester of school year 2017-2018 cannot limit the beneficiaries of the free tuition policy, noting that the provision on tuition collection in Republic Act No. 10924 or the 2017 General Appropriations Act clearly states that no tuition should be collected from public university students starting next school year.
In Special Provision No. 1 for the budget of SUCs, RA 10924 states that “starting the first semester of SY 2017 – SY 2018, no tuition fee shall be collected from undergraduate students.” In lieu of tuition collection, SUCs are given P8.3 billion in the 2017 budget to cover for said fees.
However, in his veto message, Duterte put the said provision under “conditional implementation.”
“Yet as with all new programs, there is a need to safeguard the proper implementation of the provision of free tuition fee. It is important to underscore that we must still give priority to financially disadvantaged but academically able students…Accordingly, the CHED and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) shall issue necessary guidelines which shall include, among others, the standards and procedure for entitlement and availment of free tuition by students of SUCs as well as proper mechanism for the SUCs to tap the Higher Education Support Fund,” Duterte said in the 2017 veto message.
Elago expressed worry that the president’s message on conditional implementation might counter the essence of the provision which clearly qualifies all SUC students for free tuition.
“If we read the president’s message very carefully, he did not explicitly state that not all SUC students will be able to avail of free tuition. He only stressed that financially disadvantaged students should be prioritized. Yet the intention of said message might indeed be to limit who will be covered. Worse, we fear is that the CHED and DBM will misinterpret the president’s message and issue guidelines that will exclude most SUC students from the free tuition policy.”
The legislator contended that if CHED and DBM releases such limiting guidelines, such guidelines will in turn contravene what is stated in the law.
“Implementing guidelines can only be crafted within the bounds of the law. The provision for free tuition in the 2017 General Appropriations Act is clear – every SUC student should be covered by the free tuition policy. CHED and DBM cannot disallow the availing of free tuition in any SUC by any undergraduate student. To do so will be to contravene the law,” Elago said.
“In the coming weeks, youth and student groups across the country will also mount nationwide protests and mass demonstrations to assert the swift and blanket implementation of the free tuition policy. We cannot allow this initial victory to be snatched from us,” Elago said.
The lawmaker also said that she will seek an audience with the president to clarify this matter. Kabataan Party-list is also set to submit to CHED and DBM a draft implementing guideline that will ensure that all SUC students will be covered by the free tuition policy.
Elago also vowed that youth groups are ready to seek legal action and go as far as seeking redress in the Supreme Court if and when CHED and DBM issue guidelines that will disqualify SUC students from availing free tuition.
About 1.6 million SUC students are set to benefit from the new free tuition policy.###