Cancelling or removing the scholarship of so-called anti-government students, and consequently collecting fees from them, is illegal under the Universal Access to Quality and Tertiary Education Act (UAQTEA) or Free College Law (RA 10931) and is punishable by six months to one-year imprisonment and a fine of P20,000 to P10,000.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, who authored the UAQTEA measure in the lower house, said there are only two clear-cut conditions for cancellation of scholarship grants as stipulated under Section 6 of the law: 1) failure to complete the course within one year after its prescribed period for a college degree, and in the case of technical vocational courses, failure in any course enrolled in during the duration of the program; and 2) failure to comply with admission and retention policies of the institution.
The lawmaker has joined the chorus of opposition against the proposal by National Youth Commission chairman Ronald Cardema to cancel the scholarships of students who join anti-government rallies and protests, a proposal that has met a flat ‘no’ answer from President Rodrigo Duterte himself.
Whether they support or oppose the government, Salceda said, students who fail to finish their course within the prescribed period are deemed to have failed in complying with the retention policies of the school and will lose their scholarship privilege. Nothing in the law may be construed as basis for scholarship cancellation of suspected “anti-government” students. There is no practical process anyway for identifying them, Salceda said.
He said the UAQTEA guarantees free college education regardless of beliefs or political persuasion of students, or their stand on vital issues, for as long as they are not proven not to have broken any law, or the retention policies of the school. The Free College Law, he pointed out, sets only two basic eligibilities for national scholarships or financial assistance—first, the student must be a Filipino citizen and second, he/she must be admitted to a course by an accredited tertiary institution.
Salceda said the proposal is “violative of the Free College Law and the spirit of universal access to quality education, and diminishes the singular legacy of the Duterte administration.” He added that there is also no provision in the law that prohibits scholars from joining protests or from opposing the administration which would curtail the fundamental freedom of expression particularly, in educational institutions that are training grounds of the youth.
The Free College Law, signed by Duterte in 2017, now covers 112 state colleges and universities, and 87 accredited local universities and colleges (LUCs) in the country. Some 1,000 of the 1,710 private colleges are beginning to benefit from the Tertiary Education Subsidy, based on the latest government records.
The UAQTEA disqualifies students from availing of free tuition, if: 1) they have already obtained a bachelor’s degree, or have earned a certificate or diploma for a technical-vocational course equivalent to at least National Certificate III and above; and 2) they have failed in any course enrolled in, during the course of the program.
The Free College Law finds basis in the 1987 constitution which states that the “quality education is an inalienable right of all Filipinos and it is a policy of the State to protect and promote the rights of all students to quality education in all levels.”