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Duterte signs law granting free tuition in SUCs

MANILA, Philippines- President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law the bill that would provide free tuition in state universities and colleges (SUCs), Malacañang said Friday.

“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 Malacañang, 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 cornerstone of the President’s social development policy,” Guevarra said.

“So 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 PHP100-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 PHP16 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. (PNA)

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