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Gatchalian: Free tuition policy in SUCs not anti-poor

SURIGAO CITY, Philippines – Students of Surigao State College of Technology (SSCT) busy themselves at the school’s laboratory. To earn a college degree at SSCT, each student needs to fork out 100-220 pesos per unit or as much as P16,000 per year for tuition fees alone. (File photo by Mark Cayabyab/OS WIN GATCHALIAN)

The implementation of a free tuition policy in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) would significantly improve the financial position of working-class households that are struggling to cope with the high cost of tertiary education, Senator Win Gatchalian said on Wednesday as he scored critics for attempting to brand the policy as “anti-poor”.

In a statement, signed by several members of the Duterte cabinet, the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) characterized the policy as “anti-poor” by pointing out that only 12% of SUC students hail from the poorest 20% of households.

“Ninety-three percent (93%) of SUC students come from working-class households supported by breadwinners who earn, at the very most, salaries only marginally above prevailing minimum wage rates,” said Gatchalian, one of the sponsors of Senate Bill No. 1304, the free tuition bill popularly known as the Free Higher Education for All Act.

“In this context, characterizing the Free Higher Education for All Act as ‘anti-poor’ is elitist nonsense. The free tuition policy will help these modest working-class households improve their standards of living as they work their way up into the middle class,” he added.

Gatchalian emphasized that, by giving them an opportunity to increase household savings, the free tuition policy would insulate near-poor and low-income households from economic shocks which threaten to pull them down into poverty, such as illness in the family or sudden loss of employment.

“By lessening the burden of educational costs on working-class households, we are giving them the chance to build a more prosperous future for themselves and their loved ones. This is in line with the country’s long-term socioeconomic goal of building a strong middle-income society. Anyone who characterizes this advocacy as ‘anti-poor’ is obviously out-of-touch with the needs of the average Filipino,” said Gatchalian.

Gatchalian also expressed continuing confidence in the imminent passage of the measure in the Senate, despite the shakeup earlier this week which resulted in a change of leadership of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts, and Culture.

“The Free Higher Education for All Act continues to enjoy widespread support among senators, including our colleagues from the newly-formed Senate minority. I am optimistic that we will be able to put our political differences aside and continue to provide unified support for this important higher educational reform,” said Gatchalian, the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Education Committee.