by Hannah Torregoza
Senators yesterday urged the Duterte administration to consider the benefits to be reaped when the bill granting full government subsidy of tuition fee in State Universities and Colleges (SUC) is passed into law.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said the administration’s opposition to the passage of the measure was raised during a meeting with the President Tuesday night where the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) claimed the government cannot afford to spend P100 billion for free tuition.
“The entire Senate contingent pushed for the approval by the President of the measure, as it will benefit our tertiary level students. The principal bone of contention is the budget,” Drilon told reporters at the sidelines of a Senate hearing.
Drilon said the Senate contingent argued that the budget for the implementation of the measure is only about P20 to P25-billion and lawmakers have incorporated P8.5-billion from the present budget.
“We strongly argued that we need not to implement in its entirety the free tuition act on year one. In other words, we can phase it so that the other aspects of the law can be implemented after year one,” Drilon said.
“As expected (Budget) Secretary (Benjamin) Diokno objected to the approval of the President and strongly recommended a veto, and was pushing for the full implementation instead of the UNIFAST law,” he said.
UNIFAST stands for Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education Act or Republic Act 10687 which mandates the government to put up a system and create a body that would oversee and harmonize all student financial assistance programs for a more targeted, speedy and sustained granting of scholarship programs.
“Now the bill is with the President. I’m sure that he will consider the views of the senators present and the opposition of Sec. Diokno. At the end of the day that is the burden of leadership. We hope that the President will approve this bill,” he said, adding that there is sufficient appropriation for the program under the national budget.
‘A GOOD INVESTMENT’
Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, however said that, as a long-time youth welfare advocate and author of the Free Education for All Act, he had always believed that the government should treat budget for free education “as an investment for the future rather than an expense.”
Ejercito said that if the government can spend P70-billion a year for conditional cash transfer, which is a dole-out, then he cannot see any reason why the government cannot spend P28-billion for higher education.
“I would rather invest for higher education since this is the best way out of poverty and not through dole outs,” Ejercito said.
“I urge our economic managers to reconsider their position by pushing for free SUC education so we can have a college graduate in every Filipino family,” Ejercito said.
Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara vowed to re-file the bill in the event President Duterte vetoes the same.
“If the President vetoes the measure which I still hope he won’t, we will surely re-file a version purged of what the executive branch saw as the objectionable provisions,” Angara said.
Angara conceded that a veto over-ride, to be mustered by two-thirds of members in each house of Congress, is nearly impossible if not extremely difficult.
“It is like praying for snow in Manila. So what we can do is to immediately re-file the bill and request the Senate education committee chair to prioritize it,” Angara stressed, adding he was “deeply saddened” over the pronouncements made by the administration’s economic managers.
But Sen. Francis Escudero, Senate education committee chairman, said free tuition and other fees in SUCs costs only P14-billion, which is only 0.3 percent of the proposed 2018 General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“Those who enroll in SUCs cannot afford the tuition fees in private schools. It’s a totally different market,” Escudero said.
“Given that we plan to spend P1.1-trillion for infrastructure capital outlay in the administration’s ‘Build, build, build’ program, its a small investment on our human capital resource that will go a long way and which should be part of such a ‘Build’ campaign…building on our human capital resources and investing in our people,” he said.