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Free for all: Kabataan’s Sarah Elago says free tuition should benefit all students

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Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago has expressed concern that not all students in state universities and colleges (SUCs) will benefit from the free tuition policy put in place this year due to the “conditional implementation” clause placed by President Rodrigo Duterte in the 2017 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

Elago said the “conditional implementation” of free tuition in SUC starting the first semester of school year 2017-2018 cannot limit the beneficiaries of the free tuition policy, noting that the provision on tuition collection in Republic Act No. 10924 or the 2017 GAA clearly states that no tuition should be collected from public university students starting next school year since an P8.3-billion budget has been earmarked for that purpose.

However, in his veto message, Duterte put the said provision under “conditional implementation.”

“Yet as with all new programs, there is a need to safeguard the proper implementation of the provision of free tuition fee. It is important to underscore that we must still give priority to financially disadvantaged but academically able students…Accordingly, the CHED and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) shall issue necessary guidelines which shall include, among others, the standards and procedure for entitlement and availment of free tuition by students of SUCs as well as proper mechanism for the SUCs to tap the Higher Education Support Fund,” the President said.

Elago said Duterte’s veto message might counter the essence of the free tuition policy since it might be misconstrued as a directive to limit its coverage to financially disadvantaged students.

“Worse, we fear is that the CHED (Commission on Higher Education) and DBM (Department of Budget and Management) will misinterpret the president’s message and issue guidelines that will exclude most SUC students from the free tuition policy,” she said.

An estimated 1.6 million SUC students are set to benefit from the new free tuition policy.

Elago said she will seek an audience to Duterte to clarify the implementation of the free tuition policy. Kabataan Party-list is also set to submit to CHED and DBM a draft implementing guidelines that will ensure that all SUC students will benefit from it.

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