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‘Free tuition not available to all’

In his message, President Rodrigo Duterte lauded the “initiative of Congress to provide free tuition for all students of state universities and colleges starting the first semester of school year 2017-2018… and the provision of P8 billion for the higher education support fund.” File photo

MANILA, Philippines - Free tuition in state universities and colleges (SUCs) will not be available to all undergraduate students next year.

President Duterte has ordered that poor but academically qualified students would be given priority.

The order is contained in a message the President sent to Congress on Thursday, in which he vetoed certain provisions of the P3.35-trillion 2017 national budget and subjected several others to “conditional implementation.”

The P8-billion free tuition program in SUCs is among the provisions placed under conditional implementation.

In his message, Duterte lauded the “initiative of Congress to provide free tuition for all students of state universities and colleges starting the first semester of school year 2017-2018… and the provision of P8 billion for the higher education support fund.”

“Yet, as with all new programs, there is a need to safeguard the proper implementation of the provision of free tuition fee. It is important to underscore that we must give priority to financially disadvantaged but academically able students,” he said.

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The President ordered the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Department of Budget and Management to “issue the necessary guidelines which shall include, among others, the standards and procedure for entitlement and availment of free tuition by students of SUCs.”

The veto message accompanied the 2017 budget, which Duterte signed also on Thursday.

The P8 billion for free tuition was originally part of the P40-billion funding the President had proposed for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). It was intended for infrastructure projects in the region’s five provinces, which are among the poorest in the country.

In its version of the 2017 budget, the House, reportedly upon the request of ARMM lawmakers, transferred the P8-billion infrastructure fund to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). It is not clear why Muslim legislators made the request.

When the Senate considered the outlay, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who heads a subcommittee in charge of the ARMM funding, returned the P8 billion to the autonomous region.

As a compromise, the House-Senate conference committee realigned the amount to free tuition under CHED.

Among the provisions the President vetoed were those that sought to authorize certain agencies to use their income from fees.

He disallowed Congress and the Commission on Audit (COA) from keeping unused appropriations, reminding them of the mandate of the Constitution that “no money shall be paid out of the treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.”

“I call upon my dear colleagues in Congress and COA to join the executive (branch) to champion shared fiscal responsibility. To reiterate, all unreleased appropriations and unobligated allotments authorized in this Act shall revert back to the general fund at the end of the validity of appropriations and shall be available to expenditure only upon subsequent legislative enactment,” he said.

At the same time, Duterte reminded lawmakers of the separation of powers among the three branches of government.

“It has long been established that it is the executive branch which is responsible in the enforcement and implementation of laws. Accordingly, I hereby direct all agency heads to exercise political will and avoid any trace of influence from other branches of government in the implementation of programs, activities and projects,” he said.

He also directed the Department of National Defense and Department of the Interior and Local Government to ensure that military and uniformed personnel receive their rice subsidy “in a timely and efficient manner.”

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