A clamor led by school administrators, students, and college professors clashed with President Rodrigo Duterte’s silence on the education system in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) yesterday.

Save Our Schools (SOS) Network Mindanao, PUP Tanggol Wika, and other education advocate groups based across the country joined multi-sectoral organizations in their “United People’s SONA,” calling out the flaws of the Duterte administration’s policies in providing free and quality education.

‘It does not stop with free tuition’

University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan told TNP that there are still unclear provisions under the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education, or R.A. 10931.

Free tuition beneficiaries have to participate in a return service system, according to the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulation (IRR) released in March.

“Marami pang hindi klaro sa return service agreement,” Tan said.

The provision has earned criticism from free education advocates, including the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), a nationwide alliance of student councils.

“Free education is a right and an obligation of the state. It should be unconditional. Hindi ito libre kung may kapalit,” NUSP national spokesperson Mark Lim said.

Under the return service agreement, students are compelled to render school services without receiving compensation. “Thus, students are left with only two choices – either to pay for their tuition, or to render free labor,” he said.

“Hindi rin klaro ‘yung tinatawag na developmental fund, which covers the student council and Collegian. I hope na ma-settle na yan soonest,” Tan added.

Development fees will be provided to fund student activities, projects, and programs such as leadership trainings, off-campus experiential learning, student publications and newsletters, and partnerships and activities of student organizations.    

“S’yempre malaking bagay, pero hindi pa kami [UP] nari-reimburse [free tuition subsidy] ng second semester,” Tan said.

A total of 13,322 undergraduate students enrolled in UP Diliman in August 2017, but not all were funded by the free tuition law. Over 400 students were excluded from RA 10931’s coverage due to the law’s various loopholes.

“Tuloy pa rin yung mga ibang problema ng day-to-day living. It does not stop with Free Tuition,” Tan added.

Bakwit schools

At least 30 Lumad leaders, teachers, parents, and students gathered for the SONA protest in Quezon City to debunk the claims of the Duterte administration about a peaceful Mindanao.

“War is not option,” Duterte said in SONA yesterday, justifying his martial law declaration following the Marawi siege as a means of attaining peace.

However, SOS Network Mindanao spokesperson Rius Valle contradicted Duterte’s statement.

“’Yung nangyayari sa Mindanao ay pagpatay, pagwasak sa mga pamayanan ng mga Moro at mga Lumad,” Valle said.

Under the Duterte administration, a total of 58 Lumad schools have been forcibly closed, while ten have been displaced and 35 have been disrupted by military attacks, according to data from SOS Network Mindanao.

“Kasama sa aming panawagan ay ang pagtigil ng Martial Law, pagtigil sa mga pag-atake sa mga paaralang Lumad, at pagpapaalis sa mga military doon sa mga kanayunan,” Valle said.

SOS Network is preparing to build “Bakwit schools” stationed in Metro Manila universities, including UP Diliman, to allow Lumad students to continue their education.

Budget woes

Meanwhile, PUP administrators and students marched together yesterday to call for a budget increase in education.

Despite the lion’s share received by the Commision on Higher Education (CHED) in the 2017 national budget, PUP student regent Elijah San Fernando says the amount is not enough to support quality education across state universities and colleges (SUCs).

“Libre nga ang edukasyon pero kulang na kulang. Hindi porket libre ang edukasyon ay dekalidad na ito. Libre nga pero wala ka namang laboratoryo, wala kang pasilidad, wala kang learning facilities at learning materials na magagamit para sa ikahuhubog ng mga estudyante,” San Fernando said.

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommended six percent of government spending to education, compared to the 3.49 per cent allocation in the Philippines in 2017.

A budget increase not only in SUCs, but also in secondary and vocational institutions, should be given priority, San Fernando added.

PUP professors also demanded for a salary increase on top of their call for regularization.

While the President has signed a resolution doubling the salary of soldiers and police officers earlier this year, school teachers have yet to receive the pay hike Duterte has promised in 2016.

Failing grade

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) released a “report card” a day before the SONA to  assess Duterte’s performance in seven subjects, giving him failing marks for his two years in office.

“Lahat po ay puro bagsak, in short 70 ang binigay naming grado,” said Jocelyn Martinez of ACT National Capital Region (NCR).

It was in the subject of Math that President Duterte may have been absent, Martinez added.

“Hindi marunong mag-plus at minus. Hindi niya alam ang tunay na kalagayan ng mga mamamayan sa gastusin kaya’t nagpatupad siya ng TRAIN law,” she said.

“Kaming manggagawa ay humihingi ng substansyal na pagtaas sa sahod,” she said, echoing the cries of other teachers and educators carrying placards to increase their salary and working benefits.

A 5.2 percent inflation rate recorded in June has caused the real value of most Filipino teachers’ salaries to drop by as much as P461, according to an ACT press release.

Meanwhile, Marvin Lai of ACT PUP also urged the administration to end contractualization in SUCs.

“Ang porma ng kontraktwalisasyon sa SUCs ay nasa part-timers. Mananatiling part-timer ang mga guro at kawani kung hindi maglalabas ng plantilla items ang gobyerno,” he said.

Lai shared what Martinez said that the President fails to understand the realities of contractualization among school teachers.

“Napag-iwanan na ‘yung mga benepisyo at kagalingan ng mga guro katulad sa sahod, batayang serbisyo kagaya ng kalusugan,” he added.

Martinez also mentioned the lack of healthcare benefits for public school teachers in spite of their Magna Carta provisions.

“Wala pong binibibigay sa’min. Sa halip, nagpapatupad ng drug testing sa aming mga paaralan,” she said.

Lai also pointed out that the issue is more than about tuition or miscellaneous fees, but also investing in scholars who will be future engineers and future scientists.

Martinez showed her frustration over the inclusion of Korean and Chinese languages in the curriculum while in college, Filipino is no longer being taught.

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