Makabayan solons push for inclusion of budget for free college education for 2018

Progressive lawmakers want to realign funds for infrastructure, military and debt service.

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat

MANILA – The Makabayan bloc in Congress pushes for the realignment of budget allocation for the Build, Build, Build infrastructure projects, military spending and debt servicing in the 2018 national budget to ensure funds to implement the newly-enacted free college education law.

The budget earmarked for the said items is worth a whopping P1 trillion ($19.6 billion), said Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas.

“Instead of funding war expenses and big-ticket infrastructure projects that will displace communities, the Duterte administration should allocate sufficient funds for the realization of the free higher education law,” she said in a statement.

On Aug. 3, President Duterte signed Republic Act 10931, the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, but said that the government will still have to look for funds for state universities and colleges (SUCs).

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago said, “it is not a question of funds, but rather of priorities.” She said Duterte’s economic managers are geared towards profiteering from education by implementing neoliberal policies instead of putting funds to provide basic social services for the people.

‘BBB program will wipe out communities’

Brosas said the BBB program accounts for nearly a third of the proposed P3.7 trillion ($72.5 billion) 2018 national budget. The BBB program aims to construct railway networks, airports, roads and other infrastructure projects from Luzon to Mindanao. However, the government’s infrastructure project will wipe out communities and resources around the country.

One such project is the National Reclamation Plan (NRP) which will construct commercial establishments, eco-tourism, industrial and business hubs to the detriment of fisherfolk communities.

Progressive fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Palamakaya-Pilipinas) said the NRP has 100 coastal reclamation projects covering almost 400,000 hectares of fishing waters and coastal communities.

“Build, Build, Build is privatization of public lands and facilities and debt-driven program that will benefit no one but the giant local and foreign oligarchs. In the end, hardworking Filipinos will shoulder the burden of this Dutertenomics’ mess through unwarranted tax increase,” said Pamalakaya chairperson, Fernando Hicap in a statement.

Brosas also said that there are other funding sources in the 2018 national budget such as the P2.1 billion ($41 million) power subsidy under the budget of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) and the P1.6 billion ($31 million) Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy program of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

“The truth is there are many sources for funding in the 2018 budget,” Brosas said.

Budget cut persists

During the deliberation of the budget of the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) on Aug. 10, Elago noted budget cuts and underfunding. Ched’s budget had increased from P 58.9 billion to P61.4 billion, but some SUCs are still set to get cuts next year.

Elago said 23 SUCs will suffer cuts in their Personal Service (PS) budget, 50 will have cuts in their Maintenance and Operating Expenses (MOOE) budget and 49 have cuts in their Capital Outlay (CO) budget.

“In fact, the Philippine State College of Aeronautics has zero budget for CO for 2018,” she added.

She also noted the expected internal income from SUCs. Elago said based on the 2018 Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing, the Department of Budget and Management expects SUCs to earn P44.7 billion ($876 million) from their internal income for 2018. P13.2 billion ($258 million) is expected to come from tuition collection.

Elago stressed that the new law prohibits the collection of tuition and other fees in SUCs.

“How do they plan to achieve this huge income? Is there a new scheme or policy to be implemented to increase the income of SUCs?” Elago asked.

Elago challenged Ched “to ensure that it will not renege on the youth’s clamor as expressed by the initial victory in having a free education bill signed into law.” (http://bulatlat.com)

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