MANILA, Philippines — The House Committee on Appropriations has asked the Commission on Audit (COA) to conduct a special audit of the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) and its funds, after the agency presented various data regarding its unpaid debt to private schools.
During Tuesday’s deliberations on CHEd’s proposed P31 billion budget for 2024, Northern Samar Rep. Paul Daza introduced a motion seeking a special audit since CHEd gave the committee different figures on their debts towards private higher education institutions (HEIs) – which served students from areas without state universities and colleges (SUCs) or local universities and colleges (LUCs).
Daza was referring to the numbers dictated by committee Senior Vice Chairman and Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo – who noted that before the budget deliberations, CHEd said its debts were worth P1 billion.
Quimbo said that during budget negotiations last August 23, the figure rose to P13 billion before decreasing to just P7.7 billion on Tuesday.
“Can I ask CHEd, because I think we’re all frustrated with the situation, I don’t think we’ve spent more time on CHEd than any other agency, Chairman (Mark) Go is here we have had I think two or three hearings on similar issues, we have had two oversights, this is now the second budget hearing, to clarify this, would the CHEd voluntarily submit to a COA audit with the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) just so we can, once and for all, get the right answers to all these concerns,” Daza said.
“I propose that the Appropriations Committee immediately request a special audit which would involve giving the correct answers on the four questions formulated by Vice President Quimbo and (Janette) Garin, as well as by the DBM,” he added .
The motion was supported by the members present, while no one opposed the motion.
In an interjection before the hearing ended, Quimbo said the COA verbally blamed the special audit on CHEd’s finances.
Pay 2021 contributions
It was also revealed during the budget deliberations that CHEd debts for students under the Unified Student Financial Aid System for Higher Education (UniFAST) include debts for the 2021 to 2022 academic year – that CHEd tried to pay using its 2023 budget.
Committee Vice Chairman Garin, however, asked DBM Director Grace delos Santos if this was possible and legal.
“Can we use the 2023 funds? (…) From what I understand, Madam, regarding scholarships, if it is for the year they are considered academic, they should pay using the budget allocated for that year,” delos Santos said in Filipino.
“Because schools operate over a school year, but our credit is annual. Thus, for the academic year 2021 to 2022, the scholarship fees for the first semester should have been paid from the budget for the year 2021. For the second semester, from the budget for the year 2022, it is like this let it happen,” she added.
CHEd President Prospero de Vera III said he intends to pay dues for the 2021 to 2022 school year using the 2023 budget, providing a P40,000 grant to students enrolled since 2021 and who are still registered for the 2022 to 2023 school year.
Meanwhile, freshmen in 2022 would only receive a grant of P20,000. A total of 191,739 students enrolled in 2021 would be covered.
“There are two cohorts that will be given. One cohort is made up of second-year students enrolled since 2021, so we give them P40,000 to cover both 2021-2022 and 2022-2023. The second cohort is freshmen enrolled in 22-23, and we used the 2023 money for them because that is still covered by the academic year,” he added.
Garin, however, argued that what de Vera said contradicts what the DBM official said: that a particular annual budget can only be used for the corresponding school year. But the CHEd chief insisted it was the best solution they could come up with.
“It’s always the same because the calculation point is when you paid, the calculation point is if it was used for the previous school year which is not aligned with the 2023 allocation “, Garin said.
“Madam Speaker, this is the best we can give at the direction of Congress. If this is refused by DBM, we will not pay it, that is our promise,” de Vera said.
Higher education institutions asking CHEd to pay academics’ tuition fees, which are supposed to be subsidized by the government, is not new. Last May, de Vera admitted that SUCs were demanding more than P2 billion in additional funds as schools experienced a surge in enrollment after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then, in September 2022, CHEd requested an additional P12.5 billion in funding to support 205,584 new scholarship recipients under the Higher Education Grant (TES) for students enrolled in private schools.
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