PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law a bill granting tuition-free education in all state universities and colleges (SUCs).
“I am pleased to announce that last night, August 3, 2017, the President signed into law the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act,” Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said during the “Mindanao Hour” news briefing at Conrad Hotel in Pasay City on Friday.
The bill, passed by Congress in May, will have automatically become law on August 5 if the President did not act on it.
In February, the country’s economic managers expressed opposition to the bill, saying it would benefit largely “non-poor students.”
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia had said granting full tuition subsidy in all SUCs would disadvantage higher private education institutions.
On Friday, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the P3.8-trillion 2018 national budget would have to be revised, three days after saying the bill could cost the government P100 billion.
“Of course, there will be changes in the President’s 2018 budget which has some P16 billion in various types of scholarships,” Diokno told reporters in a text message.
Under the proposed 2018 budget, SUCs have an allocation of P64.6 billion.
Diokno said the law would immediately cover the first semester of the academic year 2018 to 2019.
“The law is forward-looking. It cannot be applied retroactively,” he explained.
The Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the final version of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act in May, which will provide full tuition subsidy to students in 114 SUCs, local universities and colleges, and government-run technical-vocational schools.
Senators to use ‘pork’ to fund law
Senators Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th and Panfilo Lacson said on Friday they would find ways to source the needed P25 billion to fully implement the free tuition law in SUCs. Authors of the bill in the House made a larger estimate: P34 billion.
Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Francis Escudero, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Vicente Sotto 3rd, and Ralph Recto lauded President Duterte for signing the Universal Access to Tertiary Education Act.
Lacson confirmed there was no free-tuition provision under the proposed P3.767-trillion budget for 2018. “We will have to scour the ‘pig pen’ again and cut the ‘pork’ to fund it,” he said.
Angara lauded the President for signing the free-tuition bill “despite some advising him to veto it.”
Ejercito said: “I would like to thank the President for signing this landmark legislation into law. This is an investment to further equip our most precious resource—the human resource.”
Sotto, in a tweet, said, “Great day for Philippine education.”
‘Victory for the youth’
At the House of Representatives, party-list representatives Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna and Sarah Elago of Kabataan, authors of the bill, said members of the House should appropriate funds for its implementation.
“[W]e are now calling on leaders and members of Congress to immediately set a budget for the measure so that the youth and students of our country would now benefit from it,” Zarate said.
Zarate and Elago said the law would need at least P34 billion in its first year.
Rep. Tom Villarin of Akbayan party-list said the measure should inspire the Chief Executive to show empathy for the poor.
“We welcome this victory for the youth and students who have relentlessly fought for the right to free education over the years. President Duterte’s move, however, does not exculpate him from his wrongful acts of promoting a culture of violence, mass murder, and misogyny,” said Villarin, also an author of the bill.
CATHERINE S. VALENTE, MAYVELIN U. CARABALLO, BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO AND LLANESCA T. PANTI