GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – The Association of Higher Education Institutions (AHEI) in the Soccsksargen region on Monday, May 22, called on Congress to investigate the delay in the release of billions of pesos in funds under the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UNIFAST).
Agapito Lubaton, the president of the AHEI-Soccsksargen and national vice president of the association, said CHED still owes approximately P6 billion to schools nationwide that implemented the UNIFAST educational subsidies and scholarship programs.
In Soccsksargen alone, the agency owes schools about P1 billion for implementing UNIFAST programs, he said.
Lubaton said the amount has been accumulating since 2021.
The issue of the prolonged delay in the payment of overdue UNIFAST educational subsidies was first raised last year but has apparently remained unresolved.
UNIFAST provides scholarships and financial assistance to students who lack the means to pursue their education. It offers various programs and services, including the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) program and the Free Higher Education program.
Lubaton said they were seeking assistance from lawmakers as CHED continues to disregard their pleas.
He said the issue regarding UNIFAST has already been brought to the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education.
Lubaton said several schools filed formal complaints against CHED but later withdrew them allegedly due to intimidation and pressure.
“They were harassed and threatened with closure,” he said.
A CHED official, who requested anonymity, informed Rappler on Monday, May 22, that funds were available for the payment of UNIFAST programs. These funds, however, cannot be released due to a lack of liquidation of previous expenses.
South Cotabato Governor Reynaldo Tamayo assured first-year and second-year college students affected by the non-release of the educational funds that they need not worry, as the funds will be released soon.
During an interview on May 18 with local broadcaster Topgun Radio Koronadal, Tamayo said, “I assure everyone that UNIFAST will come 100%… The release of funds for the grantees may begin as early as next month,” Tamayo said.
In 2022, Senator Risa Hontiveros called for an inquiry into UNIFAST’s implementation following the Commission on Audit’s discovery of questionable releases worth nearly P7 billion under the CHED scholarship agency.
Hontiveros expressed concern over suspicious overpayments and double reimbursements, suggesting potential widespread misconduct within CHED-UNIFAST.
A COA report showed UNIFAST’s delayed and non-submitted billings and documents totaling P3.4 billion to state, local universities, and colleges.
The report also revealed that UniFAST made payments of P824 million to these institutions without official receipts.
Hontiveros criticized the lack of proper documentation and proof of payment, emphasizing the agency’s recklessness in handling the funds.
Senate Resolution No. 128, which she authored, showed UNIFAST’s overpayments of P131 million to certain universities and P251 million to fully subsidized colleges, allegedly in violation of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (RA10931).
The COA’s flagged amount of almost P7 billion includes P26.6 million in reimbursements for tuition and school fees to the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines, which are of doubtful validity. There were also alleged duplicate entries of beneficiaries in billings amounting to P141,550.
Hontiveros said there were unimplemented and unreverted funds totaling P1 billion for the student loan program, a delayed release of financial benefits amounting to P1.003 billion, double scholarship grants totaling P4.43 million, and unutilized allotments worth P200 million for tertiary education subsidy. – Rappler.com
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