In August 2017, President Duterte signed the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act despite the reservations of his economic managers, and the President’s own admission that there were no funds for it.
The hefty price tag for “free education” in state colleges and universities did not deter Mr. Duterte, who said that the benefits of tertiary education for all far outweighed its costs.
Then Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that access to education was “a very strong cornerstone of the President’s social development policy.” The public welcomed Mr. Duterte’s bold move.
By last week, however, such forward-looking vision appears to have been all but scuttled with the news that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has stripped the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) of 63.84 percent of its 2018 allocation.
From P4.73 billion this year, CHEd’s Student Financial Assistance Program will have to make do with a much reduced P1.71 billion for 2019.
Covered in the program are the tuition and other school fees of students enrolled in 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs), 78 local universities and colleges, and all technical-vocational education and training programs registered under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
Severely affected as well are the subsidy for the tuition of medical students in eight SUCs, and the Pamana program intended for rebel returnees and their families.
While students enrolled in SUCs can still have free tuition and other school fees, they will no longer receive additional stipend for transportation, food expenses and other additional academic requirements, CHEd officer in charge Prospero “Popoy” de Vera told a Senate budget hearing.
CHEd’s capital outlay for infrastructure was also drastically cut from P48 million in 2018 to just P6.9 million next year, which means no new buildings and classrooms for tertiary colleges and no new or improved facilities, either.
Even the funds for salary increases and the promotion of faculty members of SUCs have been scrapped; the administration plans to shift from a multiyear, obligation-based budget system to a cash-based one, which will only allow resources for projects that can be initiated and completed within the year.
The shift, according to the DBM, will ensure that government agencies spend their funds within the year and avoid underspending.
Protesting the cuts, ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said, “It is ironic that the DBM flaunts that the 2019 budget focuses on human capital development particularly on education, [when] it slashed the proposed funding for the promotion and career development of SUC personnel which [would have] raised the quality of tertiary education.”
The cuts, added Tinio, indicate that “the government is not about to make good on its promise to guarantee funding for social services from its increased collection from the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion package.”
The government’s skewed priorities are even more highlighted when the castrated CHEd budget is placed side by side with the proposed budget for the perennially blundering Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).
Based on the presentation of economic managers during a
Senate hearing, the PCOO has a P1.5-billion proposed budget for 2019, a P100-million increase from this year’s budget of P1.4 billion.
If it were up to him, said Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin, the PCOO should even have zero budget, considering the agency’s never-ending gaffes and overall incompetence.
In contrast to the cuts in CHEd’s budget, the defense department is getting P183.4 billion, or P46.9 billion more than the previous year’s P136.5 billion budget—a 34.4-percent increase.
Its allocation is 5 percent of the proposed 2019 budget of P3.757 trillion.
In June, as part of his “crime suppression” campaign, Mr. Duterte also declared that he was considering arming some 40,000 barangay captains.
Interior Undersecretary Martin Diño said that village chiefs would be provided subsidized handguns as long as they are not involved in illegal drugs.
Guns and military hardware? Or books, scholars and classrooms?
The Duterte administration’s preferences are perfectly clear at this point.
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