Youth groups remember Kristel Tejada, slam bill on free tuition in SUCs
Youth groups and students on Tuesday held a protest in the historic steps of Palma Hall at University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) and gates of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to commemorate the death of Kristel Tejada four years ago.
Tejada, a 16-year-old freshman taking up behavioral sciences at UP Manila, killed herself in March 2013 after she was left with no choice but to drop out of school when she failed to pay her tuition for the second semester.
The youth groups League of Filipino Students (LFS) and Kabataan Partylist during the event also slammed the third and final reading of Senate Bill 1304 or the Affordable Higher Education for All Act that the Senate passed on Monday.
According to LFS spokesperson JP Rosos, the Senate bill and its counterpart in Congress restrict access to higher education based on merits. He pointed out that a criteria was created similar to UP’s socialized tuition scheme (STS).
“As if to mock Kristel and all the victims of the rotten education system, (President Rodrigo) Duterte’s cohorts in Congress and Senate are pushing for a free tuition policy that will allow the nationwide implementation of UP’s STS—the very policy that killed Kristel,” Rosos said.
Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago in a separate statement said that while the group recognizes the Senate’s good intent in passing the bill, it fears that the version of the Senate risks restricting access to higher education rather than making it available to all.
“Instead of providing free education to the poor, we are wary that such a mechanism might even hinder access to education. Such words have been the rationale behind the socialized tuition system (STS) of the UP system, as well as CHED pronouncements pointing toward a nationwide STS scheme for all state universities and colleges (SUCs),” Elago explained.
Elago cited data from the Philippine Collegian saying that 1 of 10 students under STS applies for loans, and 3 of 4 appeal for a lower bracketing.
Rosos further explained that the said bill uses the premise of STS that those who are able to pay should pay and those who are financially disadvantaged and deserving should be subsidized.
“Contrary to the claims of Duterte’s cohorts in Congress and Senate, the Affordable Higher Education for All Act is not free tuition for everyone. As it expands Student Financial Assistance Programs, it recognizes that higher education is not for all. It compels students to compete for scholarships that are clearly not for all,” said Rosos.
Both youth group leaders criticized the administration’s “neoliberal policies,” saying it is responsible for the skyrocketing cost of the education which are still being implemented.
Rosos noted that the neoliberal policies like Education Act of 1982, Higher Education Modernization Act (HEMA) and K to 12 are state programs are responsible for the relentless attacks on the youth’s right to free education. He said that as long as these programs exist, the education system will remain as “rotten as the previous regimes.”
Echoing Rosos, Elago said that the neoliberal attacks on education only increased “with the change of administration” and that the deregulation policies on tuition and other school fees in SUCs and private schools remain, and are in fact “heavily used and abused to justify annual tuition and other school fee increases.”
“Duterte should veer away from moribund policies that enslave the Filipino people to poverty, hunger and social injustice. He has yet to prove that he has the political will to deviate from his predecessors, otherwise, the youth will not think twice to hold his administration accountable for his historical disservice to the Filipino people,” Elago added. RAM
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