Stale checks and tears

Today, I was assigned to do a story on the students who will be affected by the proposed budget cut of the Commission on Higher Education. We stayed at CHED the whole afternoon and talked to the students applying for Tulong Dunong or waiting for their checks.

Five of them agreed to be interviewed. The last one was a 2nd year student from PUP.

Jovelyn, who is taking up secondary education, told us that her father was a carpenter and her mother did laundry. She said that while she does not have to pay for tuition at PUP, she spent P200 a day on food and transportation since they live in Bicutan.

Asked how she will spend the two P6,000 checks she will receive today, she said, “Yung half ibibigay ko sa mother ko. Yung half sa akin. Ako na magbubudget nun.”

While she was happy at the prospect of no longer asking her parents for allowance, she knew it was not enough for the whole semester.

I asked her what her message was to the government. Her answer was a bit different from the other students I talked to.

“Wag naman nilang ituloy yung balak nila na babaan ang budget allowance ng mga scholarship kasi sila rin naman makikinabang sa amin someday. Pag nakatapos kami sa mga field namin,” she said.

More than assistance to the poor, she pointed out that such programs are investments for the nation’s future.

After our interview, she was called into the office.

I told my cameraman to wait by the door so we can shoot as she comes out, hopefully smiling and with a check in hand.

When she did come out, several minutes after, she smiled shyly then bowed her head.

“Anong nangyari?” I asked. And then she started crying. Apparently, the satellite office where she applied did a poor job at updating her status. The checks were already stale and it will take at least two weeks to have them replaced.

Jovelyn said her mother reminded her to come early so she can have the checks encashed before the banks closed. And now she had nothing to bring home.

“At least sigurado ka naman na makakatanggap ka diba?” I told her. But she was already disappointed, especially since she expected the checks months ago.

We both left CHED feeling defeated.

I can only imagine the thousands and even millions of students who face similar uncertainty, who can only hope for the government’s assistance to get to school or to eat.

As of today’s Senate hearing, the CHED 2019 budget is still at P50.4 billion, still quite low compared to the agency’s proposed P83 billion budget. Tulong Dunong, in particular, will have a 251% decrease next year (from P4.19 billion in 2018 to P1.193 billion in 2019).  Senators said Tulong Dunong beneficiaries can instead apply for the new Tertiary Education Subsidy program. However, CHED OIC Prospero de Vera said not all beneficiaries can be accommodated by the TES program. They will also have to apply again.

We can only hope that the system works and that those who need the most help will be prioritized.

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