'Bulakbol,' rich? No free tuition for 'undeserving' college students – Lacson

MANILA, Philippines – Undeserving students should be excluded from the coverage of the free college tuition law.

With the passage of the landmark legislation, Senator Panfilo Lacson said the law should not automatically cover all students in state universities and colleges.

Lacson said the government should not fund students who are not “deserving” or those who don’t study or don't do well in school. (READ: LIST: State colleges and universities covered by free tuition law)

“Kailangan malinaw sa IRR na mga deserving students lang kasi kung gagastusan ng pamahalaan. Ang bulakbulero at bulakbulera at bobong estudyante 'di dapat siguro yan. 'Yan dapat mahihirap at deserving na estudyante,” Lacson said in an interview with radio dzBB on Sunday, August 6.

(It should be clear in the Implementing Rules and Regulations that the government would spend only for deserving students. Those who do not go to school and those who don't perform well should not be included. It should only cover poor and deserving students.)

The senator said the Commission on Higher Education should screen beneficiaries well. Congress, he added, should also have an oversight function to check if the law is properly impleneted.

“Kailangan salain ng mabuti ng CHED at dapat may oversight ang Kongreso para makita na ang nasa... ng batas ay masusunod din. Dapat salain din, otherwise napakalaking pondo kailangan natin. Itong paulit-ulit, nakaka-5 taon na nasa 1st year college pa rin, 'di tayo papayag noon, di ba?” Lacson said.

(The CHED should screen it very well and Congress should have an oversight function to check if the law is properly implemented. It should be screened, otherwise we will be needing huge funds. Student-repeaters or those who have been staying in college for 5 years but are still in 1st year college. We will not allow that.)

President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act despite opposition from his economic advisers.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the government could not afford the P100 billion needed for the program. But senators strongly opposed it, saying the fund needed is only from P20 to P25 billion and that education should be treated as an "investment."

Reallocate pork barrel to fund law

In 2017, the Senate pushed for the reallocation of P8.3 billion – originally intended for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao but "parked" in the Department of Public Works and Highways – to fund free tuition in SUCs.

For 2018, Lacson said Congress should look for ways to fund the free tuition law, as he called for the removal of pork barrel from the 2018 national budget.

"Ang hope lang sana, alisin na lang yung mga pork ng mga kongresista at mga senador at yun na lang yung ilaan budget para sa free tuition," Lacson said.

(Our hope is that they remove the pork of congressmen and senators and allocate it for the free tuition budget.)

The senator is a known critic of discretionary funds and has long declined to accept such. He also voted against the Senate’s approval of the 2017 national budget, after claiming there are pork insertions in it.

"Sa pag-aaral namin, ito gusto ko rin i-take up sa budget deliberations, pina-finalize pa namin, pero may kongresista na nakakuha ng P5 billion, may kongresista na nakakuha ng P6 billion. Individual ito na pork barrel," Lacson said, referring to the 2017 budget.

(In our research, I also want to take this up during budget deliberations but we're still finalizing it, there were congressmen getting P5 billion, P6 billion for individual pork barrel.)

"Kung saan-saan kinukuha ito at pina-park sa mga ahensya na kausap na nila yung mga head agencies. Ito ay the usual, call it any name you want pero in my book, pork barrel pa rin 'yan," he added.

(They are getting it from various sources and they park it in agencies where they have already talked to the heads. This is the usual practice. Call it any name you want but in my book, it's still pork barrel.)

In 2013, the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com