MANILA, Philippines – In effect, will the new line item in the proposed 2014 budget for state universities and colleges (SUCs) serve as the pork barrel for the Commission on Higher Education (CHED)?
In budget deliberations held at the House of Representatives on Tuesday, August 27, some lawmakers questioned the new line item introduced in the proposed 2014 budget. This item is a P5-billion lump sum for capital outlays and scholarship programs for state universities and colleges (SUCs).
The budget allocation is broken down as follows: P2.5 billion for capital outlays (CO) and another P2.5 billion for scholarship programs.
Capital outlays fund the building of new infrastructure and the purchase of new equipment.
With no clear beneficiaries or itemized projects, the new line item placed under the SUCs budget was likened by some lawmakers to pork barrel. This is being done at the height of the alleged pork barrel scam involving previous lump sum allocations that were not properly accounted for.
Pork barrel for CHED?
“I smell pork in the budget. It’s like pork because it’s only released when you’re able to identify the programs you are going to implement,” Nueva Vizcaya Rep Carlos Padilla argued.
Licuanan however assured the congressmen they do not have pork barrel and added,”it’s you who has the PDAF.” The commissioner also said that the budget under the new line item will go directly to the SUCs and will not have to pass through district representatives.
According to Kabataan Rep Terry Ridon, while they are questioning and challenging the new line item, they do not necessarily oppose the fight for higher budget.
“Of course the budget would benefit them [SUCs] but it should still be subject to congressional scrutiny,” Ridon said.
The SUCs budget, according to Licuanan, is not yet final. CHED is set to decide on the distribution of the P5-billion lump sum to SUCs on August 29, Thursday.
The proposed P34.65 billion budget for all SUCs in 2014 shows a minimal increase from the P32.77 billion budget allocation this year.
However, because the budget for capital outlays and scholarship programs was segregated from the breakdowns per institution and pulled together into the separate line item, 79 out of the 110 existing SUCs currently reflect individual decreases in their proposed 2014 budget.
The decreases in the breakdowns are not tantamount to budget cuts, Licuanan stressed.
“I always say that 2013 is truly an unusual situation. I would be worried if 2014 would be lower than 2012, but I would not compare it to 2013,” Licuanan added.
SUCs got a significant budgetary boost in 2013—an almost 50% increase from the 2012 totals.
Capital outlay for 2013 also increased tremendously by 1,671% to P3.365 billion in 2013 from the miserable P190 million in 2012.
In the proposed 2014 budget breakdowns for SUCs, the University of the Philippines System registered the highest decrease from its 2013 totals, with a proposed budget of P8.098 billion next year.
This amount is P1.43 billion less than its P9.53-billion budget for 2013.
Despite this decrease, operations funds for UP still registered a minimal increase at P2.077 billion, from P2.056 billion allocated in 2013. On the other hand, the budgetary support for the salaries and benefits of UP faculty and other personnel for 2014 hardly changed, remaining at P2.060 billion.
The decrease is mainly because there is no allocation for capital outlay in the proposed 2014 budget for UP. In contrast, capital outlay for the UP System grew tremendously to P1.45 billion in 2013 from P190 million in 2012.
The UP system carries 7 campuses under its wing: Diliman, Manila, Baguio, Los Baños, Visayas, Mindanao and Open University.
Use of income, tuition
Apart from funding support they get through the national budget, state universities and colleges are also allowed by law to use income derived from operations and use of assets.
Total income amounts were not discussed during the hearing. Licuanan reported, however, that they have already released the guidelines for the acceptable income generating programs to SUCs.
In reaction to the reflected decreased budget of 79 SUCs, four students disrupted the budget deliberations with their call for greater subsidy to public higher education.
“We have proven that education and other basic social services are not among the priorities of the Aquino government,” University of the Philippines student regent Krista Melgarejo said in Filipino after they were pulled out of the budget deliberations.
The students also reacted when Licuanan said it is a good thing that SUCs are generating their own income. Driving SUCs to fiscal dependence is part of CHED’s goal for the Roadmap for Public Higher Education Reform (RPHER).
“That is precisely the policy of privatization of higher education. Chiefly, that means higher tuition and other fees for students,” Tinio said in reaction to RPHER.
The RPHER is CHED’s proposed solution to the problems facing public higher education system. – Rappler.com/with reports from Jee Y. Geronimo