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Provisions for free tuition in SUCs removed from 2018 budget, ACT lawmakers say

The Duterte administration has stricken off provisions for free tuition in state universities and colleges, lawmakers from ACT Teachers Party-list said on Thursday.

This, even though there was a P8.3 billion allocation for the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) in the 2017 for free tuition and other school fees.

"The 2018 budget omitted provisions that will provide free tuition for all undergraduate and medical students from SUCs," Representative Antonio Tinio said in a statement.

"In fact, there is a P6.29 Billion budget cut for the CHED," he added.

In the 2017 General Appropriations Act, the P8 billion was included in the CHED budget as the Higher Education Support Program (HESP), which was under Special Provision 2. Another P3 million, under Special Provision 6, was allocated for CHED as cash grants to medical students.

Special Provision 1 provides that "SUCs (state colleges and universities) are authorized to collect tuition fees and other necessary school charges in accordance with R.A. No. 8292."

This provided that "starting the first semester of SY 2017-2018, no tuition fee shall be collected from undergraduate students. In lieu of the income from tuition fees, the SUCs shall be provided financial assistance from the Higher Education Support Program of the CHED."

In the 2018 National Expenditure Program, neither Special Provisions 2 nor 6 were reiterated, while the provision on free tuition and the HESP in Special Provision 1 was removed.

"President Duterte’s economic managers consistently opposed the bill, then he himself subjected the P8.3 Billion allocation in the 2017 budget to conditional implementation.  And now, funds that are supposed to continue the free college program in 2018 are missing from his proposed budget," Tinio said.

Rep. France Castro, for her part, said the government should increase budget allocation for free tuition.

"Instead of removing funds for free tuition and other school fees, the administration should even increase the allocation to ensure that tertiary education remains free in 2018 and that more youth can avail of it," she said.

"It should even substantially increase SUCs' budgets to ensure that what they offer is indeed quality education. But now we see that the President's promise to make higher education free is just a bigay-bawi," she added.

Castro urged his fellow lawmakers at the Congress to bring back the provision for free tuition for undergraduate and medical students in 2018 budget.

"It supposedly has the power of the purse, so it should even take a step forward and significantly increase funds for free higher education," she said.

Tinio, meanwhile, urged President Rodrigo Duterte to sign the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Bill, which was already approved by both houses of the Congress.

He said Duterte had not yet signed the bill.

The websites of the Senate and the House of Representative show that it has already been submitted to the President on July 5.

The law will lapse into law 30 days after its transmittal to Malacañang if left unsigned.

Duterte may also veto the bill, meaning it will not become a law unless Congress overrides the negative presidential action. —NB, GMA News