Going to college just became easier for many Filipinos.
Congress passed the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act earlier this year and sent it to Duterte last month to sign or veto. Duterte’s economic advisors had suggested he veto the bill, arguing it would be too expensive and estimating costs could reach $2 billion a year. According to deputy executive secretary Menardo Guevarra, Duterte said the long-term benefits were greater than the “very heavy budgetary implications.”
However, one lawmaker, Franklin Drilon, argued the costs wouldn’t be nearly as high as Duterte’s advisors suggested, saying they’d be closer to the range of $400 million to $500 million per year.
Lawmakers and student leaders, who urged Duterte to sign the bill, rejoiced when he did. Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, chair of the senate’s education committee, said the decision would be one of Duterte’s “lasting legacies.” Another senator, JV Ejercito, called the law an “investment to further equip our most precious resource—the human resource.”
Detractors argued the law won’t help the poorest Filipinos, who’ll still have to bear other costs of higher education, including living expenses and instructional materials. Budget secretary Benjamin Diokno said the new law would only help rich students.
“Only 12% of the poor get to the state universities, 12%, and when you say free tuition, you are actually subsidizing the rich,” he told lawmakers, according to CNN. (Some argue that free college tuition in Scotland has hurt the poor, and not increased their enrollment numbers.)
Regardless, signing the law will likely boost Duterte’s popularity, which has remained high despite strong domestic and international criticism over the war on drugs he started after taking power in late June 2016.