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Free tuition for tertiary education 'can be done'.

Several senators on Saturday expressed optimism they can legislate free education for students in state universities and colleges and universities (SUCs) after successfully allocating an P8 billion Higher Education Support Fund in next year's national budget.

'This is clearly an investment in the youth of our country,' said Sen. Loren Legarda. 'There are pending bills that would institutionalize this so that it won't have to be a Senate amendment every year.'

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, one of the senators pushing for free public college education, called the development 'a milestone' as he reiterated his call for the passage of a law to provide tuition-free tertiary schooling.

At least five bills are pending in the Senate seeking to institutionalize free higher education in public schools.

'We look forward to its (P8-billion tuition subsidy) implementation and we also look forward to institutionalizing the free tuition through a law, given that I and several other senators have been pushing for free higher education for some time now,' he said.

Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee which steered the inclusion of the education fund as an amendment to the proposed P3.35-trillion national budget, said their success showed the state can finance free higher education.

'Clearly, it can be done,' she told the Inquirer. 'All these years, people would say there is no money. But we have money, we have resources, we have funds.'

Another P5.753 billion has also been included under the Student Financial Assistant Programs of the Commission on Higher Education and SUCs.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian told a news conference in Quezon City that the P8-billion fund is only the first step in widening the access to education to all Filipinos.

Gatchalian said the implementing rules and regulations, as well as proper information dissemination are needed to avoid confusion among students, parents and school administrators on the use of the funds by the 114 SUCs in the country.

Ideally, Legarda said, the amount should already fully subsidize tuition, as it was based on the projected population and enrollment expenses in state tertiary schools. However, students will still have to shoulder miscellaneous and other fees.

Sen. Bam Aquino, chair of the Senate committee on education, arts and culture, said the subsidy would only 'take care of about 30 to 40 percent of students' total costs on average.'

'This is a major reform,' Aquino said. 'We're proud of this initiative and hopefully we can institutionalize this reform and make it yearly by passing the free tuition in SCUs act by early next year.'

If President Duterte approves the Senate amendment, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the feature 'will most probably become a permanent provision in all future appropriations and won't depend on whether there is discovered pork (discretionary funds) that can be excised.'

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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Dec 18, 2016
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