ONE would think the signing into law of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act of 2017 would prompt universal celebration.
After all, free tuition for those enrolled in 112 state and local universities and colleges is a significant social step. Many Filipino students are not able to go past high school because their parents cannot afford to send them to college.
Thus, potential remains just that, and even talented students are consigned to lowly jobs that do not provide much room for upward mobility, higher learning and an opportunity to contribute more to nation building.
But now P16 billion annually has been earmarked for free tuition in SUCs despite objection from economic managers who believe it might cost the government too much.
Political will saved the day: “[We] weighed everything and came to the conclusion that the long-term benefits that will be derived from a well-developed tertiary education on the part of the citizenry will definitely outweigh any short-term budgetary challenges. If there’s a will, there’s a way,” Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.
The benefits will not be instant and details still have to be worked out. Appropriation and finance are tricky, as is the determination of those deserving of the scholarship.
We trust that these details will be worked out by the bureaucrats whose job it is to implement the lofty goals of laws.
Unfortunately, instead of rallying behind making sure the law’s objectives are realistically met, there is now a debate on who should take the credit for the passage of a popular law.
Staunch Duterte critic, Senator Benigno Paolo Aquino IV, the cousin of his namesake former President, is the author of the law. But instead of noting that support for it cuts across political affiliations, Communications assistant secretary Margaux Uson took to social media yet again—despite her boss’ promise to hire editors to rein in her less-than-enlightened blog and Facebook posts.
She accused the senator of taking sole credit for the law even when education was not a priority during his cousin’s term. She then said budget for the law would come from President Rodrigo Duterte.
An ambitious law is upon us, and despite its grand objectives it will certainly be challenged by numerous practical issues. This should be the focus for now. Uson, Aquino and other noisemakers should stop making the matter about themselves and their enemies. They only reveal that they themselves are in dire need of education.