“The CHED [Commission on Higher Education] and SUCs [State College and Universities] has the capacity to implement the free tuition fee scheme on January even without the IRR [Implementing Rules and Regulations],” said Vencer Crisostomo, Chairperson of Anakbayan in a press conference in Quezon City on December 17 after the announcement of the insertion of P8.3 billion free tuition in all SUCs allocation in the 2017 national budget.
Crisostomo reiterated that by January 2017, SUCs should no longer be charging any student for tuition, referring to schools that will start the second semester on January like the University of the Philippines System.
Youth groups announced during the press conference that they are set to mount protests on January 2017 to monitor and insist on the implementation of the free tuition in SUCs.
“Students, parents, administrators must unite and take action to make free tuition in SUCs a reality now. Nationwide mass actions and big campus demonstrations are set to be held as the new year starts to demand free public education in all levels, a stop to tuition and other school fees and an educational system that is truly relevant and free,” said Crisostomo.
Crisostomo said that the government should start talking about the overall direction of education as a right and not as a privilege.
Funds for free public tertiary education
“The P8.3 billion allocation for free tuition is proof that the state can indeed provide free education for its youth,” said Kabataan Party-list Representative Sarah Elago.
Elago added that the challenge is to monitor the implementation and further campaign and mobilize the youth to address the rising cost of education, not only in the SUCs but in the private schools as well.
In the bilateral committee report, the additional P8.3B budget for CHED specifies that it is allotted for “free tuition fees in all SUCs and additional funds for incentives and grants.”
The bilateral conference committee of the House of Representatives and Senate ratified the P3.35 trillion government budget for 2017 on December 14. The General Appropriations Act of 2017 was signed by President Duterte on December 22 afternoon.
This year’s budget is P17 billion higher than the 2016 budget.
Legislating free public education
“The fight for free education is not yet over, this is only the first step because it is not yet institutionalised,” said Senator Win Gatchalian in the same press conference.
Gatchalian recognized that the realization of a tuition free SUCs next year is a result of the painstaking struggle of the youth movement who never faltered in calling for greater state subsidy for education.
However, Gatchalian admitted that there is no guarantee that the same situation will apply in 2018 and the following years. He said that the free tuition for SUCs needs to be institutionalised and more work is still needed to get rid of the other fees.
The Senator added that there are seven bills pending in the Senate pushing for free higher education that needs to be consolidated.
Kabataan Party-list is set to file a bill that will enact a free public education system on January 2017 after its series of consultation with stakeholders all over the country.