Duterte signs bill granting free SUC tuition into law

President Rodrigo has signed into law a bill granting free tuition to students studying in government-run colleges and universities. File photo

Duterte signs bill granting free SUC tuition into law
Audrey Morallo (Philstar.com) - August 4, 2017 - 3:34am

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 1 10:12 a.m.) — President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the bill granting free tuition to students studying in state universities and colleges, the Palace announced on Friday, a move that went against the advice of the chief executive’s economic managers who wanted him to veto the measure because of its tag price.

Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that Duterte made the decision after weighing and studying the measure and its attendant issues, especially its budgetary implications.

“I am pleased to announce that last night the president signed into law the enrolled bill,” Guevarra announced in the Bangon Marawi Forum in Pasay City.

He said that the chief executive believed that the long-term benefits from this program would outweigh its short-term “budgetary challenges.”

“Free tertiary education in state colleges and universities is a very strong pillar and cornerstone of the president’s social development policy,” he told local and international media.

The bill “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education” was submitted to the president's office on July 5, and the economic advisers of Duterte advised him to veto it.

According to the economic team, the government does not have the funds to implement the program which is expected to cost P100 billion, according to the budget department.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said that the government could not afford the P100-billion price tag of the measure to fund the studies of students in government higher educational institutions.

“It will cost us around P100 billion. The government cannot afford that,” Diokno said.

Ernesto Pernia, the socioeconomic planning chief, said that the program would not benefit the poor and would pose a financial drain for the government. He added that it would also lead to an influx of students from private institutions to the state-funded ones.

“It will disadvantage private because there will be an exodus [due to] the attractiveness of SUCs. There will be an exodus of students from private universities to SUCs. Note that the rating and performance of private HEIs are higher than that of SUCs. In fact, in terms of passing rates and licensure exams, they perform much better than students coming from SUCs,” Pernia told lawmakers in the House hearing on the proposed 2018 budget.

On Thursday, the presidential palace said that Duterte would consider the economic managers’ reservations about the measure.

“The President has always wanted to give a comfortable life. Who does not want that? But if the advice states that the government will have a hard time to cope with it, he would consider that,” Ana Maria Banaag, a presidential spokesperson, said.

Guevarra said that the economic managers should now focus on helping to look for funding for the law, which he described at its most serious challenge.

“I don’t think that [convincing the economic managers] is necessary at all. Everyone has to look forward to implement this law,” he said.

The government official however did not mention any specific funding sources for the measure as this was the job of Congress according to him.

One possibility is the reallocation of resources, according to Guevarra, although no specific program or agency has been identified yet.

“Official development assistance is one possible source. We are hoping that donations, both local and international, will help us tide over in the next few years of the program,” he said.

The University of the Philippines on Monday issued a memorandum ordering the resumption of collection of tuition from its students, weeks after it announced its suspension.

RELATED: Senators hail passage of free tuition law

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