CHEd: We have no money
The Manila Times
COMMISSION on Higher Education Chairman J. Prospero de Vera 3rd has countered claims from community colleges that there are still funds in the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) program under the Unified Student Financial Assistance for Tertiary Education (UniFAST). In an interview with The Manila Times on Tuesday, de Vera said the funding under the Free Higher Education program has been used by UniFAST historically for reimbursement of tuition and miscellaneous fees for both state and local universities and colleges, the TES subsidy for students under the Listahanan 2.0 program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and TES for private universities and colleges in municipalities and cities that do not have public universities. “For the past two years, we had budget cutbacks, because of the problem of Covid-19, the economy, our budget for free higher education was cut because the reimbursement for the tuition of state universities and colleges is now given directly by the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) to them through the GAA (General Appropriations Act),” de Vera said. The remaining funds, he added, were used to pay for the Free Higher Education program for local universities and colleges (LUCs). “Because of the budget cutbacks, after we reimburse and compute the reimbursement of tuition and miscellaneous charges of local universities and colleges, the remaining fund is just enough for continuing TES grantees under the database,” de Vera said. He added that last year, they already told other universities that they cannot have TES grantees because of the budget cuts. “The money is just enough for the continuing TES grantees; we never opened any application,” the official added. Universities and colleges were informed that because of dwindling funds, they will not accept any additional TES grantees for academic year 2022-2023. De Vera also said that all of the TES grantees have already been paid, including the reimbursements of the LUCs. “So I do not know what they are claiming. What was unpaid? The problem with other private schools is that they are expecting new TES subsidies for new students,” he added. His comments came after a group of school administrators from community colleges called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to help them collect from CHEd payments that were due to them under the program. The group said some of the grantees of the TES, which was mandated under Republic Act (RA) 10931 or the “Free Higher Education Act,” were unpaid for an average of two semesters, which resulted in delayed payment of salaries of school teachers, utilities, bank obligations, other fees, educational expenses and cost of living allowance. The CHEd chairman said some private colleges and universities have been “promising students that they will get TES even if CHEd and UniFAST have already told everyone that there is no new TES.” “There is no money to disburse! We have already fully paid the continuing TES grantees that are qualified,” he stressed. De Vera said in the initial implementation of the TES program from 2017, all grantees were paid because there was enough funding. “The budget of CHEd has been cut back for free higher ed[ucation]. We cannot disburse what we cannot have, that is why we did not accept any TES application,” he added. UniFAST lawyer Ryan Estevez agreed with de Vera, saying in a message to The Manila Times that the budget for academic year 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 will only apply to reimbursements for the LUCs and continuing TES grantees. He also said they are hopeful that new TES slots in 2023-2024 may be opened based on the 2023 GAA. “Application to TES is not [an] automatic acceptance to the program and most importantly, it is based on availability of funds,” Estevez added. He belied accusations made by Agapito Lobaton, the head of Marvelous College of Technology in Koronadal City, that in his watch the funding of the TES became “messy” and that there are still enough funds for the TES subsidy. “The budget is not only for TES, but more importantly for Free Higher Education, which is the primary intent of RA 10931 and also Tulong Dunong Program. We already answered Mr. Lobaton on this as well as other schools with similar concerns,” Estevez said. De Vera said private schools should have known that the budget for the TES has been slashed that is why they were not able to accept any new grantees for the past two years. He urged private schools to ask Congress for more funding in the CHEd budget for 2024 in order for them to continue the free higher education program.