Bayan o billboard? Fund free tuition with pork barrel, suggests Ping

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 09 2017 10:50 AM | Updated as of Aug 09 2017 10:57 AM

Senator Ping Lacson. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson on Wednesday floated the idea of using congressional pork barrel to fund free tuition in state universities and colleges (SUCs) in 2018.

Lacson noted that each senator receives P300 million every year from the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) while congressmen get P80 million each.

The lawmakers' discretionary funds, he said, amount to an annual total of P29.3-billion, which is enough to cover the P20 billion to P25 billion cost of providing free college education.

"Kung ifo-forgo lang lang iyun, hagip na iyung kaukulang halaga. Kasi kung babawasin iyun sa mga ahensya, baka may mga masakripisyo na proyekto," Lacson, who has so far eschewed his own pork barrel, told radio DZMM.

(If we forgo the PDAF, it will be enough to provide the required funds. If we deduct that instead from the budget agencies, certain projects may be sacrificed.)

The Supreme Court in 2013 declared lump sum appropriations under the PDAF as unconstitutional.

The current budgeting system however still allows lawmakers during budget deliberations to identify pet projects they want funded, which at times include billboards, Lacson pointed out.

"Sabi nila, wala nang pork barrel kasi pre-legislation na iyung pag-identify ng projects. E ganoon din e. Hinuhugot din iyun sa mga lump sum at ina-allocate din," he said.

"Tuwing budget deliberation after ng Supreme Court ruling, laging sinasabi nilang wala nang pork barrel. E bakit nakakakita tayo ng mga billboard? Project of congressman po ito. Lokohan e, lokahan talaga."

Lacson added that there is no shortage of funds that could be used for free tuition, given that there is an average of P300 billion in unused budget every year.

"Maraming pagkukuhanan kaya hindi problema and funding diyan," he said. (The funding will not be a problem because there are a lot of possible sources.)

President Rodrigo Duterte last week signed the bill granting free tuition in SUCs. However, he admitted Tuesday that there were concerns on how to fund the law.

"Iyan nga ang problema, gusto ko tanungin sa inyo," Duterte told reporters in a chance interview in Malacañang.

"Ewan ko, tingnan natin. Kasi ang pag-approve ng Congress, alam naman nila walang pera. Eh pagdating sa akin alam ko man na walang pera"

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno meanwhile said the proposed budget for some government agencies could be cut as a result of the signing of the free tuition law.

The budget department will meet on Wednesday with the Commission on Higher Education, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, the president of the UP system, members of the House Appropriations Committee, and Senate Finance Committee to determine the budget for the free college education law.