By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
I have decided it is time to go.”
Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chairperson Patricia Licuanan stressed this while announcing she was resigning from her post on Monday.
“While my term by law ends in July, 2018, I have decided it is time to go. It has become obvious that there are persons determined to get me out of CHEd by hurling false and baseless accusations against me in what appears to be a fishing expedition and a well-orchestrated move in media,” Licuanan said during Monday’s flag-raising at the CHEd office in Quezon City which she claimed was going to be her last.
Licuanan reportedly received a call from Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea over the weekend asking her to tender her resignation.
Licuananhad earlier expressed her intention to finish her term until July this year but was “asked to resign” from her post. She was expected to turn in her resignation papers Monday.
In the previous weeks, Licuanan has been under fire for her alleged excessive travels in 2017 and alleged “incompetency” of her leadership for failing to address delays in the release of living allowances for some 9,400 government scholars under its K to 12 Transition Program.
She strongly denied the accusations but said she opted to step down from her post as her continued presence in CHED is “inimical to the interest of the institution.”
Licuanan noted that should she insist to stay, “it will only serve as lightning rod to attract more controversy that is distracting the agency from vigorously pursuing urgent reforms that will redound to the benefit of future generations of Filipinos.”
On her alleged “excessive travel,” Licuanan maintained that records showed that she only travelled 24 times in the past five years: eight times officially in 2017 (with only five of these trips paid for by the government); five times in 2016; six times in 2015; two times in 2014, and three times in 2013. “The accusation turned to travel without authority from the Office of the President,” she said.
Licuanan noted that when her office provided copies of travel papers signed by the Senior Deputy Executive Secretary authorizing her to meet specific commitments in line with CHEd’s internationalization mandate and allowing her to travel business class to avoid the recurrence of vertigo, her “ability to attend to CHEd work for health reasons was maliciously peddled in social media” even if she has “worked consistently in CHEd from 6:45 a.m. to after 6 p.m. on most days and took a sick leave only for half a day in 7.5 years in office.”
Earlier, PuwersangBayaningAtletaPartylist Representative Jericho Nograles on Facebook alleged that Licuanan did not obtain Malacañang’s approval for official travels she made last year.
Representative Frederick Siao also hinted that the CHEd chair should opt for an “honorable exit” through resignation.
On December 5, 2016, Licuanan was given a desist order – banning her from attending Cabinet meetings as per the directive of President Duterte. Soon after, high ranking officials of CHEd, led by former Executive Director JulitoVitriolo requested the President to “appoint a chairperson of his choice.”
Vitriolo then accused Licuanan of “usurping the authority and power of the CHEd chairmanship” and “further putting the plans and program of the Duterte administration, the operations of the CHEd as an agency, the welfare of its stakeholders as well as the use of government funds, in grave peril and prejudice.”
Licuanan was appointed as CHEdchair in 2010 under the Aquino administration. She has a fixed term of four years and was reappointed in 2014. Despite the controversies hounding her leadership, she expressed her intention to finish her term this year.
Licuananhad earlier denounced as “malicious allegations” the corruption and mismanagement of funds allotted for the living allowances and other grants under the program leveled at her. “It has been my personal commitment to stamp out corruption in CHEd since day one, despite the odds,” she said. “We have implemented the program with the highest level of ethical stewardship…every peso is accounted for,” she added.
Meanwhile, Licuanan also clarified that only 4,096 faculty scholars under its local scholarships are experiencing delays in the release of living allowances contrary to earlier reports that 9,500 scholars have been affected.
As of January 11, Licuanan said that Commission has “fully released allowances” for 2,051 scholars – who have submitted complete documentary requirements. This, she added, is “an ongoing effort” since November 2017 following the resumption of the processing of allowances after the Commission on Audit (COA) issued Notices of Suspension.
Understanding the delays the program has encountered, Licuanan said that the Commission “has also approved” the partial release of living allowances for 1,011 scholars with valid contracts and enrolment forms, despite pending requirements.
Licuanan noted that the “balance will be released to these scholars upon submission of remaining documents to the CHEd Regional Offices.” Meanwhile, she said that “933 scholars will receive no allowances due to non-submission of enrollment forms.”
Despite her resignation, Licuanan said that she was “deeply grateful for the rare opportunity to have served Philippine higher education.”
Licuanan also wished for the “reforms that ought to transcend political divides and have their roots in many previous administrations – reforms of access and equity, quality and relevance, excellence and competitiveness, and good governance – to continue when the CHED political cloud dissipates and the agency settles down to the task of pursuing its mandate.”
As a private citizen, Licuanan said that she intends “to continue as a dedicated advocate for reform in Philippine higher education.”
New CHED chair
Senator Paolo “Bam” Aquino IV on Monday lamented the resignation of Licuanan.
Aquino said that as a former chair of the Senate Committee on Education, he can attest to Licuanan’s dedication to improve access to quality education as they worked closely to pass the free college law.
“Higher education has lost a dependable ally with the resignation of CHED Chairperson Patricia Licuanan,” Aquino said in a statement.
Aquino said Licuanan was instrumental in the crafting of the free college education law.
We “thank Chairperson Licuanan for her immeasurable service to Filipino students and for all her help in crafting the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act,” Aquino said.
Aquino said Malacañang should immediately appoint a replacement who has the ability and the will to effectively implement the said law.
“We look forward to working with yet another staunch advocate for quality education in the Philippines,” he said.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, on the other hand, said that while Licuanan opposed the free college education law during congressional hearings, he appreciated the speed with which the CHED prepared the guidelines for the law’s implementation under her watch.
“I hope that her sudden exit will not have a negative impact on the free college policy at this critical stage of implementation,” Gatchalian said.
But Gatchalian said Licuanan’s resignation “presents an opportunity to appoint a younger, more dynamic CHEd chair who is more sensitive to the struggles and aspirations of the students.”