Philippine Public Higher Education – Tax the Rich Less and Fund Their Education Too? Ano kailangan? Edi-Aksyon

by Crispin Fernandez, MD

| Photo by Ramon F. Velasquez via Wikimedia Commons

If Department of Finance Secretary Ben Diokno is to be believed, public education funds must be converted to cash vouchers for use in any school, ostensibly in private schools, the primary rationale being the 40% college dropout rates among public college students. It is totally backward.

2023 is UP’s third consecutive year of suspending the pen-and-paper UPCAT for incoming first-year applicants with state university assurances that “excellence and equity” are not compromised by more closely analyzing the applicants’ high school performance so that “excellence and equity” are not compromised in accepting new students,” UP said in a statement.

“Excellence refers to choosing the best students for UP education. In contrast, equity refers to democratic access or “leveling the playing field” so that students’ profile reflects the socio-economic and geographic profile of the country,” UP explained.

Meanwhile, UP will hold the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT) 2023 for first-year Academic Year 2024-2025 admission. It will be the first time the UPCAT will be held since 2020.

Some P21.7 billion will fund the free tertiary education of about 3.15 million students nationwide; that’s P6,888.88 per tertiary SUC (State University or College). Clearly, it’s a drop in the proverbial bucket.

There are available scholarships. But the cost of living (Room and Board) between P7,000 to P9,000 PER WEEK is the more significant hurdle. If Sec Diokno is looking for a reason for the 40% dropout rate, the cost of living is one of the primary reasons to be sure.

The 2024 Department of Education budget is P760B, about P38,000 per student per year. Philippine private schools charge between P150,000 and P200,000 per student per year. The disparity in cost translates to 99% of UPCAT passers being from private schools. It is how our organization, F.I.L.I.P.I.N.A.S., received such high praise from students at the Rizal National High School in Dulag, Leyte, for donating microscopes. Until then, it was the first time the students had seen a microscope that was not a black-and-white image in a textbook. And yet politicians would have you believe that education is a top priority for the government.

Two-thirds of UP admissions are from the top 3 income levels. Clearly, the upper strata of Philippine society are getting their money’s worth. The majority are from NCR and CALABARZON, again indicating that the rich exploit their wealth and expose the deficiencies of public education. And then the 40% dropout rate among state college students, a data set that could be better expounded on which enrollees actually drop out. However, oddsmakers will wager that students from the lower economic bracket are likely inordinately represented. There may be too many trees to see the forest.

“Empower every overseas Filipino to use their education to profit from full economic participation. If these possibilities present a difficulty, start by bequeathing them the Overseas Filipino Bank and allow the future of a new Philippines to write itself. Profit from the investment in education that each overseas Filipino has made.”

The Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) are benchmarks to measure school effectiveness and determine the alignment of national and international standards. Despite the passage of the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, the country was rudely awakened by the poor results of the country’s maiden participation in the 2018 Pisa. The 2019 TIMSS reinforced these disappointing results. The country participated again in TIMSS after a 16-year hiatus since 2003, and the country ranked dead last in mathematics and science among 58 participating countries. Even so, using government vouchers, meaning limited government resources, to send public school students to private schools would also serve to finance the private sector, which can source its resources from its economically upper-class students, would further decimate an already inadequate public school system. Alternatively, private schools should be mandated to enroll high-achieving public school students for free. As an incentive, they can claim that expense against their taxes; translated, this is a form of affirmative action, its economic and societal version.

There ought not be a further erosion of social justice in a society already bereft of the same, at every turn of the circle of life, by taking more from the marginalized in the guise of solving problems that exist which at their core were caused by the very same clique of society that constantly wants to partake beyond whatever is left of their humanity – as a people affluent Filipinos seem to have reached the abyss of charity and refuse to exhibit mercy.

For China, there were over 700,000 students abroad pre-pandemic; this writer has hypothesized that the Chinese students returning to the U.S. with student visas before the total travel ban during the pandemic, contributed to the surge in COVID cases, particularly in New York and the rest of the U.S. Northeast due to the concentration of the top universities in the area; compared to an estimated 49,000 Filipino students studying overseas, 50 percent higher compared to the last count of 22,709 made by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) before the pandemic; but how many of those Filipino students were on state scholarships – sans data, probably close to zero.

And if the rise of China is still a mystery to you, the reader, and the clueless leaders in our government, then let the enormity of sending 700,000, presumably mainly state scholars, to study in the greatest institutions the world has to offer to simmer in your mind. If only 1/10th of 1% of those scholars returned to China, 700 would have created a corps of engineers and scientists around which China created and fostered champions of industry and innovation rivaling those of any country in the process, uplifting not millions but hundreds of millions from famine and poverty to unimaginable prosperity within a generation. In contrast, countries like the Philippines are left to curry favor from China, almost begging for investments, swallowing its national pride, and barely being able to protect its sovereignty and territory.

Education is a weapon. Like most weapons, it must be wielded with resolve. Shared just like the patrimony of the nation, and as we must, with unyielding sacrifice and an unwavering vision – a vision of a country that welcomes foreigners as workers instead of an unceasing dependency on a policy of diaspora that sends endless waves of human capital overseas.

Transform this manpower export into an economic juggernaut by incentivizing them to invest in their homeland, not merely as consumers, but as economic partners. Empower every overseas Filipino to use their education to profit from full economic participation. If these possibilities present a difficulty, start by bequeathing them the Overseas Filipino Bank and allow the future of a new Philippines to write itself. Profit from the investment in education that each overseas Filipino has made.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Crispin Fernandez advocates for overseas Filipinos, public health, transformative political change, and patriotic economics. He is also a community organizer, leader, and freelance writer.

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