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Sec. Benjamin Diokno
Sec. Benjamin Diokno

No free tuition until 2018 despite law, says Diokno

President Duterte has signed the bill that would provide free tuition in state universities and colleges (SUCs) into law last Friday but the government would not offer free tertiary education until next year. 

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said Republic Act (RA) 10931, the law providing free tuition fee to students enrolled in state colleges and universities (SUCs), will be implemented starting school year 2018-19.

”The law is forward looking. It cannot be applied retroactively. Hence, in the immediate term we’re talking of academic year 2018-19; strictly speaking, the first semester of academic year 2018-19,” Diokno said.

Duterte signed the bill despite some reservations from his economic team.

After Congress sent the bill to Malacañang, opposition mainly from the economic managers held up Mr. Duterte’s signature to enact the law because of its heavy budgetary implications.

Diokno earlier said the government may not be able to shoulder the cost of granting free tuition in SUCs, which could run to about P100 billion annually if the bill passes into law.

“But Duterte’s will to provide free higher education to the public prevailed. Free tertiary education in SUCs is a very strong pillar and cornerstone of the President’s social development policy,” Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.

“He 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 budget challenges… If there’s a will, there’s a way,” he added.

Guevarra likewise said that the DBM’s P100-billion estimate seems to be on the very high side because it is on the basis on the assumption that all aspects of the free tuition bill will be implemented all at the same time.

The Palace official explained that the law only compels the government to subsidize free tuition and other fees such as library fees, ID fees and laboratory fees among others.

He said that according to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), an initial amount of P16 billion may be needed to fund the mandatory provisions of the law. “That’s manageable,” Guevarra told reporters.

Meanwhile, he said other educational expenses such as books, board and lodging, student loans, and scholarships should be covered by the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST).

“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. In other words, ‘yung mga talagang nangangailangan. The bottom 20 percent will be prioritized in terms of subsidy for educational-related expenses,” Guevarra said.

As for the actual funding, the Palace official said that Congress will now have to make the necessary appropriations to fund this long-term project of the government on free SUC education.

“That is something for the Congress to think about. The President has already submitted the National Expenditure Program for 2018. But during the budget deliberations, many things can still happen. Certain adjustments can be made. So possibly a reallocation may be done. And under the law itself, there are other sources of funding for this SUC free tuition program,” Guevarra said.

He added that the government is eyeing official development assistance and donations both from the local and the international sectors as possible sources of additional funds to tide things over, especially in the first few years of the implementation of the program.

”There should be no expansion in student population,” Diokno said, noting that this would be the basis for budget allocation.

Under the proposed P3.767 trillion national budget for 2018, the Department of Education will have P613.1 billion allocation, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), P13.5 billion, and SUCs, P64.6 billion.

The proposed budget for government assistance and subsidies for students and teachers amounts to P39.3 billion from this year’s P35.8 billion while about P4.8 billion was allocated for beneficiaries of CHED’s Tulong Dunong Program.

“Of course, there will be changes in the President’s 2018 budget which has some P166 billion in various types of scholarships. I will head the committee that will prepare the IRR (Implementing Rules and Regulations),” Diokno added.

Last July 5, Congress submitted the bill to Malacañang for Mr. Duterte’s signature.

Trade group Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF), support the economic managers in recommending a veto.

FEF said it believes the proposed Act will cause substantial amount of taxpayers’ money to be spent on measures that are unlikely to result in the achievement of intended objectives.

Diokno estimates that the proposal will cost about P100 billion. This amount is not pittance, to echo National Economic Development Authority Director General Ernesto Pernia observation, FEF said.

It added that the government can ill afford to waste scarce public resources on the proposed measures.

“These measures are not only of doubtful effectiveness but also arguably anti-poor and inconsistent with the pro-poor orientation of the President’s development agenda. Our view is supported by the following arguments,” FEF said in a statement.

The free tuition subsidy will benefit predominantly the well-off, economic managers and Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS) fellows Dr. Aniceto Orbeta and Dr. Vicente Paqueo said.

Only a small proportion of the subsidy will benefit the poor, since only a small percentage (12 percent) of them make it to state colleges and universities (SUCs).

There is also no evidence that making already highly subsidized SUCs tuition-free will increase the overall tertiary enrollment rate, let alone the enrollment probability of poor children.

“Neither is there evidence that making SUCs free will improve the learning achievement of students,” it added.

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