(Emended) Yesterday, GRP President Duterte signed Republic Act No. 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (free tuition law) which is set to be implemented next school year. The reactionaries heap praises on Duterte for signing this law which promises to ease the financial burden on students in around 114 state colleges, universities and technical institutions.
But it is the student and youth movement which deserve far more credit for having long fought for militantly the right to free public education. The Party, the Kabataang Makabayan and the National Democratic Front have espoused such a demand in their programs.
While the students and youth groups welcome this gain, they are also keenly aware that this law is a mere palliative which does not constitute a fundamental change in the ruling state’s prevailing policies on education. There are far bigger and more fundamental issues besetting the educational system.
Commercialization and privatization remain state policy. Close to 60% of tertiary-level undergraduate students are enrolled in profit-oriented private tertiary institutions. They suffer burdensome fees, annual fee increases, prohibitive costs of books and high costs of going to school. Large amounts of so-called “government financial assistance” are alloted to ensure the profits of private school owners.
There is no reversal to the neoliberal policy of cutting social spending, including subsidies for education. In fact, right after Duterte signed the law, economic managers have already declared that “there should be no expansion in the student population” in the SUCs. In all likelihood, a myriad burdensome policies will accompany the implementation of the free tuition law. Over the past decades, malpriorities, limited allocations and budget cuts have made a mockery of the so-called free elementary and secondary education which has left millions of school children without teachers and facilities.
The Duterte regime is deaf to the clamor to end the K-12 program which is widely regarded as an additional burden on parents and students. Duterte is bent on implementing the K-12 thrust of producing enclaves-ready and export-ready 18-year old senior high school graduates. Tertiary education as well as higher scientific and technological research are actually low priority. There is strong push to further deprioritize the study of history, social sciences and liberal arts.
Is Duterte now a champion of the students and youth? Two weeks ago, Duterte earned the ire of the people for declaring he will drop bombs on Lumad schools which he has Red-tagged as NPA schools and told the children to run away. These schools are organized and set up by Lumad organizations in their communities, assisted by their church and civic supporters. Relying on military “intelligence,” Duterte insists these schools are illegal.
By signing the free tuition law, Duterte hopes he can grab credit and draw the attention of the students and youth away from the bigger problems of the educational system and the even more fundamental problems of the youth and people. Widespread unemployment, low wages, landlessness, landgrabbing, poverty, rising costs of living and other acute social problems are ever worsening under his anti-people and pro-imperialist regime.
He hopes to placate the anger of the youth and people over his martial law regime, the widespread campaign of mass murder and destruction, the big-scale crime and corruption involved in his plan to borrow billions upon billions of dollars to finance his infrastructure building, the additional tax burden he is itching to impose on the people as assurance to his Chinese creditors, and the all-out subservience of his government to US foreign policy and military intervention and surrender of Philippine sovereignty and rights in the South China Sea to both the US and China.
The progressive and revolutionary forces among the students and youth are keenly aware of the necessity of uniting with the people’s national democratic struggles and resistance against the neoliberal policies and fascist strongman rule of the US-Duterte regime as means to advance the cause of the Filipino people and students for national and social liberation.They will surely frustrate the attempt of the US-Duterte regime to silence them.