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Senators upbeat on free tuition

SIX minority bloc senators said Saturday they were optimistic the newly-signed law providing free tuition for students enrolled in state universities and colleges will be fully implemented the soonest possible time despite hesitation from government’s economic managers.

The bloc is composed of Senators Franklin Drilon as the minority leader, Francisco Pangilinan, Benigno Paulo Aquino IV, Leila de Lima, Antonio Trillanes IV and Risa Hontiveros.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday signed into law the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act of 2017, providing “mandatory P16 billion funding” for free tuitions yearly in SUCs, over the objections of his economic managers, who said it might be too costly for the government.

“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,” the senators said in a joint statement.

Senator Franklin Drilon

The senators are hoping the economic managers would not bungle the implementation of the law, saying their cooperation is crucial in ensuring its success.

“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 said.

Congress already provided P8.3 billion to the Commission on Higher Education for tuition 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.

Aquino, 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 the P100 billion estimate made by DBM Secretary Benjamin Diokno.

The lawmakers assured the public 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,” said Drilon.

He also congratulated Aquino 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.

Pangilinan, for his part, said 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 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.

Both houses of Congress ratified the final version of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act in May, providing full tuition subsidy for students in 112 SUCs, local universities and colleges, and state-run technical-vocational schools. 

The bill was submitted for the President’s signature on July 5 and was endorsed as an “enrolled” bill.

Topics: free tuition , state universities and colleges , minority bloc senators , Franklin Drilon , Francisco Pangilinan , Benigno Paulo Aquino IV , Leila de Lima , Antonio Trillanes IV , Risa Hontiveros
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