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Full release of SUC budget sought

With one month to go before the start of the 2016-2017 school year, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto asked the national government yesterday to promptly release the P3.64 billion that the Senate had added to the 2016 national budget of 114 state universities and colleges in full.

Recto said the additional allocation, meant for new buildings, equipment, and other capital expenditures, should be exempt from the underspending that had hounded public expenditures of the Aquino administration since 2010.

The combined budget of the SUCs was originally pegged by Malacañang at P43.76 billion but the Senate, upon the initiative of Recto and Senators Loren B. Legarda and Pilar “Pia’’ S. Cayetano, raised it to P47.41 billion, the amount stated in the General Appropriations Act for 2016.

Recto said he is calling for the full release of the P3.64 billion “because the administrative practice is to put congressional amendments on hold until additional documents are submitted by the recipient agency.”

He said agency budgets “should be treated as a whole; there is no point in segregating congressional amendments, and subjecting them to a later release date.”

But if the funds have been released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), “then SUCs must see to it that the projects for which they are meant are now being implemented,” he said.

Recto explained that the P3.6 billion in additional funds for SUC are all in the nature of capital outlays, “to address building, equipment, and laboratory backlogs.”

By regional distribution, SUCs in Central Luzon, Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, and Cordillera regions will get an additional P572 million. Those in Southern Tagalog, MiMaRoPa, and Bicol regions will get P459 million more.

In the Visayas, the additional allocation is P506 million, while Mindanao SUCs will share P805 million in additional funds.

The budget of Metro Manila SUCs has been raised by P1.3 billion, but this includes augmentation for all campuses in the University of Philippines System outside of Diliman, Quezon City and Manila.

While the SUCs will not get an equal amount each, the Senate, Recto said, made sure that all of the schools will get an additional budget.

“Some schools get P30 million, while some, like Mindanao State University (MSU)-Iligan Institute of Technology (IIT), whose budget was raised by P120 million, will get more,” Recto said. “Next year, it will be turn of other SUCs to get higher funding,” he said.

There were 1.68 million students in public “higher educational institutions” during the 2014-2015 academic year, a count which included enrollees in tertiary schools run by local governments.

Recto said government can afford to waive tuition and school fees in SUCs “by just spending another P9 billion and make public college free.”

He said the total amount of matriculation paid by SUC students in the academic year that just ended was about P14 billion “but government spent some R5 billion in scholarship and financial aid grants, so the net need is about P5 billion.”

Thus, government will only have to shell out P9.1 billion – or equivalent to its water, power, and gasoline expenses in six months – to make public colleges tuition-free, he pointed out. (MARIO B. CASAYURAN)