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Found: P50B

By: Jullie Y. Daza

“MGA iskolar ng bayan,” you have 50,000,000,000 reasons to rejoice! The chairman of the powerful House appropriations committee has found more than enough sources of money to fund the free tuition program for scholarships in state universities and colleges (SUCs), plus local government, technical and vocational schools, all 1.9 million of you.

As Rep. Karlo Nograles of Davao City, a lawyer with the figures-conscious eyes of an accountant, told “Bulong Pulungan” at Sofitel last week, the money will come from departments that underspent their budgets, starting off with DoTr, with an “expired” fund of P33B, its big-ticket infrastructure plans never having gotten off the ground or not having moved fast enough in the last two years, perhaps overcome by paralysis by analysis (?). Same thing with DA, which returned P9B in 2015 and P8B in 2016; DoH, with P10B unspent; DSWD, P18B; DAR, P12B returned and P3B unused; and DepEd, P50B returned last year, “hardly touching the money to build schools.” DICT’s free wi-fi “has not taken off due to bidding problems.” In sum, that’s at least P143B, enough for another two and a half schoolyears! 

To quote the 41-year-old Davao City congressman who has a younger brother in the House, only DoT was able to spend 91 percent of its budget. (Technically speaking, then, Tourism won’t be supporting our scholars.)

This Rep. Nograles was handy with answers to some of the niggling questions that have confused parents and their children. For example, UP students will benefit from the law even if “not all the students in SUCs are poor and about a third of UP students are not indigent.” Preferential treatment will be reserved for the truly indigent, however:

“Tertiary education subsidy includes cost of living, books, uniforms, dorm fees, from P20,000 to P40,000 a year.”

Next schoolyear’s sophomores won’t be taking the entrance exam to qualify, but freshmen will need to. Students currently enrolled in private schools may avail of loans under the law’s implementing rules and regulations.

A lot of work lies ahead, indeed, but how many in the committee of 100 will pray that affluent parents take advantage of one clause in the law that allows them to volunteer to pay for their child’s matriculation? Even Karlo had to smile.