Scholars file complaint against CHEd chief before Ombudsman

scholars file complaint against ched chief before ombudsman

Commission on Higher Education OIC Prospero de Vera III. PHOTO BY RUY L. MARTINEZ

TEN indigenous student scholars from South Cotabato filed a complaint against Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chairman Prospero de Vera III before the Office of the Ombudsman for failing to release their living allowances for three school years starting in 2021.

De Vera has already been under fire for failing to make use of a P10.3 billion fund meant for free tuition and living allowances of government scholars under Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.

The 10 Menitobong students accused de Vera of negligence of duties and responsibilities as a public official, violation of the Ease of Doing Business Act, grave abuse of power and authority and moral injury to students and educational institutions.

“Days, weeks, months and years have passed, but still we and other student-grantees have not received our aforementioned living allowances, which made us dismayed and affected our studies… our parents definitely have no financial capacity to spend,” their complaint said.

The complainants also called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the leadership of Congress to take the appropriate action against de Vera’s inaction on their pleas even as appropriate funding for government scholars has been provided by Congress.

Under RA 10931, a student-scholar is entitled to free tuition and other school fee subsidies, including a P20,000 living allowance per semester.

RA 10931 provides that the subsidy will be administered by the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education, or UniFAST, to ensure all eligible Filipinos can access adequate and equitable education.

Earlier, Northern Samar Rep. Paul Daza said P10.3 billion was allocated to the CHEd as part of the Higher Education Development Fund (HEDF). The fund came from the earnings of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., the Professional Regulation Commission and travel taxes.

“Those are earmarked funds by law and cannot be used outside of its specified purpose,” Daza said. He urged the President to order an internal review of CHEd’s performance and the dropout rate of students, which he said was at 30 percent to 40 percent.

“You have P10 billion, but you don’t use it; I suspect there is a hidden agenda. That should be reviewed and investigated by the Commission on Audit and Malacañang,” Daza said,

The 10 student-complainants are set to graduate in 2025. Three of them are taking up bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education, two are in tourism management, while the five others are studying information technology, criminology, social work, English and business administration.

They expressed frustration over CHEd’s inaction and feared that they might drop out of school in their graduating year.

One of the complainants, Hannah Shaira Heponia, 21, an English major, said she is taking part-time tutorial jobs to survive and continue her studies. Her mother, who is now 70, suffered a stroke while her father was jobless and taking care of her mother.

Arnel Abuan, 21, a criminology student, came from a broken family and is the youngest in a brood of three. His two sisters already have families of their own. He works once a week on-call as a gasoline boy to provide for his daily needs. His mother works as a seasonal farm helper.

Ryan Jay Loyola, 21, a tourism management student, appealed to the President to intercede on their behalf to speed up the release of the benefits due them under RA 10931, which the CHEd had not released for the last three school years. His mother was a former domestic helper who was forced to return home for good to take care of him and his siblings following the death of their father.

Pailin Mae Diaz, 20, who is studying to become a social worker, also called on the President to help her and other fellow scholars. Her mother only earns P500 monthly as a barangay health worker, while her father is a tricycle driver. She has five other siblings who are also studying.

No merit

De Vera said that the cases filed against him before the Office of the Ombudsman “lacked merit.”

In a statement sent to reporters on Wednesday night, he vehemently denied being negligent in the payment of TES.

He added that he has only one voice in the governing board of the UniFAST or Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST).

The board is composed of CHEd, the Department of Education, the National Economic and Development Authority, the Department of Labor and Employment, the National Youth Commission, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and the Department of Science and Technology, among others.

“Why am I being singled out for a policy decision that I cannot make individually but is collegially made by the UniFAST Board?” De Vera said.

Any claim of unfairness, he said, is also unfounded as the subsidy amounts are set by the UniFAST guidelines and approved by its board.

“The claimants are therefore wrong in their argument that RA 10931 or the Free Higher Education law guarantees them a specific amount for TES. The alleged unreceived payments lack factual basis,” de Vera said.

He said that budget constraints due to the pandemic and congressional alignments in the 2021 and 2022 general appropriations act also reduced the budget of the TES, which affected the number of grantees from 2021 to 2023.

“CHED looked for other funding sources to assist TES grantees. All continuing TES grantees of Marvelous College received their TES for AY 2021-2023 and 1,498 new TES grantees enrolled in Marvelous College received their TES for AY 2021-2023,” de Vera said.

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