Hontiveros bats for probe on CHEd's P7-B 'questionable releases'

Senator Risa Hontiveros is seeking a Senate investigation into the "questionable releases" of a program under the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) that are worth a whooping P7 billion.

Hontiveros filed Senate Resolution No. 128 to probe the implementation of the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST)

This came after the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged billions-worth of releases under the CHED scholarship program.

"UniFAST is supposed to be the answer to the gap in education for millions of underprivileged youth. And yet the program is stained with suspicious overpayments and double reimbursements," Hontiveros said.

UniFAST is an attached agency under CHED meant to implement Republic Act No. 10931, or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.

In her resolution, Hontiveros cited COA's report that UniFAST had P3.4 billion worth of delayed and non-submission of billings and documents to state and universities and colleges (SUCs) and local universities and colleges (LUCs).

Some submissions were even delayed up to 3 years while others had no record of billing, she added.

The resolution also revealed that UniFAST made P824 million worth of payments to SUCs and LUCs without official receipts.

"Nakaka-alarma na naglabas sila ng ganyang kalaking pera na walang tamang dokumento. Walang kahit anong ebidensya na kailangan ng agency magbayad, at walang ebidensya na binayaran nila. Nakakapagtaka. (It's alarming that they released such a big amount of money without proper documents. They did not require any evidence that they paid. It's dubious) Surely recklessness at this level of billions of pesos is not acceptable for a government agency,” the senator said.

"Lilinawin natin kung saan at sino ang nagkulang (We will shed light on who or where we fell short). It is our responsibility in Congress to guard against leakages that waste important resources needed by our schools and students,” she added.

Hontiveros’ resolution also revealed UniFAST’s overpayment of P131 million to certain SUCs, and P251 million to already fully subsidized LUCs in direct violation of the provisions of RA10931. She said that the COA report is “enough to show that the agency's lapses need to be explained."

Also reportedly included in the almost P7 billion flagged by COA are P26.6 million of reimbursements of doubtful validity of tuition and school fees to the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines; duplicate entries of beneficiaries in billings of P141,550.00; P1 billion unimplemented and unreverted funds for the student loan program; P1.003 billion delayed release of financial benefits; P4.43 million double scholarship grants; and P200 million worth of unutilized allotments for tertiary education subsidy.