The passage of the Free Education Law for state universities and colleges (SUCs) should be a most welcome piece of legislation. The passage of the law is bold and daring because it was not held hostage by a notion that the nation cannot afford the social amelioration. Over the concern of the budget department that the free tertiary education cannot be funded in the long run, President Duterte approved the law on sheer grit. It is truly a landmark law.
By signing into law the free tertiary education bill for SUCs, the President did better than the 1986 constitutional commissioners who mandated free high school education only. But the comparison should end there; the economic circumstances in 1986, with the country still reeling from the depredations of a rapacious regime, cannot be equated with its current financial conditions.
Prior to the passage of the landmark law, the state of education in the country only served to intensify the gap between the rich and the poor, as only the rich have the access to funds for better quality of education.
The new law is a truly significant public investment in human resource development, and thus a leveler of access to education, which is itself a great societal leveler. It has been said that education is not necessarily the best escape from poverty; but for most of the underprivileged in the country, it could be the only way.
After five administrations, a good number of the Filipino poor will finally have access to tertiary public education.
With the government taking on full responsibility of educating its citizenry — from the primary to tertiary levels — it is high time the country rethought the literacy requirement for some elective national public offices. As the country gears toward rewriting its fundamental law, there might be a chance to level up the literacy requirement for certain such offices — that is, from the lowly and uncertain qualification of “being able to read and write” to, at the very least, a college degree.
The literacy upgrade is not about belittling the achievements of notable school dropouts who were successful later in life and in their chosen fields of endeavor; it is more about inspiring the Filipino youth that if they want to serve the country in an elective capacity, they would have to acquire a higher level of literacy. Thus, prospective presidents, vice presidents, senators and congresspersons in the era of the forthcoming new constitution should at least be college graduates.
Another archaic qualification requirement for elective national public offices that needs revisiting is the “natural-born citizenship” requirement. The 1987 Constitution defines a natural-born Filipino citizen as one who acquires his or her Filipino citizenship without having to perform an act in order to perfect it. But those born under the 1935 Constitution to Filipino mothers, who elected Filipino citizenship upon reaching the age of majority in order to perfect their Filipino citizenship, are deemed natural-born Filipino citizens.
The pool of potential national leaders could be widened if the citizenship qualification would include “native-born naturalized Filipinos” who have been continuously residing in the country for at least 10 years after naturalization. Successful captains of industry — second- or third-generation scions of migrants — should not be unduly excluded from the pool of potential national leaders by the “natural-born citizenship” limitation. The Philippines is missing out on the leadership qualities of these native-born naturalized Filipinos, of whom the country has a shallow bench or whom it sorely needs in order to leapfrog its way to economic development.
It is time to open national leadership to equally patriotic, native-born naturalized Filipinos to break the yoke of regressive political dynasties.
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Frank E. Lobrigo practiced law for 20 years. He is a law lecturer and JSD student at San Beda College Graduate School of Law in Manila.
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