DBM directive to cripple free college education – De Vera

Published April 30, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Ellson A. Quismorio

Commission Higher Education (CHED) Chairman Prospero “Popoy” De Vera told congressmen on Thursday that the implementation of the celebrated Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act will be gravely impacted by the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) planned non-release of 35 percent of agencies’ programmed funds under the 2020 national budget.

Dr. Prospero De Vera III (FACEBOOK / MANILA BULLETIN)
CHED Chairperson J. Prospero De Vera III
(FACEBOOK / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

“If you do not release [the] 35 percent, we are afraid to inform Congress that we will not be able to do a lot of things for Republic Act (RA) No. 10931,” De Vera told the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education during a virtual hearing.

“That is what we are worried [about] because if you reduce by 35 percent, we will not be able to fully reimburse the tuition and miscellaneous fees of State Universities and Colleges. We won’t be able to release all the TES (Tertiary Education Subsidy) money for 2020. So that is our concern,” he said.

Also known as the free college education law, RA No. 10931 is made possible by the subsidy that government provides to State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and Local Universities and Colleges (LUCs). The measure has been a point of pride for lawmakers under the current Duterte administration.

But in a bid to pool funds for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic-related response, the DBM announced that 35 percent of programmed appropriations under the 2020 national budget would no longer be released to government agencies.

“If you reduce the reimbursement of tuition and miscellaneous, the operations of SUCs will be gravely affected. That’s the income that they use for maintenance, for the payment of contractual, part-timers and operation of the school. The impact will be quite grave,” De Vera told the House panel chaired by Baguio City Rep. Mark Go.

CHEd was reportedly given a budget of P7.1 billion for the implementation of RA No. 10931 this year. The allocation also reportedly covers the provision of assistance and incentives, scholarships and grants under the Student Financial Assistance Program.

Cash-strapped

De Vera reminded the solons that the budget for the free college education law was lacking to start with.

The budget for RA 10931 was reduced in the NEP (National Expenditure Program). We asked the help of Congress to realign money so that the budget for RA 10931 is filled up in terms of the gap.

However, the CHEd chief said the money realigned by Congress had already been classified by DBM “as for later release,” which has effectively been also cancelled as part of the state’s belt-tightening moves. “As it is, the. money for RA 10931 is not enough.”

In the same hearing, CHEd Executive Director Cinderella Jaro said that they also would no longer be able to access 10 percent of their Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) and 10 percent of their capital outlay on top of the 35 percent reduction in programmed appropriations.

“Technically, the RA 10931 money is not really CHED money,” De Vera further lamented. “It is money that passes through CHED but is supposed to go to SUCs and LUCs. We cannot touch that money. It is not an agency expenditure.”

Counter-productive

Northern Samar 1st District Rep. Paul Daza feared that the non-reimbursement of the higher education institutions for the sake of saving money would be “counter-productive” since “the effect will be many students will end up not enrolling.”

Daza argued that the DBM should exempt CHEd from its directive since scholarships and TES can be considered as social services that remain vital amid the public health crisis.

De Vera said he has already written the DBM about this, and even offered to bargain with the budget agency in the interest of raising money for COVID-19 response.

“As far as the Commission is concerned, we are requesting that the reduction in the reimbursement of tuition, miscellaneous and TES be excluded. But we have also identified projects and other funds in CHED that we are ready to give up, [that] we do not intend to continue,” he said.

 
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