Tuition fees scrapped in Philippines

IN a highly anticipated move by the administration of Philippines President Robert Duterte, increases to the 2017 education budget will now guarantee free undergraduate education in state universities and colleges. Although the budget for higher education had increased under the previous president, Benigno Aquino, Duterte had repeatedly emphasised his commitment to his ‘10-point socio-economic agenda’, which prioritised education over health concerns for the country.In a bid to make access to education easier for impoverished families, the budget for 2017 will increase from PHP433 billion (US$8.7 billion) to PHP544.1 billing (US$11 billion); however, the budget will only cover tuition fees for students.The decision to increase the budget comes after years of tireless efforts by youth groups who were hopeful that Duterte would follow through on his campaign promises of making higher education more accessible. In an interview after the decision, the Senate Finance Committee Chair Loren Legarda emphasised the fact that she hopes the 2018 budget will expand to include room and board for poorer students.In a presidential term that has been dogged by extremely violent repression against drug users and dealers, as part of Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’, the move to expand the education budget comes at a critical time.In August of 2016, a mere two months after Duterte was elected, he was repeatedly making promises to public sector professionals that he has been unable to keep. These included an increase in the salaries of soldiers and police officers, as well as an increase in salaries for public school teachers.Unlike these empty campaign promises, which were soon proven to be impossible due to budget constraints, the move to increase the education budget appears to be on its way to becoming firm legislation. The move focuses heavily on improving the lives of poor people throughout the Philippines, which was one of Duterte’s promises to make his country safe and wealthy.The increase in the education budget comes alongside increases in funding for jails and prisons, as well as drug rehabilitation programs. Duterte has claimed that the education budget increases, combined with other efforts by his administration, will create a youth throughout the Philippines that will be committed to bettering their nation.