Duterte Approves Free State College Fees Opposed by Budget Chief

(Bloomberg) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law Thursday providing free tuition in state universities and colleges over the objection of his economics advisers who said it could cost as much as 100 billion pesos ($2 billion) a year.

The president said the long-term benefits of education outweighed the “very heavy budgetary implications”, Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said at a televised briefing in Manila. He said the projected cost appears to be on the high side.

The additional spending comes as Duterte met with senators earlier this week to discuss a possible increase in the budget to fund the hiring of at least 20,000 soldiers and police after receiving reports of fresh Islamic State-linked terror threats in Mindanao. The Department of Finance estimated that the budget deficit for the month of July may have tripled to 147.7 billion pesos, the Manila Bulletin reported on August 1.

Guevarra said the administration was looking at different ways to help fund the initiative, including borrowing through official development assistance as well as receiving donations. He said Duterte had left it to Congress to realign the budget to include free education.

Earlier this week Budget Secretary Ben Diokno said free college education in state universities would not benefit the poor because only 12 percent of students come from poor families and the government already offered scholarships in 114 state-run tertiary schools.