MANILA, Philippines — Senator Bam Aquino on Tuesday stressed that the government should not use free education to prohibit students from exercising their right to free expression and dissent.
Aquino, the principal sponsor and co-author of RA 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, said that free college should benefit the Filipino people and should not be used for “blackmail” or as “hush money.”
“Free college should not be used as an exchange for something. The government should not control the rights of the students in exchange of the free education at public universities and colleges,” Aquino said.
Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte warned University of the Philippines (UP) students that he would let “bright” Lumads take their places in the university if they would continue skipping classes to join protest actions against the administration.
“These UP students who keep on walking out, earlier, they walked out. Okay. Those who don’t want to go to school, get out because I will bring the bright Lumads there, I will enroll them there in UP. A lot of Filipinos want a good education,” Duterte said in Bisaya.
For a seeming response, Aquino said that students in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) must not surrender their right to speak and dissent just to have free education.
“We commend the Filipino youth who continue working for a cause, speaking up and speaking out against policies that are counter to their values and beliefs,” the senator said.
Aquino allayed fears from the public that protesting students are waste of taxpayers’ money, expressing confidence that Filipino students now their limits and that they are responsible for their actions.
“I have trust in our students that they are responsible for what they are doing. They would not let their studies suffer for their actions,” he said.
The Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act provides free education to students in SUCs, local universities and colleges (LUCs) and TESDA-run vocational schools. Aside from tuition fees, the government will shoulder miscellaneous and all other mandatory fees.