On questionable funds, ghost scholars: Issues hounding the gov’t’s scholarship agency

September 29, 2022 - 7:05 PM
Photo of Senator Risa Hontiveros at the Senate hearing on September 27, 2022 (Facebook/Risa Hontiveros)

Beneficiaries of the government’s scholarship program feared that their free education will be revoked because of their complaints against it.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros revealed screenshots of comments that contained such messages in a Facebook post on September 28.

The comments were found under the posts on the official pages of the Commission on Higher Education.

“LOOK: Screenshots mula sa official social media pages ng CHED-UniFast NCR at Region 10 na hinihikayat ang mga scholars na mag-post ng #IStandWithCHEDUnifast, at iba pang mga reklamo,” Hontiveros said.

The Unified Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education Act or UniFast is a law that provides financial assistance to students for tertiary education.

It was also formed as an attached agency of the Commission on Higher Education to implement its programs and regulations.

On Hontiveros’ post, some of the images showed complaints from students about their cases related to their UniFast subsidies.

Hontiveros said that these students requested anonymity out of fear that their scholarships might be removed.

“Sa mga e-mail na natanggap ko mula sa mga scholars ng UniFAST, huwag na daw na ipaalam ang identity nila,” Hontiveros said.

“Ramdam ko na takot sila na malaman na nagrereklamo sila kasi baka lalo silang mawalan ng scholarship. Na-gaslight pa sila na kung maimbestigahan ang P7 bilyon anomalyang ng ahensya, matitigil ang libreng pag-aaral nila,” she added.

In its latest report, the Commission on Audit flagged a staggering P7 billion worth of “questionable releases” under UniFast.

After this issue erupted, Hontiveros said that a “climate of fear” grew among the beneficiaries.

This should prompt the Senate to investigate and help improve the program.

“Gusto nating imbestigahan ito para MAAYOS ang mga problemang nakakaapekto sa maraming estudyante, HINDI ITIGIL yung programa,” Hontiveros said.

“There is a real climate of fear among students, and we at the Senate should find out who is instigating it,” she added.

COA flags UniFast

Last August, Hontiveros filed Senate Resolution No. 128 to launch a probe into UniFast’s alleged “questionable” practices and implementation, citing state auditors’ recent findings on the agency.

She noted that the COA report “casts doubt as to the veracity and strength of the control mechanisms within UniFast in implementing the Universal Access to Quality Education.”

CHED responded to this in a statement on August 15.

CHED Chairperson Prospero De Vera said that the alleged P7 billion “questionable releases” have already been addressed.

“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),” De Vera said.

Hontiveros, however, was not convinced.

In response to De Vera, she said that her office received more than 300 complaints from students and institutions about allegedly not receiving any assistance from the agency.

“Ghost scholars”

Last Wednesday, Hontiveros said that her office also received complaints about “ghost scholars” or recipients of the subsidies who had already finished school.

“Almost 400 students have sent complaints to my office that they have NOT received their education subsidy,” the senator said.

“Kasama dito, may mga reklamo na may mga ‘GHOST SCHOLARS’ na nakakatanggap ng tuition reimbursement ng mga estudyante na naka-graduate na,” she added.

The veteran lawmaker then strongly called for the investigation into the matter.

“So kung hindi ang mga bata, sino ang totoong nagka-cash in? Seryosong alegasyon ito na kailangan imbestigahan ng CHED,” she said.