Govt can’t afford free tuition – economic managers

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Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno

MANILA, Philippines — Should it become a law, the bill granting free college education will require a budget of at least P100 billion a year, which the government cannot afford, the Duterte administration’s economic managers admitted to the House of Representatives Tuesday.

“We estimated that the cost of this bill … it will cost us P100 billion, and hindi po kaya ng gobyerno ‘yan (the government can’t afford that),” Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said in response to questions from Kabataan party-list Representative Sarah Elago during a briefing on the proposed P3.767-trillion 2018 national budget.

Responding to the same questions, National Economic Development Authority Director General Ernesto Pernia echoed Diokno, pointing out: “The budget for free tuition is quite large, it’s not (a) pittance, it’s going to be unsustainable over time.”

The proposed Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act was ratified by Congress in May and was submitted to Malacanang for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature on July 5.

If he does not act on it, the measure will lapse into law on August 5.

The bill covers tuition and other school fees of Filipino students enrolled in state universities and colleges, local universities and colleges and government-run technical-vocational institutions.

Elago asked the economic managers about the P8-billion fund for higher education, which she said was missing in the proposed 2018 budget.

“It’s a huge step back in providing free education,” she said.

The 2017 national budget included in the Special Provisions the P8.3 billion diverted from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s budget to CHEd for the Higher Education Support Fund to provide financial assistance to SUCs.

There are 14 SUCs in the country.

Davao Representative Karlo Nograles, House appropriations committee chairman, said he supports the restoration of the P8-billion budget for education.

But Diokno told Elago: “It’s a one year appropriation.  In the absence of any law, we can’t appropriate money for free tuition.”

He also pointed to statistics showing only 12 percent of poor students make it to state universities and colleges, so, “when we say free tuition, we’re actually subsidizing the rich.”

Pernia, citing the same statistics, said the free tuition bill “would (have) very little impact on poor children of poor families.”

“The reason for this is tuition is only one-half of the total cost of education, which is P60,000, and the biggest balance is eaten up by living expenses and other fees,” he added.

“Essentially, this free tuition in SUCs will benefit the children of families who would otherwise be able to very well afford tuition fees in SUCs and in fact, many of them come from upper income families,” he added.