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Gatchalian vows to fight CHED budget cuts

MUNTINLUPA CITY, Philippines – Staunch education advocate Senator Win Gatchalian and Commission on Higher Education Officer-in-Charge Prospero De Vera III in a solidarity pose with officials representing state and local colleges and universities in Metro Manila during the agency’s information caravan activity, 15 July 2018. Gatchalian will stand by CHED to resist a looming budget cut. Photo by Mark Cayabyab/OS WIN GATCHALIAN

Senator Win Gatchalian vowed to fight for the budget of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and oppose any cuts to the funding of CHED’s Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAPs).

“We will not allow any reduction in available scholarship funds. Kaya nga tayo nagkaroon ng Free Higher Education Law ay para madagdagan sana ang mga subsidy na kasalukuyang ibinibigay sa mga mag-aaral, hindi upang palitan ang mga ito,” said Gatchalian, one of the authors of the Free Higher Education Law (Republic Act 10931).

The budget for CHED’s StuFAPs has been cut from this year’s ₱4.7 billion to ₱1.7 billion for 2019.

The lawmaker said retaining or even increasing CHED’s 2018 budget was “actually a matter of synchronizing the fiscal year to school year,” in light of the national government’s proposal to shift to a cash-based budgeting system for 2019.

Moreover, Gatchalian also slammed the significant reduction in CHED’s capital outlay for infrastructure, from ₱ 48 million in 2018 to “just a paltry” ₱ 6.9 million next year.

“These funds need to be retained because improving access to higher education is useless if the quality will suffer,” he said, explaining that improving the infrastructure of higher education institutions is an important aspect of advancing the quality of higher education in the country.

He stressed that educational access and quality are two distinct indicators that must both be given ample funding in the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

“Marami ka ngang enrollees dahil libre ang tuition at ang ibang mga fees, pero kung bumaba naman ang kalidad ng pagtuturo at itininuturo, wala ring silbi,” the senator said.

According to CHED Officer-in-Charge Prospero De Vera III, with the proposed cuts, students enrolled in state universities and colleges (SUCs) will still have free tuition and other school fees, but will no longer receive additional stipends due to the 64-percent budget cut. De Vera added that 35 of the country’s state universities were not allotted infrastructure funding for the construction of new buildings and classrooms.

The budget cuts are attributed to the administration’s plans to shift from a multi-year, obligation-based budget system to a cash-based one, which will only allow funding for projects that can be initiated and completed within the calendar year.

“Our budget must be responsive to the needs of the people, especially the students and the youth. We as legislators, who hold the power of the purse, must work together to ensure that the government upholds its constitutional obligation to make education the highest budgetary priority of the State,” Gatchalian said.