By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
President Duterte signed the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act which grants free tuition to students of all state universities and colleges (SUCs) in the country on Thursday, Malacañang announced Friday morning.
Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said during the Mindanao Hour press briefing Friday morning that Duterte has signed the bill Thursday night and explained why it took the President a long time to sign the bill despite free education being a huge part of his platform.
“The enrolled bill came to the Office of the President nearly 30 days ago and during that period, there had been a lot of discussions and study about the bill because of its heavy budgetary implication” he explained.
Pillar of social development
Guevarra said that free tertiary education in SUCs is a very strong pillar or cornerstone of Duterte’s social development policy and that the President was still trying to figure out the best possible solution regarding the bill.
“So we weighed everything and came to the conclusion that the long-term benefits that will be derived from a well-developed tertiary education on the part of the citizenry will definitely outweigh any short-term budgetary challenges,” he said.
The Palace official also said that, whether or not economic managers are for the passing of the bill, the more important thing now is to find the budgetary allocation for the program.
Focus on funding
“Everyone, including the economic managers, will have to focus their attention on this particular aspect funding for this program because this will have to be implemented soon,” Guevarra said, adding that the SUC law will be implemented next school year.
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno earlier suggested to Duterte to veto the bill as the government cannot afford to shoulder its cost estimated to be around P100 billion.
Duterte earlier said that he will decide on the fate of the bill before the deadline.
It was submitted to his office on July 5, 2017 and would have lapsed into a law Friday, based on the 1987 Constitution.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag earlier said that one of the budgetary considerations is the rehabilitation of Marawi City, Lanao del Sur which has been the battleground between the government troops and terrorists since May 23, 2017.
Since Duterte has already submitted the proposed 2018 national budget to the Congress, Guevarra said that certain adjustments can still be made so allocation for the law can be made.
“That is really the principal responsibility of the Congress when they deliberate on the budget. Right now, I have nothing very specific to say about which projects or which programs or which agency proposed budget might be affected,” he said.
“If the Congress is really serious in finding the appropriate funding for this free tuition program, they will have to find the necessary sources for this particular program,” he added.
Guevarra also addressed the estimate of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) that P100 billion would be needed to implement the SUC law.
“The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) thinks otherwise. The P100-billion estimate of the DBM seems to be on the very high side because that is on the basis on the assumption that all aspects of the free tuition bill will be implemented all at the same time,” he said.
The CHED estimated that P34.1 billion would be needed for the implementation of the law.
According to Guevarra, the government would only have to spend on the mandatory provisions of the bill which includes tuition and miscellaneous fees which would need around P16 billion.
The related educational expenses like books and boarding would be shouldered for “deserving 20 percent” by the CHED’s Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) program.
“As far as I know those are the only mandatory provisions of the bill for now. The free tuition and other fees. Other fees would refer to something like library fees, ID fees, laboratory fees, and stuff like that,” Guevarra explained.
“Now as to the subsidy for related educational expenses, that is something to be processed by the UniFAST board which is supposed to have a system of priority,” he said, adding that the fund and system under the UniFAST are yet to be established.
“In other words, ‘yung mga talagang nangangailangan (those who are in need), the bottom 20 percent, will be prioritized in terms of subsidy for educational-related expenses,” he added.
The UniFAST rationalizes the allocation, utilization and client-targeting of government resources and improves access to quality higher and technical education for those who need it.
Tags: Duterte administration, Duterte signs bill on free tuition in SUCs, free tuition, Law, Manila Bulletin, Menardo Guevarra, signed, state universities and colleges, SUCs, tertiary education, UniFAST, Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act