SEN. Panfilo Lacson has spotted a possible multi-billion peso “pork” source for lawmakers and has aborted its inclusion in the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020.
In his interpellation of the recommended P43.8 billion budget of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) for next year, Lacson pointed to a P5.23 billion lump sum appropriation which he suspected was being eyed to fund the “Tulong Dunong” scholarship program of legislators.
The program, according to Lacson, was already scrapped in the 2019 budget of the CHED following the enactment in 2017 of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act which institutionalized free tuition and exemption from other fees in state universities and colleges, local universities and colleges in the country. The law likewise provided for subsidies for private higher education institutions.
“Of the P8.5 billion increase in CHED’s P43.8 billion budget for the Universal Access to Quality Education, only P3.285 billion was allotted for (the) Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES). If the remaining 5.23 billion is lump sum, I will suspect sa Tulong Dunong na naman ito napunta (I suspect this went to Tulong Dunong again),” Lacson said.
The lawmaker said the most telling proof that some lawmakers have continued the scholarship program were Facebook posts from “broadcasting” that they are still accepting scholarship applications under the scheme.
Lacson said there is a special provision in the 2019 CHED budget which states that “the implementation of the (TES) shall cover the existing or ongoing grantees under the Tulong Dulong program, as well as the grant of financial assistance to deserving new students.”
“Kung naroon ang provision in the 2019 budget, bakit may naliligaw pang Tulong Dunong? I am afraid that will be a repetition of scholarship programs by legislators (If there is a provision in the 2019 budget, why do they (solons) still have Tulong Dunong? I am afraid that will be a repetition of scholarship programs by legislators),” he said.
Lacson moved to amend the CHED proposed budget and pushed that the P5.23 billion lump sum be added to the P3.285 billion for TES. His proposal was approved without any objection.
Likewise, Lacson asked the House of Representatives and his colleagues in the Senate to define the parameters of the bicameral conference committee, which will be convened once the Senate approves its version of the proposed General Appropriations Bill.
Lacson made the call in an apparent bid to prevent insertions or individual amendments, similar to what happened last year during the bicameral discussions for the 2019 national budget.
Lacson recalled that during last year’s bicameral debates, solons introduced individual amendments, a move that ran contrary to normal bicameral practices since the process was only meant to reconcile the disagreeing provisions in the Senate and the House versions.
He said the bicameral panel, which claimed was regarded as the “third chamber,” is the “most powerful chamber” in the budgetary process before the measure is transmitted to Malacañang for the President’s final approval.
Lacson said the bicameral is not open to all members of Congress, as it will only be attended by select senators and congressmen.