Senator Win Gatchalian on Thursday expressed elation at the surprise signing into law of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.
"The Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act is a world-class reform that elevates educational access in the Philippines to a superior standard enjoyed by just a handful of progressive countries. Its passage into law is a historic moment that has fundamentally altered the state of education in our country for the better," said Gatchalian, co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.
Gatchalian expressed his "sincerest gratitude" to President Rodrigo Duterte for "believing in this reform and signing it into law" despite the misgivings of some of his top cabinet advisers.
"This law achieves the type of genuine social change promised by the President, and his signature proves that he is a true champion of education reform," he added.
Gatchalian also lauded his legislative peers in both houses of Congress for the strong multi-partisan support that allowed for its passage just over a year into the 17th Congress.
"It is great to see how the measure gained so much momentum over the past year," the senator said.
Gatchalian has been a vocal proponent of free college education for years now.
On July 6, 2015, Gatchalian (then serving as congressman of Valenzuela City) filed the first bill proposing the establishment of a full tuition subsidy in state universities and colleges (SUCs): House Bill No. 5905, the Free Higher Education Act. The bill was approved by the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education later that year, but no further action was taken on the measure for the rest of the 16th Congress.
Free tuition in SUCs then became Gatchalian's signature rallying cry during the 2016 senatorial elections, with passage of the bill as his foremost campaign promise. The idea caught fire during the campaign period, with presidential and senatorial candidates across the entire political spectrum indicating their support.
Upon his election to the Senate, Gatchalian re-filed the Free Higher Education Act (Senate Bill No. 198) as one of his priority measures for the 17th Congress, and continued to lobby aggressively for its passage as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
The final version of the bill signed into law by the President has further expanded the scope of the benefits provided. Gatchalian estimates that as many as 5.6 million undergraduate students enrolled in public and private HEIs will be granted aid through a mix of full tuition subsidies, grants, and other financial assistance. Included in this count are more than 200,000 students enrolled at local universities and colleges (LUCs) who will now enjoy a 100-percent subsidy for tuition and other fees after Gatchalian fought for their inclusion in the coverage of the law at the bicameral conference.
"We have come a long, long way from where we started with this advocacy. That battle cry of generations of student activists has now become firm government policy, and we are better for it. This is the collective victory of everyone who has fought to uphold and defend the inalienable right of every Filipino to quality tertiary education," Gatchalian said.
Source: Senate of the Philippines