Is free college education a mirage?

BERLIN — President Duterte deserves credit for pushing Congress into finally passing a law that decrees free higher education in public colleges and universities. But he merits criticism if his own administration lamely fails to implement what the law mandates.

Congress passed Republic Act No. 10931, which commands “universal access to quality tertiary education by providing free tuition and other school fees” in state and local colleges and public vocational institutions.


In the struggle to pass the new law, there was vigorous opposition from technocrats within the President’s Cabinet. They argued that the government does not have the money to make tertiary education free in public schools.

Even after Congress had passed the law, the President’s economic advisers still mounted a last-ditch effort to convince him to veto the measure. The President deserves praise for having the grounded sense to know that free tertiary education is a long-overdue lifeline that struggling families need to lift themselves out of poverty.

The economic experts opposed to the law argued that the beneficiaries of free tertiary education would be, not the poor, but the families who can afford to pay for their children’s college education. In all probability, this conclusion was formed based on technocrat analysis of income, cost of living, and family size figures that are generalized and hypothesized.

It will do much good for our economic experts to occasionally leave the comforts of their offices, visit the potential subjects of their decisions, and conduct a sampling interview of these real people, and not make their decisions based only on cold statistics.

The kids who go to state colleges and universities are the children of rank-and-file government employees such as teachers, soldiers, police personnel, etc. Others are children of low-ranking employees of private companies like security guards, secretaries, and administrative staff.

For economic experts to sweepingly conclude that these families do not need state support for their children’s college education is to be lamentably detached from reality. These families are able to send their children to state colleges, not because they can afford to, but because they manage to obtain loans to pay for their children’s tuition and living expenses. I know whereof I speak because my mother was a public school teacher and I went to public schools all my life, from grade school to college.

Technocrats are so liberal in granting incentives to rich businesspeople, but are tight-fisted when it comes to providing
financial breaks to the toiling masses. The old-fashioned view—that the rewards given to businesspeople will result in a trickle down of benefits, and that support for the toiling masses represents pure government expense—needs major rethinking, given the current reality that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.

Technocrats are also slow to adopt procedures that will result in substantially increasing government revenues such as stopping rampant smuggling by wealthy businesspeople, but they are fast in imposing taxes that the poor cannot escape, such as taxes on basic necessities.

Despite President Duterte’s signing of the law on free college education, the word on the ground is that the law is not being implemented for the given reason that there’s still no budget for it. This is a huge disappointment for countless families.


Prior to the law’s passage, government college scholarships were coursed through members of the House of Representatives as part of their pork barrel entitlements. This practice was discontinued when RA 10931 was passed. Indigent students are now worse off because there are no scholarships and the law on free college education is a mirage.

The President has been vetoed by his technocrats on his free college education program. Now is the time for him to go into tantrums.

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TAGS: Flea Market of Ideas, free college education, Joel Ruiz Butuyan, Rodrigo Duterte
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