The Senate Minority bloc lauded the President's signing of the landmark law granting universal access to college education but warned that his economic managers' opposition to the law may affect its full implementation.
"We laud the President's decision to sign the law even when there was some hesitation from his economic managers. The challenge now, however, is to ensure that the new law will be effectively and completely implemented in 112 state colleges and universities nationwide," they said in a statement on Saturday.
"The new law will only become a reality if government allocates enough and accessible funding for SUCs nationwide. The executive branch and Congress must work closely to make tertiary education accessible to all through tuition subsidies and financial assistance," they stressed.
"We hope that his economic managers would not bungle its implementation. Their cooperation is crucial to ensuring the success of this landmark law
The Senate Minority Bloc is composed of Senators Franklin M. Drilon as the minority leader, Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV, and Leila De Lima, all belonging to the Liberal Party; Sen. Antonio "Sonny" Trillanes IV; and Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros.
Congress already provided P8.3 billion to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) for tuition fee subsidy in the current General Appropriations Act. However, the Department of Budget and Management has removed provisions for free tuition in SUCs in the 2018 National Expenditures Program that was submitted to Congress during the President's second State of the Nation Address.
Senator Bam, who is the principal author and sponsor of the measure in the Senate, estimated that the law would require about P20 to P25 billion to be implemented nationwide, way below Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno's P100 billion estimate.
The minority bloc then assured the public that it would ensure that adequate budget would be included in the next year's appropriation act.
"We are glad that the President saw just how important this law is to ensuring that every young Filipino will have a greater opportunity to finish their studies, and to improve their lives and that of their families," Drilon said.
Drilon also congratulated the "inspiring persistence and passion" of Sen. Bam, who pushed for the passage of the bill even when he was stripped of chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture.
"I would like to thank my colleague Senator Aquino, for his pivotal role in this fight to bring quality education closer to all Filipinos, no matter their status or condition in life. This law will bring a positive effect to the lives of not only young Filipinos today, but in the years to come as well," Drilon said.
Minority senators de Lima and Pangilinan also co-authored the law, he noted.
"I wish to thank the President for signing the free college tuition into law. Congratulations to my fellow lawmakers and everyone who supported this policy," Aquino said in a statement.
According to Pangilinan, the signing of the Free Higher Education Act "brings a promise of brighter future to our youth and our nation."
"This great progress also proves that while as members of the minority we may disagree with certain policies of the administration, there are issues that unite us to better our country and the life of every Filipino," Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party, said.
"We must now make sure that this achievement is really felt in our SUCs during enrollment period, and not just in paper," he said.
Hontiveros, for her part, said: "Kaisa ng hanay ng kabataang Pilipino, ipinagbubunyi ko ang pagsasabatas ng Free Higher Education Law. Ito ay tagumpay ng ating kabataan at ng bawat estudyante na magsisilbing daan sa mas magandang buhay sa bawat mag-aaral. Ito ay bunga ng matagal at matapang nilang laban para sa dekalidad at libreng edukasyon."
Hontiveros congratulated Aquino "for leading the final charge to victory and ensuring the passage of this measure" and thanked her fellow senators "for crossing party lines in brave support of this law."
Source: Senate of the Philippines