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Towards greater equality

By Johnny Dayang

Disadvantaged young Filipinos who dream of going to college but could not due to poverty, now have access to free college education. Their impossible dream is now a reality under the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (UAQTEA) of 2018 (RA 10931) starting this year. The program has an initial P41-billion outlay.

Recently, officials of the country’s 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs) and 78 local universities and colleges (LUCs), and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) signed in Malacañang the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) that paves the way for the UAQTEA implementation.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, principal author of UAQTEA in Congress, rightly believes free college will broaden the country’s middle class. He said RA 10931 constitutes President Duterte’s “next wave social revolution in building a more egalitarian society.”

UAQTEA is patterned after Albay’s Universal Access to College Education program which Salceda pioneered when he was provincial governor for nine years until 2016. His program helped 88,888 students complete their studies and served as the “inclusive tool and key to Albay’s poverty reduction from 41% in 2007 to 17.1% in 2015.”

Under UAQTEA, student from poor families under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), can even enroll in private colleges if there are no SUCs/LUCs in their localities, funded by a government loan through UniFAST, which administers all government-funded Student Financial Assistance Programs for tertiary education.

RA 10931 also provides other mechanisms designed to hike participation rate in tertiary education from all socio-economic classes and provide all Filipinos equal opportunities to quality education. Free education, Salceda stressed, is a “right of every citizen and the moral duty of the state.”

For SY 2018-19, some 1.3 million students are expected to enroll under UAQTEA, 300,000 of whom are from 4Ps poor families who will also get P3,500 monthly living allowance subsidies, and a one-time P5,000 for book allowance.

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The recent downpour once again revived the nightmare of dirty water flooding communities nationwide that threatens public health. The floods were most caused by mindless residents who carelessly clogged drainage canals with their plastic wastes.

My friend from Cabanatuan City shared his house in Barangay Mabini Extension got submerged by dirty water after the drainage canals in their area overflowed. This concern properly belongs to local barangay leaders.

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