Duterte: Funding free tuition is now his problem

Posted on August 09, 2017

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte said on Monday his government has yet to find source of funds for a new law he signed last week granting free tuition for qualified students in all state universities and colleges (SUCs).

On Aug. 3, Mr. Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. (RA) 1093, or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act -- setting aside warnings from his economic managers that the measure will cost the government as much as P100 billion a year.

He approved the bill just hours before the measure was set to lapse into law. Under the Constitution, Mr. Duterte can either sign the bill or veto it.

In a news conference after back-to-back meetings with foreign diplomats in Malacañang, Mr. Duterte said he signed the law despite knowing that the state has no budget yet for the free tuition program.

He said the lack of funds to bankroll the fresh law is his “problem” now.

“Kasi ‘yung pag-approve ng Congress... Alam man nila... walang pera (Congress knew we don’t have the budget yet when they passed the bill),” Mr. Duterte told reporters.

Eh pagdating sa’kin, alam ko man na walang pera. Pirmahan natin ito. Eh ‘di sige (The measure was sent to me. I know the government has no funds for it yet but I signed it anyway),” he added.

Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno last week said free education at state universities would not benefit the poor because only 12% of students come from poor families and the government already offers scholarships in 114 state-run tertiary schools.

According to Mr. Diokno, the government will look for possible sources of funding for the tuition subsidy in the proposed P3.767 trillion 2018 budget. Next year’s proposed budget does not have any allocation for the free tuition program.

“The law will be prospective, not retroactive, since academic year 2017-2018 is already ongoing. First, I’ll estimate the half-year total costs of the program, first semester 2018-19, then determine how much can be funded from 2018 budget,” Mr. Diokno said.

“We may have to consider disallowing use of income by SUCs. If worse comes to worst, we may consider asking for a supplemental budget,” he added.

Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said Mr. Duterte believes the law’s long-term benefits would outweigh any short-term budgetary challenges.

Mr. Guevarra said the administration is looking at different ways to help fund the initiative, including borrowing through official development assistance as well as donations. He said Mr. Duterte left it to Congress to realign the budget to include free education. -- Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral