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Sen. Gatchalian lauds P8-B budget for free higher education

Education students of Mindanao State University-Maguindanao Campus cheer fellow classmates at a recent sports fest where Senator Gatchalian was invited as a guest of honor. Gatchalian lauded fellow lawmakers for giving the green light on the P18.7 billion appropriation for the Commission on Higher Education 2017 budget, boosting access to free tertiary education. (Photo by Mark Cayabyab)

Senator Win Gatchalian lauded the allocation of PHP 8 billion in the Senate version of the 2017 budget to facilitate implementation of a tuition-free policy in state universities and colleges (SUCs), expressing optimism that the appropriated funds would pave the way for the institutionalization of free education in SUCs.

“By approving funding for the implementation of a free tuition system in SUCs, the Senate has taken a concrete step forward in ensuring universal access to higher education. We have certainly come a long way from the days when our advocacy was nothing more than an inspired but uncertain dream,” said Gatchalian, the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture.

As Representative of the First District of Valenzuela City to the 16th Congress, Gatchalian became the first lawmaker to present a detailed proposal to abolish tuition fees in SUCs when he filed the original version of the Free Higher Education Act (FHEA), then known as House Bill No. 5905, on July 6, 2015.

After his election to the Senate earlier this year Gatchalian filed his bill once more, this time as Senate Bill No. 198.

Although FHEA has yet to pass in the Senate, Gatchalian and his colleagues in the upper house approved on Monday an increase in the budget of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) in the Senate version of the 2017 General Appropriations Act, from P10.4 billion to P18.7 billion, in order to set up free tuition in SUCs, as well as additional incentives and other grants.

The funds, allocated by special provision as the Higher Education Support Fund (HESF), will be administered by guidelines and procedures to be issued by the CHED and Department of Budget Management in consultation with SUCs.

“I will closely monitor the utilization of the HESF in order to hold CHED accountable for its legal duty under the 2017 GAA to use these funds in furtherance of the free tuition policy,” said Gatchalian, who has often found himself at odds with CHED due to the body’s fierce opposition to the Free Higher Education Act during the 16th and 17th Congresses.

Gatchalian also pledged to continue the fight for the passage of FHEA.

“The HESF is a promising start, but we still need to pass FHEA in order to make the free tuition policy in SUCs a permanent reality for the millions of young learners who will depend on public education to get their college degree in the coming years,” said Gatchalian.