MANILA, Philippines – Under the 2017 budget recently approved by both houses of Congress, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has been given an additional P8.3-billion ($167.17 million) allocation meant to provide for free tuition fees in state universities and colleges (SUCs).
But the Commission has yet to iron out the details on what to do with this additional budget.
"We still need to meet with [the Department of Budget and Management] and Senate [regarding] implementation given our issues of concern that need to be resolved first," CHED Deputy Executive Director Napoleon Imperial said in a statement released by CHED on Wednesday, December 14.
He added: "CHED wants to ensure that the implementation/guidelines are defined properly to be able to manage the huge amount of funds accordingly."
House lawmakers originally wanted to include the P8.3 billion in the Department of Public Works and Highways's budget to provide for development projects in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, but senators wanted the fund to be allocated to the CHED instead.
The congressmen eventually conceded to the senators during the bicameral conference committee for the national budget.
In a statement on Tuesday, December 13, Senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV – chair of the Senate committe on education, arts, and culture – called the Senate's initiative as a "major reform that will greatly benefit Filipino families."
During the 2015 budget deliberations, lawmakers also proposed to source funds to cover the tuition of undergraduate students in SUCs.
CHED back then came out with a position paper saying that a tuition-free policy will likely result to a massive exodus of students from private higher education institutions (HEIs) to SUCs.
This exodus, CHED had said then, "would aggravate an impending crisis in private education" due to the impact of the K to 12 transition.
Prior to the 2016 elections, Rappler published a story on the feasibility of a tuition-free policy as promised by several of the candidates then, including presidential candidate Grace Poe, and senatorial candidates Sherwin Gatchalian and Walden Bello.
In the story, CHED Executive Director Julito Vitriolo said the proposal is not doable as long as private HEIs dominate the higher education sector in terms of numbers. (READ: Higher budget, free tuition in state colleges: Easier said than done)
"It will impact adversely on the viability of private schools. On the other hand, it will put so much pressure on the SUCs, and, in general, on government financing or budgeting. We don't have enough, so we cannot subsidize everybody. The equitable approach would be those who can afford should pay, those who cannot afford should avail of scholarships if they are qualified," he added.
He also noted that the Constitution only requires free education until high school.
With the additional P8.3-billion allocation for CHED, will there now be enough budget to implement a tuition-free policy in SUCs?
The House of Representatives ratified the proposed P3.35-trillion ($67.47 billion) budget for 2017 on Tuesday, while the Senate ratified it the day after.
US$1 = P49.65
Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.