Press Release
January 24, 2017

'Free Public College Tuition is Not Too Big to Fund'
Sponsorship Speech
Free Higher Education For All Act
Senate Minority Leader Ralph G. Recto
24 January 2017

Mr. President, dear colleagues, magandang hapon po.

The House had passed the proposed amendments to the New Bangko Sentral Act.

Buried in its fine print is the appropriation of P150 billion for additional capital, couched in that familiar banker's language of "payable immediately upon approval of the Act."

The BSP had served taxpayers a large bill, yet it registered a faint beep in the social media radar, when trolls had been agitated for amounts far more puny.

Yet when we infused P8 billion for free public college tuition, which is just a discount on total college matriculation because tuition is only a part of it, we saw official hyperventilation.

What the BSP is asking for could fund about two decades' worth of tuition subsidy to millions and millions of SUC students.

But the official attitude, it seems, is deference to the BSP but doubt on the idea of free public college tuition.

In other words, banks are too big to fail, public college is too big to fund.

The government books are, however, dotted with expenditures that manifest this bias.

About P70.29 billion in contingent debts attached to PPPs are categorized as either being high or medium risk of being called, and funds have been reserved in case they come to collect.

Another criticism which trended is that tuition-free SUCs is an entitlement genre which is alien to the government.

But the national budget is a catalogue of entitlements.

We will spend P78.2 billion this year for 4Ps, P17.9 billion for senior citizen allowances, and speaking of pension, P102.4 billion for uniformed personnel retirees and veterans, amounts which dwarf the P8 billion that will benefit 1.4 million SUC students.

And SUC students have a higher bar to hurdle to keep the aid. They must show a report card proving that they passed the subjects.

For 4Ps kids, being checked as present in attendance sheets 80 percent of the time is enough for their family to encash the P16,000 annual check.

Let me cite another comparison: A retired AFP one-star general gets P35,534 in monthly pension, courtesy of yearly congressional appropriations.

In contrast, if the P8 billion will be distributed equally to all SUC students for two semesters, the subsidy will come up to about P571 a month.

Mr. President:

Although I cited amounts, please do not view them as unrecoverable expenses. Treat them rather as investments with high returns.

Some will see the billions as deficit numbers. Let us see them, for what they really are, as means to realize dreams.

A nation's progress depends on the quality of its human capital. Education dictates whether it prospers or it remains poor.

But building the country's talent pool is not the responsibility of families alone. Government has to do and give its share.

I see this kind of division of labor: Papakainin ng pamilya ang anak, bibihisan, bibigyan ng pamasahe, pambayad ng lab fees, pambili ng libro, damit, sapatos at pati na rin pangload, gamot pag nagkasakit, payong para di maulanan, at marami pa.

Ano ang equity ng gobyerno? Libreng tuition fee. Pati ba naman ang katiting na yan, ipagkakait pa natin?

Mr. President, my dear colleagues:

As I've said, college education has a good rate of return, better than what banks can offer. In fact, the best form of investment is to educate oneself.

In one study, college education posts a 15 percent return, which shows that the best investment certificate is a college diploma.

A college graduate earns 140 percent more than that of a high school graduate--well, except notable outliers like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, John Gokongwei and Ricky Razon.

In the local ICT sector, the wage ratio between a skilled college graduate and an unskilled personnel is as high as 6.

"The rates of returns to high school and college graduates are rising, accompanied by a widening of the gap between them."

No, a college diploma may not make one as rich as Gates, but it is a ticket out of poverty.

But sadly, there are many students who cannot make this trip on their own. Many poor and middle class youth do not have the financial self-propulsion.

In fact, in a survey of 16 and 17 year olds who ought to be in college, "lack of financial means" was cited by 4 out of 10.

Accessibility was cited by one tenth of one percent. Marriage was invoked by 8 percent, mostly by men who perhaps preferred the discipline of being homeschooled by the wife to the rigors of academia.

Overall, 40 percent of high school graduates do not proceed to college. And for those who managed to enter college campus as freshmen, only six out of 10 will march up the stage to claim their diplomas.

It is a marathon with a high mortality rate, and oftentimes not because a student does not have the head for it--he even has the heart--but because he does not have the money.

This is the truth: More are waylaid by financial exhaustion than by intellectual burnout.

Ginoong Pangulo:

Madalas kong sabihin na ang diploma ay hindi lang katibayan ng pagtatapos, ito rin ay resibo ng gastos.

Kaya nga naiiwan ito sa mga magulang, at buong yabang na idinidispley sa sala. At sa lahat ng kagamitan sa bahay, ang mistulang kuwadradong papel na yan ang pinakamahal.

Kaya ang panukalang ito ay naglalayong obligahin ang pamahalaan na tumulong sa gastos.

To those who are still unconvinced, let me reiterate that tuition is only part of the cost of college education.

We are not asking government for food or fare money, or allowances for books and board. Tuition lang po.

For apostles of austerity, it should dawn upon you that "school is the last expenditure upon which the Philippines should be willing to economize."

If the two houses of Congress can have an annual budget of P15 billion, and such is seen as an expense vital to democracy, then why is public college being disparaged as a nonessential luxury?

For those who plead that they can't manage this fund, let me tell you this: If phone companies can bill millions of its customers for billions of calls on a per minute basis and water companies can meter each drop of water, where is the hardship or the handicap in the wholesale distribution of money to 114 state universities and colleges?

To those who have a binary view of public tertiary education system, who think that the P2.5 million subsidy to produce a PMA graduate or that the per student subsidy to the Iskolar ng Bayan at UP, which is 10, 15 times bigger than what an SUC student in Surigao, or Sultan Kudarat, or Ifugao is just enough, if not lacking, yet dismiss the idea of free public tuition because it would benefit the moneyed rural class, a fact-free assertion, have your capacity to fairly analyze things taken a leave of absence?

If this bill is to be critiqued then let studies be cited, and please lang, not "alternative facts."

Isa sa ibinibintang ay tumataas daw ang subsidy per SUC student. Hindi po totoo yan. It has been on a downward trend.

While nominal amounts on a per school basis are on the rise, the increases failed to keep up with the rise in student enrollees, resulting in per capita subsidy decrease.

And the biggest bogey of them all: That free SUC tuition will only benefit the affluent.

For the life of me, I cannot imagine Batangas State University as a bastion of the one or even ten percenters. Like all SUCs, an enclave of the moneyed class it is not.

This misinformation started with the claim that 23 percent of total SUC enrollment are from the top 20 percent of the richest families.

Shocking at first glance, right?

But if you examine the data coming from the Commission on Higher Education, the richest 20 percent are families whose annual expenditure is P370,140 and up.

So by their reckoning, if you're in the expenditure bracket that spends about P32,500 a month, you're in the top 20 percent of gastador families, with the insinuation that you're rich.

Data provided by CHED to my staff showed that the first or the poorest quintile of families with a member enrolled in college as having a yearly expenditure of P13,100 to P91,500.

Second quintile families spend between P91,525 to P140,510 annually. Third quintile: P140,600 to P217,380 annually. Fourth quintile: P217,400 to P370,100 annually.

Take note those are annual expenditures. And not by any stretch of imagination or elasticity of interpretation can they be considered rich.

If another metric will be used, such as the Family Income and Expenditures Survey, the results will be the same as the formula used by CHED.

The richest quintile or 20 percent under FIES has an average yearly income of P600,000.

P50,000 a month 'yan. Kung merong mag-asawang Master Teacher I, pasok na sa bracket na 'yon. Moneyed na ba 'yon? On paper, a monthly family income of P50,000 would land you in the upper 20 percent. But in reality, many families in that class are having a hard time making ends meet.

The fourth quintile will have an average family monthly income of P24,017. Mayaman na ba 'yan?

I acknowledge the challenge to draw in more students from ultra-poor families to college, but their being underrepresented in SUC campuses shouldn't be used as an argument against free public college tuition.

A rising tide raises all ships. Oo, merong marangya, pero karamihan ay near-poor at middle class - especially the middle class who bears the tax burden, so this legislation is for them.

The biggest equity, Mr. President, will be borne by the student himself. Free tuition is not an entitlement without condition.

First, a student must qualify for college admission. That is the starting hurdle he must pass. Of course, he must pass the tests.

What I am saying is that free tuition should not be equated with free admission. It does not override admission protocols. Thus, it is a merit-based aid. And one that can be maintained by merit alone.

Mr. President, my dear colleagues:

Because they go against convention, brave social legislations are birthed under hard circumstances. Thirty years ago there was no universal high school education.

The law making it free and mandatory only came in 1988, sponsored by the Elder Angara, and this bill, by the way, and I am happy to note, is also sponsored by the Better Angara.

And free public high school was first implemented during the ?1988 -1989 schoolyear. So this bill is but a natural progression on how our education system matures and develops.

Education, it is said, is the progressive discovery of our shortcomings. And to act when we are confronted with one.

And if public universities are hotspots of innovation, then those appointed to supervise them must not fear change.

Let us therefore act on this measure which makes our education system better and the future of our country and our children bright.

And in the coming days, let us also act on measures that will improve, reform, modernize, and energize our educational system. This bill should be deemed as but one of many.

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