CHED: Cash-based budget will 'severely hamper' free higher education

MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Officer-in-Charge Prospero de Vera III told lawmakers the cash-based budget system would "severely hamper" the implementation of the free higher education law.

De Vera expressed this concern as Davao City 1st District Representative Karlo Nograles, chairman of the House appropriations committee, said CHED may have difficulty with the shift to a cash-based budget system, noting the fiscal year and academic year are not aligned.

"We will be severely hampered in implementing RA (Republic Act) 10931.. first in estimating reimbursements, second in determining which reimbursements will be given, and third in utilizing the budget allocated by Congress," De Vera said during CHED's budget briefing at the House of Representatives on Thursday, August 9.

What's a cash-based budgeting system? This system mandates government agencies to spend their allocated funds and deliver projects within the year.

Agencies are obliged to complete their projects by the end of 2019 regardless of obstacles like natural calamities which may cause delays. If a government agency cannot guarantee completion of a project, it would be removed from its proposed budget.

Why would it affect free higher education? The cash-based budget system would create problems in estimating reimbursements for the 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs) and 78 local universities and colleges (LUCs) covered by the Universal Access to Quality and Tertiary Education Act because schools do not operate on a fiscal calendar.

De Vera said reimbursements are dependent on the number of students enrolled in higher education institutions (HEIs) and billings that SUCs and LUCs would submit to CHED per semester.

A fiscal year starts in January and ends in December. In contrast, the first semester for universities usually starts in June or August and ends in October or December, while the second semester starts in November or January and ends in March or May.

"The problem for the regular universities is how do we compute the reimbursement? Do we compute it only until December to end the fiscal year or can we give the whole money all the way until April when the students graduate?" De Vera said.

"[If] their second semester starts in January, they won't be able to bill us anymore in January because that's the next fiscal year already. We won't be able to use 2019 money if they will bill us in 2020."

De Vera added it would also affect CHED in terms of budget utilization "because we [CHED] wouldn't be able to reimburse the money even if we wanted to."

Asked if CHED has relayed this concern to the Department of Budget and Management, De Vera said there was no prior consultation but that they are now "looking for ways" to synchronize calendars.

Zamboanga City 1st District Representative Celso Lobregat also expressed concern over the effects of the cash-based budgeting system. (READ: Proposed cash-based budget for 2019 'confusing' lawmakers)

"We are concerned over issues like higher education wherein it is true, you cannot spend during the particular calendar year because of your semester basis," Lobregat said.

"We really need to get that message clear because issues like this are really sensitive," he added.

More than P40 billion has been allotted for the implementation of the free higher education law for school year 2018 to 2019. Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno also said P51 billion has been allocated for the next school year. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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