MANILA, Philippines – A House of Representatives panel has approved an as-yet-unnumbered substitute bill that would expand government assistance given to teachers and students in private schools.
During Monday’s House Basic Education Committee hearing, several other changes were made by lawmakers, which were ultimately approved.
If approved by Congress and enacted by the President, said bill will repeal Sections 2, 3, 4(2), 4(3), 5, 6, 7, 12, 14 and 15 of Republic Act No. 8545, the 1998 law that was used to amend the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) Act.
Some of the provisions of the bill that have been amended are as follows:
- Inclusion of a sentence in Section 4 (Criteria for Voucher Assistance) that states that the provision of assistance will also be “based on the classification of its students in national and international assessments”.
- Removal of paragraphs in Section 8 (Basic Education Voucher Program) on how the value of vouchers can be increased — allocating 70 percent of the subsidized amount to pay salaries and benefits to teaching and non-teaching staff
- Inclusion of provision in Section 8 stating that amounts received by participating private schools through the voucher program will not be included as part of their income and therefore will not be taxable
- Removal of entire Section 13 of the working draft relating to the creation of a Private Education Secretariat (BPE)
The amended replacement bill passed with the consensus of lawmakers present, but Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda reiterated the need for Section 13. Salceda arrived late to the panel discussions, having attended a different committee hearing before.
Article 13 of the proposed measure provides for the creation of the BPE, which will be under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education (DepEd). Part of the BPE’s functions, had it not been removed from the proposed bill, would have been to administer policies and programs related to subsidies given to schools.
Salceda proposed that schools receive subsidies in advance so that they could use the allocated funds to create more classrooms.
“Maybe in the plenary I will raise this issue. So if you converge all the payments, say for a semester, and advance it to a certain school, that will help them build a classroom. So the word may not necessarily be alone, but bakit natin kinukuha ‘yong private sector? Precisely because the government alone cannot provide the facilities,” Salceda said.
“So, ‘yong interpret kasi, halimbawa kung ang SPEND ko receivable is say P100 million, if it is advanced, not necessarily borrowed, then the provision of the services of a particular cooperating school, essentially which will allow them to build to modernize their facilities, or build a school. So this specific capacity of whatever you call the new fund is critical,” she added.
Salceda, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, referred to the case of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), where reimbursements are advanced to hospitals so that these healthcare institutions can use them to build facilities.
But basic education committee head and Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo said schools can still raise funds through loans from the Social Security System (SSS).
“And the suggestion is well accepted, but to complete the whole story, at the last committee meeting, the SSS was in fact here and the SSS has already presented a position paper and according to the SSS position paper, they are authorized to lend for capital disbursement, as long as the borrowing school complies with the rules and regulations of the specific lending institution,” said Rômulo.
“So the deletion of Section 13 does not mean that they can no longer address the SSS, because they are permitted and I think that was very clear at the last committee meeting, except that for the purposes of this bill we say that we would focus in the voucher system provided by DepEd – for SSS and other financial institutions, based on the position paper, are authorized as long as they are in compliance with their charters,” he added.
Salceda ended up admitting that he will have to defend this point in the plenary deliberations, since the bill has already been approved by the committee.
Prior to the bill’s approval, several concerns were raised about the expansion of GASTPE: on November 7, a group representing teachers and staff at colleges and universities across the country warned that the new bill would allow schools to increase unrestricted tuition fees as per RA No. 6728 would be repealed.
According to the Council of Teachers, Employees of Colleges and Universities of the Philippines (Cotescup), the previous version of the bill repeals Section 5(2) of RA No. 6728, which mandates that seventy percent of the subsidized amount earmarked for monthly fees or fee increases will be used to pay salaries, wages, allowances and other benefits of teaching and non-teaching staff.
READ: Group opposes bill that changes law on assistance to private education
Then, Salceda said last August 8 that there were incidents where the GASTPE program served phantom beneficiaries – non-existent teachers and students and unqualified schools.
READ: ‘Ghost beneficiaries’ cause suspension of negotiations on education aid bill
Salceda highlighted that no verification was done by the Audit Committee (COA) on the portion of resources transferred to the Private Education Assistance Committee (PEAC) for management,