Non-poor enjoy subsidy

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

One of the landmark statutes that have broadened a bit the access of Filipinos to education is Republic Act (RA) 6728, or the GASTPE Law, for brevity’s sake. It stands for Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education. RA 6728 signed into law on June 10, 1989 by the late president Corazon Aquino provides government assistance to students and teachers to enrol in private educational institutions in the form of supplements to their tuition fees.

The GASTPE Law was principally authored by the late senator Edgardo Angara, father of Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara. Before he turned to politics, the elder Angara was the president of the University of the Philippines (UP) System that was supposed to cater to poor but deserving students wishing to pursue college degrees. But they must pass competitive admission tests to become state scholars. Several decades later, there is not even enough parking space for car-riding students and professors at the State University grounds in Diliman, Quezon City.         

It was also the elder Angara who pushed fellow lawmakers to create a Joint Congressional Education Committee (EdCom). Composed of senators and House members, they looked into remedial legislative measures or new laws to upgrade, modernize and equip with needed tools Filipino students, teachers and administrators of Philippine schools in both public and private institutions.  

As originally intended by the lawmakers, the GASTPE program aims to improve quality in public education by maximizing the use of existing resources of public and private education. Under this program, the government will subsidize the payment of tuition fee for students who could not be admitted due to shortage of classrooms and teachers in public schools. Supposedly, the target beneficiaries are schoolchildren from low-income families but who could not afford to pay tuition fees.       

The GASTPE Law was subsequently amended by RA 8545. Signed into law by former president Fidel Ramos on Feb. 24, 1998, it was dubbed as the Expanded GASTPE Law. This law expanded assistance criteria and amounts, as well as extended tuition fee supplements to learners in elementary up to students in private junior and senior high schools to enrol in private educational institutions.

The Department of Education (DepEd) is the institutional owner and regulator of the GASTPE. A review of GASTPE program by the Commission on Audit (COA) in 2018 highly recommended its continued implementation, but with a conditional requirement. “DepEd promoted greater choice for Filipino students but it needs to strengthen its administrative controls to ensure economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of the program implementation,” the 2018 COA report stated.

For the first time since this COA report came out, it was only in November last year that this recommendation was carried out. As the chairman of the Senate committee on basic education, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who now chairs EdCom-2, announced they will make another review of the GASTPE program. During our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last week, Sen. Gatchalian noted with satisfaction the DepEd, now headed by Vice President Sara Duterte in concurrent capacity, finally created this new office or division now exclusively handling the GASTPE program.

“But let’s make sure that it’s the poor that is given the opportunity. Because right now, it’s not that, it’s not happening that way,” Sen. Gatchalian revealed.

Along with his EdCom-2 co-chairman, Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo, Gatchalian announced the review of the GASTPE program will correct the “defective” implementation of a very-well-intentioned law. Gatchalian clarified DepEd has contracted the Private Education Assistance Committee (PEAC) to select the private schools included in the GASTPE program. The PEAC is a five-member committee constituted to serve as trustee of the Fund for Assistance to Private Education, which is a perpetual fund created to provide assistance to private education in the country.         

In the public hearing last week, Gatchalian cited the initial measures instituted by VP Sara through a series of DepEd office orders and memorandum circulars in addressing the other woes of the education sector. For now, he noted, the GASTPE program “helps decongest schools,” addresses shortage in classroom and teachers.  

 He recalled during the first year of the pandemic in 2020, the enrollment in private schools dropped 48 percent. Prior to that, numerous students had already transferred to public schools due to the abrupt migration of teachers. Based on DepEd records in 2022, at least 425 private schools had shut down since 2020.

“But let’s prioritize the poor. Because these are public funds. These are funds being paid by our taxpayers. So, it’s important to practice equity. It’s important that equity is being observed,” Gatchalian stressed. 

Sen. Gatchalian discovered that even students from well-to-do families enrolled in private schools get to enjoy the GASTPE tuition allocations. He learned from his recent reunion with schoolmates coming from upper income bracket families that their children enrolled in certain private schools get “discounts” on tuition charged to the GASTPE allocation of that school.

“For example, private school, I give you, let’s say, 40 slots. Kung walang nag-apply, kahit sino na kunin mo. Kasi may allotment na siya. So, ang nangyayari, binigyan ka na ng allotment. At walang nag-a-apply na mahirap because may top up. Ang nag-a-apply na lang ay mga non-poor. And then the subsidy, they use it as a discount,” Sen. Gatchalian explained.

“Ang nagbabayad tayo taxpayers. And we want to see, I want to see my taxes to help the poor first. Not to help the non-poor,” Gatchalian rued. 

“And we see, estimate namin, in a year  almost P8 billion ang pumupunta sa non-poor,” Sen. Gatchalian deplored.

For this year’s Congress-approved 2024 General Appropriations Act (GAA), Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Amenah Pangandaman informed me that the entire amount of P40.5-billion allocation for GASTPE has been “comprehensively released” already to the DepEd.          

“So, again, we need to make sure that that P8 billion goes to the poor because it’s unfair that we’re allocating budget and subsidy for the non-poor,” Sen. Gatchalian urged.

For all intents and purposes, GASTPE is a good program because it gives poor students an opportunity to study in private schools. Hopefully, the Gatchalian-led EdCom-2 will be able to stop the non-poor and  box them out of this State education subsidy.  

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with