House panel vows to fund free college education in SUCs

MANILA-- The chairman of the House appropriations committee on Friday vowed to provide the necessary funding for the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act which was signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a statement, Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, panel chair, said there is plenty of room to adjust the proposed PHP3.767-trillion national budget for 2018 in order to fund the landmark law to grant free college education in all state universities and colleges (SUCs) nationwide.

"Education is a great equalizer. It gives the poor the opportunity to change his way of life. We have already reviewed the possible financial implications and complications of this proposal and I can safely say that there is enough money to jumpstart this and sustain it in the long term," Nograles said.

Nograles noted that at least PHP8 billion was allotted in the Higher Education Support Fund in the 2017 budget, stressing that there should be no problem to source the funds to bankroll the free college education law.

"If we were able to do it this semester, I don't see any reason why we can't institutionalize it as part of government's social reform program," Nograles said.

The appropriations chair said the possible sources of the fund could be acquired from unspent funds and unutilized funds in the 2017 budget and unobligated projects.

He added that the committee will scrutinize the budget of underperforming and underspending agencies. At least PHP8 to 16 billion is needed for the free college education fund next year.

"We can derive our free college education fund from the allocations of underperforming agencies and those with poor absorptive capacity," Nograles said.

"I'm sure we can easily raise at least PHP8 billion which will be programmed in the 2018 national expenditure program for full implementation of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act," he added.

Nograles said signing the landmark legislation into law is a testament to President Duterte's commitment to uplift the lives of all Filipinos especially the poor and marginalized.

"The President deserves the full support and trust of the people for his progressive, responsive and determined leadership in showing the right way towards a meaningful change to achieve a real inclusive development," he said.

"President Duterte has just earned the distinction as the only President who succeeded in defying the odds against free tertiary education which other leaders before him had failed to achieve," he added.

MalacaAang announced Friday that President Duterte has signed into law the bill that would provide free tuition in state universities and colleges.

"I am pleased to announce that last night, Aug. 3, 2017, the President signed into law the enrolled bill," Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said during the Mindanao Hour briefing at Conrad Hotel in Pasay City.

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

Gueverra said that when Congress sent the bill to MalacaAang, there were a lot of discussions because of its heavy budgetary implications.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno earlier said the government may not be able to shoulder the cost of granting free tuition in SUCs, which could run to about PHP100 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 the cornerstone of the President's social development policy," Guevarra said.

Source: Philippine News Agency