Risa Hontiveros wants to investigate irregularities in UniFAST implementation

·2 min read
Senator Risa Hontiveros said that the testimonies her office received from students were heartbreaking. (Photo: Senator Risa Hontiveros/Facebook)
Senator Risa Hontiveros said that the testimonies her office received from students were heartbreaking. (Photo: Senator Risa Hontiveros/Facebook)

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros revealed in an interview on ANC’s Headstart on Tuesday (Aug 16) that her office has been receiving testimonies from students who were supposed to benefit from the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) about the alleged irregularities in the disbursement of almost P7 billion funds earmarked for the said program.

According to Hontiveros, ever since she filed the resolution to look into the issue, numerous students shared that they haven’t, or weren’t able to, receive the scholarship funds they are entitled to get.

Sabi ng mga estudyanteng ito, huli silang nakatanggap nung kanilang UniFAST allowance noong 2019 pa. Yung iba sa kanila, kalahating semestre lang na halaga ang nakuha, yung iba, graduating na ngayon, first year pa sila hindi nakakatanggap,” said Hontiveros.

(These students said that they last received their allowance in 2019. Some of them only received scholarship funds for half a semester, and others are already graduating but have yet to receive the funds since they were first-year students.)

UniFAST is an attached agency of the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) established under Republic Act No. 10931, or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.

Under the said law, it is mandated to help underprivileged students with financial assistance through exemption from tuition fee collection and other fees in state universities and colleges (SUCs) through a faster and more unified comprehensive system.

Some students even said that they asked CHEd for an update but they were told that there was no budget allocated for this, which according to Hontiveros is not true.

Hontiveros shared that the testimonies were heartbreaking, as a majority of the targeted students of this program come from low-income families who barely have money to attend school.

“These students are members of families of up to 10 children, children of farmers and fisherfolk, of indigent families under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program,” said Hontiveros.

On August 11, Hontiveros filed Senate Resolution No. 128 calling the Senate to investigate the implementation of UniFAST, which was flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA).

Citing the 2021 COA report, Hontiveros said that UniFAST had a whopping P3.4 billion worth of “delayed and non-submissions of billings and documents” to SUCs and local universities and colleges for 20 to 44 months, while P1 billion remains to be “unimplemented and unreverted funds,” and another P1 billion “delayed release of financial benefits.”

“For any legislator and during or beyond the budget debates, COA audit reports are like solid gold. They’re enough to show that agencies’ lapses need to be explained,” Hontiveros said.

Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments on politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @marvs30ang for latest news and updates.

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