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SUCs decry P4-B cut in proposed 2024 budget for free college education

The Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) on Monday decried the P4.16-billion funding shortage for free college education in SUCs under the government's proposed P5.678-trillion budget for 2024.

In a budget deliberation, Dr. Tirso Ronquillo, president of the Philippine Association of SUCs, told the House appropriations panel that they initially proposed P25.85 billion but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) only approved P21.69 billion.

“Our projection is based on our projected enrollment and existing tuition in each SUCs. We factored in increase in enrollment, rule of thumb,” Ronquillo said.

DBM Director Grace delos Santos, in response, said the budget for free college education in SUCs under the proposed 2024 budget is based on the actual billing or expenses the SUCs spent for the said program in 2022.

“Our basis is not their projection, but the actual billing in 2022. That is the DBM policy,” Delos Santos said.

Ronquillo lamented such policy, saying it increased the budget deficiency for free college education in SUCs from P2.8 billion in 2022 to P4.23 in 2023 before it slightly went down to P4.16 billion in 2024.

“With due respect to our colleagues in DBM, that is where the gap is lying. When we presented our proposed budget for 2024, of course, our expectation is the projected enrollment for 2024 must be used. DBM officials said their basis is not even 2023 because they are saying 2023 is not yet done. Granted that we don’t have a full picture of 2023, if we simply copy [the funding] for 2022 [based on actual billing], I don’t see the realism there," Ronquillo pointed out.

"If you are looking for a semi-accurate or near accurate projection for 2024... and you will be using the actual billion for 2022... there is a two-year gap there. We will be forever like this,” he added.

Ronquillo said that if the budget for free college education has long been based on SUCs’ projected enrollees, such deficiency will not exist by now.

“I don’t know, really. I cannot fathom the rationale of that computation [by DBM]. Wala po tayong deficiency sana kung iyon man lang projection ng 2023 [ang ginamit]. Simple rule of thumb, around 2.5% to 5% [increase in enrollment],” Ronquillo stressed.

“If the reason is we don’t have money [for it], it’s acceptable. But if the reason [of budget deficiency] is [our] projection, then its somehow... unfathomable,” Ronquillo added.

Kabataan party-list Representative Raoul Manuel, who earned his Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics degree in UP Visayas which is an SUC, agreed.

“Based on the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education law, the funding should be based on the projection of SUCs. DBM should consider their proposal kasi sila ang mas nakakaalam kung ilan ang kaya nilang tanggapin na estudyante,” Manuel said.

“All things considered regular, their proposal has basis. We can’t burden our SUCs every year which such deficiency worth P4 billion. We need to support them with the funding they need,” he added.

Ronquillo agreed, saying that the University of Batangas where he is serving as president only accepted less than 50% of its 30,000 applicants this year since they don't have enough funds anymore for free college education.

The proposed P100 billion budget for SUCs for 2024 is P6.15 billion less than its 2023 budget of P107 billion.  —KBK, GMA Integrated News