A party-list allied with President Rodrigo Duterte maintained that all students in state universities and colleges (SUCs) should be covered by the free tuition law as it opposed the planned conditional implementation of the free tuition policy.
Rep. Sarah Elago of Kabataan party-list was reacting to President Rodrigo Duterte’s veto message for the P3.35 trillion 2017 budget that the free tuition will be subjected to conditional implementation, meaning the government will give priority to financially disadvantaged students who excel academically.
The President tasked the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to issue guidelines which shall include, among others, the standards and procedure for entitlement and availment of free tuition by students of SUCs as well as the mechanism for the SUCs to tap the Higher Education Support Fund.
Elago argued that the government cannot limit the beneficiaries of the free tuition policy since the same 2017 budget law containing the veto message also states that “no tuition shall be collected from undergraduate students” because SUCs will be given an additional P8.3 billion budget to cover for the said fees.
“The Duterte administration should swiftly implement the new free tuition policy in state universities and colleges and allow all students to benefit from it. The President’s message on conditional implementation might counter the essence of the provision which clearly qualifies all SUC students for free tuition,” the lawmaker said.
“If we read the President’s message very carefully, he did not explicitly state that not all SUC students will be able to avail of free tuition. He only stressed that financially disadvantaged students should be prioritized. Yet, the intention of said message might indeed be to limit who will be covered,” Elago added.
“If CHED and DBM releases such limiting guidelines, such guidelines will contravene what is stated in the law. Implementing guidelines can only be crafted within the bounds of the law. The provision for free tuition in the 2017 General Appropriations Act is clear – every SUC student should be covered by the free tuition policy. CHED and DBM cannot disallow the availing of free tuition in any SUC by any undergraduate student. To do so will be to contravene the law,” Elago stressed.
The lawmaker vowed to clarify the matter with the President. She said her group will also submit to to CHED and DBM a draft implementing guidelines that will ensure that all SUC students will be covered by the free tuition policy.
“We cannot allow this initial victory to be snatched from us. We are ready to seek legal action and go as far as seeking redress in the Supreme Court if and when CHED and DBM issue guidelines that will disqualify SUC students from availing free tuition,” she said.