Independent Senate bets bare stand on UP's STFAP

·Kim Arveen Patria

The debate on state support for education continues as Senate aspirants on Thursday joined students' calls for the repeal of a state university's socialized tuition program.

Independent senatorial candidates vowed before University of the Philippines students that they will push for the scrapping of the school's Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP).

This, as they noted that the program, which has recently come under fire following a student's suicide, failed in its intention to ease poor enrollees' financial burdens.

"I will continue to fight for free education in UP para tayo'y maging 'tunay na iskolar' (so we will be genuine scholars)," former BUHAY Party-list Rep. Christian Seneres said.

Seneres, who is running for senator under the Democratic Party of the Philippines, claimed he is among the legislators who prepared the UP Charter enacted in 2008.

"But it seems that the STFAP is not serving its purpose," Seneres said. "If so, we should just scrap it in its entirety."

Other candidates in the UP Diliman leg of Yahoo! Philippines' Purple Thumb Election Forum raised thumbs-up signs when asked if they think STFAP should be scrapped.

Social Justice Society President Samson Alcantara, for his part, said he will file measures to pour in more funds to the education sector should he win.

"I will file a bill which will allot funds from Pagcor (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.) and PCSO (Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office) to education," Alcantara said.

Seneres added that the education sector's share in the Philippines' gross national product (GNP) fails to meet international standards. "It should be six percent of the GNP but we are way below that," Seneres said.

Data show that government spending on education stood at an average P185 billion or 2.2 percent of the GNP from 2006 to 2010.

Student groups have earlier urged UP to junk the STFAP and to demand greater state support.

The calls have recently gained traction as the STFAP failure has widely been blamed by militants for worsening the financial constraints faced by a student who took her own life Mar. 15.

While senatorial aspirants voiced their opposition for the STFAP in UP's Diliman campus, students in UP Manila mourned the death of 16-year-old Kristel Tejada.

The freshman behavioral science student's remains have been brought to the state university's Manila campus for public viewing Thursday.

The UP administration on Tuesday, meanwhile, lifted its "no late payment policy" which groups said had forced Tejada into filing a leave of absence Mar. 13.

But student leaders insisted that the action should be followed by broader reforms, particularly the STFAP repeal and a tuition rollback.

"If a complete rollback is not possible, perhaps they can come up with a tuition rate that is equitable," UP Manila Student Councilor Adrian Sampang had said.

UP President Alfredo Pascual on Monday noted that the STFAP is up for revision by the UP Board of Regents.

A streamlined application process as well as increased stipends for STFAP grantees, he said, may be rolled out by next school year.