Senator Loren Legarda today said that providing free tertiary education in public colleges and universities is the government's commitment to the people now that the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act has been enacted.
Legarda, co-author and co-sponsor of the law, said that it is logical that after implementing the K-12 curriculum comes the provision for free tuition in all state universities and colleges (SUCs), as well as in local universities and colleges (LUCs) and state-run technical-vocational institutions.
"Even before the K-12 curriculum was implemented, many were against it because it was seen as an additional expense especially for low-income families who would also want to bring their children to college. But with the passage of the Free Higher Education Law, we are addressing the concerns of poor families, we are giving our youth the chance to obtain a college degree, and we are assured that our students are at par with the rest of the world because of the K-12," she explained.
Legarda, who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance, acknowledged that funding the law is a challenge, but is not impossible.
"If we are able to provide funds for universal healthcare, free irrigation, and higher budget for infrastructure, there is no reason not to provide for free college education. After all, the Constitution states that education should be the highest budgetary priority. It is not enough that it is at the top of the budget list, we must also ensure that funds are sufficient," she said.
"While the administration's economic managers had reservations with the measure, now that it is a law, we need to fund it. The Department of Budget and Management's (DBM) role is crucial in crafting the law's implementing rules and regulations (IRR) to ensure that it is funded every year," she stressed.
Legarda explained that as the Senate starts scrutinizing the proposed P3.767-trillion budget for 2018, they will look into agencies that have a history of underspending and will also check the urgency of implementing proposed programs to be funded.
Data from the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) shows that based on figures from January to June 2017, total national government expenditures in 2017 is likely to fall short by P153 billion, which means underspending is still apparent.
"We will also review how the 8.3 billion pesos additional allocation to jumpstart the free tuition in SUCs was implemented this year. This would help in crafting the IRR," Legarda said.
The free tuition in SUCs is being implemented in the current school year due to the intervention of Legarda, who, as chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, pushed for the additional P8.3 Billion allocation under the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) budget.
"As in any new law, implementation is always a challenge, but now is the time to work together to ensure that we keep our commitment to the people. There is no greater investment than education, to build a sustainable and progressive nation," Legarda said.
The Senator also said that while the law only covers tuition fee, indigent students may still avail of grants and aid for miscellaneous fees under various programs.
College students belonging to family-beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) are covered by the Expanded Students' Grants in Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (ESGP-PA), while those who are not part of the 4Ps can avail of financial assistance for educational purposes under the Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAPs) both under the CHED and SUCs.
Source: Senate of the Philippines