Senate probe on CHED's P7-billion 'questionable releases' pushed

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 16 2022 11:31 AM

Commission on Higher Education. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File
Commission on Higher Education. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — Sen. Risa Hontiveros is calling for an investigation into the allegedly P7-billion worth of questionable releases by the Commission on Higher Education.

In Senate Resolution 128, she cited the report of the Commission on Audit flagging the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) over the implementation of its key programs.

"Sa katunayan, mula nung i-file ko ang resolution na iyan tungkol sa CHED UniFAST, wow, ang daming nakikipag-ugnayan sa office ko na hindi daw nila natanggap 'yung pera nila and it will give you a heartache," Hontiveros told ANC's "Headstart" Tuesday.

(Since I filed that resolution on CHED's UniFast, many have reached out to my office, saying they have not received their money.) 

UniFAST is an attached agency under CHED meant to implement Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.

According to its website, UniFAST reconciles, improves, strengthens, expands, and puts under one body all government-funded modalities of Student Financial Assistance Programs for tertiary education and special purpose education assistance in both public and private institutions. 

These modalities include scholarships, grants-in-aid, student loans and other specialized forms of StuFAPs formulated by the UniFAST Board.

Among issues that Hontiveros said were flagged by state auditors were the P3.4 billion worth of delayed and non-submission of the Free Higher Education billings and documents, and P824 million worth of payments to state and universities and colleges and local universities and colleges without official receipts.

The issues flagged by COA also include P1 billion in unimplemented and unreverted funds for the student loan program; P1.003 billion delayed release of financial benefits; P4.43 million double scholarship grants; and P200 million worth of unutilized allotments for tertiary education subsidy.

"Just to show how non-fast it is, sabi ng mga ibang estudyante huli silang nakatanggap nung kanilang UniFAST allowance or tuition nung 2019 pa," Hontiveros said. "'Yung iba sa kanila, kalahating semestre lang na halaga ang nakuha, 'yung iba graduating na ngayon."

(Some students said the last time they received their UniFAST allowance or tuition was back in 2019. Others said the amount they received was only for half a semester, some are already graduating.) 

In response to the Senate resolution, CHED said Monday it takes "seriously" the allegations raised by Hontiveros.

"The alleged 'questionable releases' have been answered squarely by CHED-UNIFAST in its reply to the COA while observations (e.g. inefficient billing) requiring action from CHED-UniFAST have been corrected as these allegations stem from COA observations 3-4 years ago (AY 2018-2019 and AY 2019-2020)," CHED chairman Prospero De Vera said in a statement.

"CHED has always been fully transparent and accountable in its implementation of RA 10931 or the UAQTE (Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act). The beneficiaries of UAQTE are the beneficiaries mandated by the law. No UAQTE funds have been released to students who are not beneficiaries under the law," he added.

De Vera said the agency is ready to meet with Hontiveros to clarify her concerns.

Asked to comment on CHED's statement, Hontiveros said, "I'm also willing to meet. I'm glad he takes seriously 'yung mga laman ng aking resolution at dapat lamang dahil COA findings ito."