Free tuition in SUCs shows Duterte has ‘heart for the poor’

MANILA-- Senators on Friday thanked President Rodrigo Duterte for signing into a law a measure that would provide free tuition in state universities and colleges (SUCs) saying this showed his "heart for the poor".

"Let us thank President Rody Duterte for signing this into law. The fact that he signed this against the advice of many who wanted it to be vetoed shows he has a heart for the poor," Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri said in a statement.

Duterte signed the bill despite some reservations from his economic team because of its heavy budgetary implications.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno earlier said the government may afford granting free tuition in SUCs, which could run to about PHP100 billion annually if the bill passes into law. However, the Congress thought otherwise.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, for his part said that the President's move "shows where President Duterte's heart really is" also noting that he "went against the advice of his economic managers."

"This law achieves the type of genuine social change promised by the President, and his signature proves that he is a true champion of education reform," Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said in a separate statement.

Senator Loren Legarda, said that the President's move was a manifestation of "his commitment to provide access to higher education and better opportunities for the poor."

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, who described the President as teacher-in-chief pointed out that this development "removes obstacles to learning."

According to Senator Francis Escudero, chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture, the passage of the law would be "one of the lasting legacies of his presidency and the administration."

"It was an honor to work on this revolutionary education reform and fight for its passage, Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, principal author of the law said. "I am thrilled that Filipinos will benefit from a free college education."

Marching order

Senators, meanwhile, vowed to ensure that the law will be fully funded. At present, the expenditures for the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act is not provided for in the proposed budget for 2018.

Zubiri said the Congress should take the President's move as a marching order to fund and fully implement it.

Lacson expressed confidence saying that he knew that there's money in the national budget to fund the free tuition law noting that the Senate was able to realign PHP8.3 billion from the pork allocations of congressmen to SUCs through the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

Recto said that it would be wise to be open to economic managers' advice to phased implementation, as to the cost of fully implementing the law, as it covers not only SUCs but other tertiary education institutions like local government-run colleges and tech-voc public schools.

Legarda, meanwhile, urged the CHED to work on the immediate implementation of the law so that it becomes effective in the next school year and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to start drafting the rules and regulations (IRR) of the law.

It may be recalled that Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, pushed for the additional PHP8.3 billion allocation under the CHED budget.

Under the Universal Access to Tertiary Education Act into law, students will enjoy free education in SUCs as well as local universities and colleges (LUCs) and vocational schools under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) starting the second semester of schoolyear 2017 to 2018.

The government will shoulder miscellaneous and all other mandatory fees. Meanwhile, scholarship grants will also be made available to students of both public and private college and universities and a new and improved student loan program, where students can apply for financing for other education expenses.

Source: Philippine News Agency