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‘Free college education program to cost P51 B’

MANILA, Philippines — The government’s free tertiary education program may cost about P51 billion in the first year of its implementation, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said yesterday.

During a press briefing, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno confirmed the estimated amount needed for the implementation of Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act for academic year 2018-2019.

“At this time, we have (that) preliminary estimate of the program,” Diokno said.

He further stated that the budget requirement can reach close to P70 billion once the student population in state universities and colleges normalize with the rollout of the K to 12 program.

“There’s a gradual way of implementing it. Because of the K-12 program, by school year 2018-2019, there will be just freshmen and senior. By year two, there will be no enrollees for juniors and seniors; year three, no enrollees for senior and by year four, it will be full implementation,” Diokno said.

To fund the free tertiary education program, Diokno said the government is considering cutting the 2018 budget of some state agencies, which  he said, have yet to be determined.

He added that the DBM can also tap part of the P16-billion allocation for various scholarship programs of the government in the 2018 budget. But he said some scholarship programs, such as the one for doctors rolled out by the Department of Science and Technology, cannot be removed.

“If worse comes to worst, we will ask for a supplemental budget,” Diokno said.

RA 10931, which was signed into law by President Duterte last Aug. 3, will cover 112 state universities and colleges as well as Commission on Higher Education-accredited local universities and colleges and technical-vocational institutions run by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Under the law, students enrolled in the covered institutions will be exempted from paying tuition, miscellaneous and other school fees.

Select student beneficiaries will also be provided with allowance for books, school supplies, transportation and miscellaneous personal expenses, according to Diokno.

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