Thursday, August 3, 2017

Duterte signs bill granting free tuition in SUCs

MANILA -  President Rodrigo Duterte has signed the bill granting free tuition in state colleges and universities, Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.

Duterte signed the law ahead of the 30-day period given under the Constitution before the bill lapses into a law.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, reacting to the passage of the bill, emphasized that it will be "prospective, not retroactive."

He said he will first have to estimate the cost of the program's implementation in the first semester of school year 2018-2019 to determine how much can be funded from the 2018 budget.

"We may have to consider disallowing use of income by SUCs. If worse comes to worst, we may consider asking for supplemental budget," he said in a statement.

The President signed the bill despite the reluctance of some members of his economic team on the proposed measure due to the cost that will be entailed in funding free tertiary education.

Guevarra, however, said the President considered the long-term benefits that the free tuition and other fees will give to the public.

“Free tertiary education in SUCs is a very strong pillar or cornerstone of the President’s social development policy,” Guevarra said in a news conference in Pasay City.

“He weighed everything and came to the conclusion that the long-term benefits that will be derived from the well-developed tertiary education on the part of the citizenry will definitely outweigh any short-term budgetary challenges.”

Diokno earlier said the government may not be able to shoulder the cost of granting free tuition in SUCs. He said the government may have to shell out P100 billion annually if the bill passes into law.

Guevarra, however, said Diokno’s estimate may have been based on the the assumption that all the aspects of the law, including the non-mandatory provisions, will be implemented all at the same time.

Citing data from the Commission on Higher Education, Guevarra said an initial amount of P16 billion may be needed to fund the mandatory provisions of the law, such as the grant of free tuition and miscellaneous fees.

“That’s manageable,” he said in a chance interview.

He added that Congress, which is now deliberating the proposed budget for 2018, will now have to put into consideration the newly passed law.

“The President has already submitted the National Expenditure Program, but during the budget deliberations, anything can still happen. Certain adjustments can be made, possibly a reallocation can be done,” Guevarra said.

He added the government is also hoping to get official development assistance and grants from local and international donors for the implementation of the law.

While the law will take effect 15 days after its publication in a newspaper of general circulation, the benefits under it may be felt in the next enrolment.

Guevarra said the grant of other educational expenses such as books, board and lodging, student loans, and scholarships, will have to be subsidized by a fund to be established by the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UNIFAST) board.

“As far as I understand, these are not the mandatory provisions. When the student enrols in a state college, it does not mean he will have all of this at the same time,” he said.

He also noted that those who will be given free educational expenses apart from tuition should belong to the “bottom 20 percent” of the student population.