A bold step in the right direction

WE welcome the signing of the the bill granting full  government subsidy for tuition in state universities and colleges (SUCs).

The universal access to quality tertiary education bill was passed by Congress in May. It will subsidize the education of students in SUCs, local tertiary schools and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda)-accredited institutions.

The Duterte administration’s economic managers have  expressed opposition to the bill. Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno had said the government could not afford to spend P100 billion for free tuition in SUCs. Neda Director General Ernesto M. Pernia also opposed it, saying it would put private schools at a disadvantage.

President Duterte overruled them, even as he admitted later that he knew there would not be enough money for it, apparently thinking that the long-term benefits of education should outweigh any budgetary problems.

The signing of the bill into law has understandably elated its authors.

Sen. Bam Aquino, the principal sponsor and coauthor of the law in the Senate, thanked Duterte for finally signing the bill: “Congratulations to my fellow lawmakers and everyone who supported this.”

Sen. JV Ejercito, one of the principal authors of the bill, also rejoiced over Duterte’s approval of the bill. “I am very, very happy for the poor but deserving students studying in the SUCs. This is an investment in our human resources.”

For Sen. Juan Edgardo M. Angara, the law “is really for the students who dream of a better life which is now increasingly within reach”.

The problematic part is where to get the money for the implementation of the landmark law.

Sen. Francis G. Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, while acknowledging that the new law would be one of the “lasting legacies” of the Duterte administration, asserted that there is no truth to the claim of Diokno that the law requires P100 billion to be implemented. He said the actual amount needed is just over P20 billion, which should be treated as a human-resource investment, and that there should be no trouble finding funds for the law based on how much savings are generated every year.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) also believes there is still money in the P8-billion allocation for free tuition this year. The agency prefers a staggered implementation of the law, with the initial phase requiring only a core cost of around P16.8 billion. It also wants to come up with a well-designed program to implement the student- loan provision in coordination with financial institutions.

The Senate minority bloc has emphasized that the new law “will only become a reality if the government allocates enough and accessible funding for SUCs nationwide. The Executive branch and Congress must work closely to make tertiary education accessible to all through tuition subsidies and financial assistance.” Free tertiary education is a bold step in the right direction. We believe this will allow young Filipinos, no matter their status or condition in life, to finish their studies and improve their lives.

Customs corruption

What will it take to clean up the Bureau of Customs (BOC), one of the top 2 revenue-collection agencies of the national government, which appears to be deeply mired in systemic corruption?

Amid the latest scandal where the bureau now finds itself under close  scrutiny for allowing P6.4 billion worth of shabu smuggled from China to slip through an express lane, Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon believes that “heads must roll” at the graft-tainted agency.

He asserts that with its “high level of corruption”, the BOC isn’t likely to meet its full-year collection target. Its reported collection of  P210.64 billion for the first half of the year is already short of its  P218.71-billion goal for the period.

In all likelihood, therefore, the agency may not be able to  meet its P468-billion collection target for this year.

Customs, aside from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, is expected to deliver the lion’s share of funds that’s needed to finance the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program, as well as the prompt and timely delivery of vital social services, including education and health, to our people.

If the BOC as it is currently constituted cannot improve its tax-collection effort due to massive corruption, then the current leadership should tender their resignations and allow the President to bring in new blood to the agency.

A top-to-bottom revamp of the BOC should be undertaken by the Duterte administration for a more compelling reason: the latest scandal to hit Customs involves the entry of a big shipment of illegal drugs, against which the President has launched a bloody and ruthless campaign since he took office last year.

 

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