Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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Sisyphus’ Lament

Should everything from college to wi-fi be free?

Singapore—Do we have a political democracy, a free market economy but a socialist mindset? Does making everything free destroy the things worth paying for?

As a University of the Philippines alumnus, I believe education is a constitutional right, not a privilege. I have long admired Sen. Bam Aquino, principal author of the new law on free tuition in state universities, which I applaud.

But the free tuition debate frustrates me. Budget Secretary Ben Diokno fairly asks where to get money to pay teachers. Fellow columnist Cielito Habito powerfully argues ensuring access to college education is not the same as free college education (“Why oppose free tuition?”, 8/4/17). They are demonized by activists who somehow both insist on free tuition and glamorize walking out from class for protests.


We literally want everything for free — the tuition law was signed with the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act!

We cheered when the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) championed indie movies over the commercialized and formulaic, under then Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Emerson Carlos. I watched five films and Director Avid Liongoren rekindled my awe of Filipino creativity (“‘Saving Sally’: must see before you die,” 1/2/17).

But 2016 MMFF sales plunged 80 percent. I saw empty seats even at Power Plant, surely a bastion of artsiness.

Yet we simply cajoled our Facebook friends to watch MMFF films out of patriotic duty and demonized Mother Lily for daring to say Christmas is no time for cerebral drama. There was no public debate on helping producers and cinemas properly promote indies, or why even a cult hit like 2015’s “Heneral Luna,” already backed by patron Fernando Ortigas, can only break even.

No, our unrealistic expectation was that cinemas would be required to subsidize the indie experiment.

Our free rider mindset entrenches deeper structural problems.

We believe information should be free, but take it to the extreme and hesitate to pay for journalism.

Imagine relying on Twitter for news instead of encouraging investigative teams to inventory Benhur Luy’s hard drive and expose pork barrel scams. Imagine “influencers” and “bloggers” with sound bites dominating public discourse instead of Habito, Randy David, Winnie Monsod and Michael Tan with real ideas. Imagine fake news readily manipulating public opinion.


Our default solution is to force journalists to subsidize the great public good called truth. Newspapers have long been trying to slash costs, promote microsubscriptions and negotiate revenue sharing with Facebook and Google. The UK’s The Guardian is owned by a trust fund and states on its website: “News organisations around the world can no longer rely solely on advertising and sales revenues.”

The sense of entitlement to other people’s labor goes far beyond journalists.

Fellow columnist Kay Rivera proudly shared how she signed a “Return Service Agreement,” where UP College of Medicine graduates pledge to serve the country for at least three years (“A return of service,” 8/4/17). But doctors provide undeniable social good and it is obviously cheaper to ensure they are available in far-flung rural communities than treating already sick people.

Is there no model more enlightened than forcing our healthcare burden onto individual idealists like Dr. Rivera?

This thinking extends to all of government. Should we really expect officials to work at below market rates but offer the utmost talent and integrity? Then offer no reward when they do well but threaten to prosecute when they make the slightest mistake?

If we persist in insisting that the altruistic and noble bear the weight of our world on their shoulders, might Atlas eventually shrug and—as in Ayn Rand’s novel—proclaim: “We are on strike, we, the men of the mind. … We are on strike against the creed of unearned rewards and unrewarded duties.”

Free is not a good price. We need to change our mindset from wanting free things to wanting things valuable enough to pay for, then empowering everyone to pay for their fair share of a better country.

React:, Twitter @oscarfbtan,

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TAGS: free college tuition, free wi-fi, Oscar Franklin Tan, Sisyphus’ Lament
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