By KEZIA JUNGCO & ABRAHAM TABING, with reports from MARY ANNE GUDITO
“There will be great plans in store for the fight for accessible education in the country.”
Thus said Senate Majority Floor Leader Alan Peter Cayetano Friday afternoon as he discussed the Iskolar ng Bayan Program at the Electrical Engineering Auditorium, University of the Philippines Los Baños.
“We forgot that our number one resource is the people, our young people”, said Cayetano as he emphasized the importance of investing in the education of young people.
Under the Iskolar ng Bayan Act, the top ten students from each high school are given automatic admission and scholarship to their state university and/or college (SUC) of choice in their region. Excluded from this act is the University of the Philippines, who wanted to maintain the integrity of its admission. Over 80,000 students will benefit from this act, with grants as much as P20,000 that will go straight to their SUC of choice.
Cayetano’s talk was then followed by a discussion and open forum participated by students from UPLB and Los Baños National High School (LBNHS). One point raised during the forum was the budget for the SUCs. “Bakit hindi pataasin ang budget sa edukasyon?”
Cayetano responded that increasing the budget for education will not guarantee more students going to college. He added that the P2 billion proposed budget for this act is a “nice, round value” that ensures that more students get access to tertiary education.
When asked why the government spends more on other sectors such as defense and health instead of education, he replied “I agree … totally na napakaliit ng budget ng tertiary education compared sa kailangan nya. Again, we go back to [the question] “Why?” Policy makers still don’t see it as an investment. They see it as an expense, and no one wants an expense, but everyone wants to invest.”
“Education is an investment,” Cayetano reiterated. He said that fighting for education is everyone’s responsibility now. He encouraged students and student leaders to lobby for a more affordable and accessible education.
“Marami tayo pero mahina ang boses natin. Paano mapapalakas?” Citing social media as a tool to strengthen students’ voice, Cayetano said that the challenge is how to harness the power that individuals have to ask legislators to spend more for education.
In his closing remarks, University Student Council (USC) Chairperson Allen Lemence, who is also an education activist, challenged the students to fight for genuine social change. Lemence emphasized the need to be part of the public opinion and to be critical with what’s happening in the country.
Lemence also added that individual efforts are needed to meet the end goal which is the access to affordable education. The first step, he said, in achieving this goal is to talk about the solution.
“Let’s be part of the public opinion,” Lemence said. He also asked his fellow iskolars to be critical and to keep watch the bill’s implementation and its effect on society. “And if it’s not successful, let’s propose ourselves.”
The event was organized in partnership with the University Student Council, the College of Engineering and Agro-Industrial Technology (CEAT) Student Council, Sigma Alpha Nu Sorority, UPLB Sigma Rho Fraternity, and Los Baños National High School. [P]