MANILA - Most senatorial candidates who attended a televised forum at the country's premier state university are in agreement: government must increase the budget for state universities and colleges (SUCs). Not all, however, are in favor of free tuition for all SUC students.

Senatorial bet Sherwin Gatchalian said all students in SUCs should study for free, saying government only needs to allocate P14 billion yearly to pay for the tuition of all 1.5 million students in SUCs.

"Kakailanganin lang natin ay P14 billion to support 1.5 million students nationwide. P14 billion, if you compare it with the [Priority Development Assistance Fund], PDAF was P225 billion. P14 billion, if you compare to [Disbursement Acceleration Program], DAP was about P140 billion. Maliit na maliit lang ito kumpara sa mga anomalyang nangyari," he said.

He also defended the entry of students from middle-class and affluent families to the University of the Philippines or other SUCs who would then benefit from his proposal for free education.

"I believe karamihan nitong mayayaman o may kaya man, they come to UP because of the quality, because UP is a reputable school. Kilala ito sa buong mundo and that's a good thing. Maganda yan sa atin dahil tumataas ang reputasyon ng ating minamahal na eskwelahan. Pero tingin ko maliit na parte lang yan ng kabuuan. If I go around the country, pumupunta ako sa SUCs, siguro 70%-90% of students talagang nahihirapan silang bayaran ang tuition fee nila. May cost pa, transportation, food, dormitory," he said.

"This is a small portion. Probably less than 5% of the total so we have to look at the system as a whole," he added.

Senatorial candidate Lorna Kapunan, however, said rich students should pay full tuition while those from lower-income families should be charged less or even get free education.

"Nung nandito ako sa UP, singko [sentimo] lang ang Ikot at nahihiya nga ako na may dala akong kotse at kayang-kaya ko yung gasolina at tinatago ko yung kotse para di makita ng iba. Ngayon, iba na nga ang sistema. Yung socialized tuition fee na yan, tinitingnan talaga ang mga income brackets," she said.

"There should be socialized tuition fees and there should be honesty...That is socialized education," she said.

Ex-senator Juan Miguel Zubiri noted that when he was a student of UP Los Banos, he rallied against the implementation of the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) because he wanted socialized tuition for all UP students.

He said increasing the UP budget is a "no-brainer." He also said that while he understands why rich students should pay tuition, he wants more students in SUCs to get free tuition.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said tuition should be free to deserving students in SUCs. He also protested the leasing of portions of UP property to commercial enterprises, saying any form of compromising the educational system through commercialization is unacceptable.

Senatorial bet Susan "Toots" Ople, daughter of the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople, said the P2 billion cut in the budget for the University of the Philippines is a "criminal offense." She also said any form of commercialization of UP property should not continue without a referendum.

Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo said no senatorial candidate will say they are against increasing the budgets of SUCs. However, he said the government must also find a way to provide financial assistance for books, dorm fees and other expenses to college students.

ACT-CIS party list Rep. Samuel Pagdilao said he believes the people's money should be equitably distributed to students.

"Kung sino nga ang mas may kakayahan sa buhay, he should also be able to pass on or to share dun sa mga mas nangangailangan. Those who are more situated in life should pay," he said.

He added: "When you increase the budget of UP and SUCs, there will be more deserving students who will be accepted, especially those who are below the poverty line, more opportunities to get the education they deserve especially quality education from UP, more students and also infrastructure, better infrastructure..."