Realign Tulong Dunong ‘pork’ to augment Free Tuition Law

MANILA — Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday questioned the budget allotted for the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED’s) Tulong Dunong program and urged that it should be realigned instead to augment the budget for the free college education program.

Lacson said the Tulong Dunong program is being implemented with the full discretion of legislators, a practice that was already ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Under the program, each student enrolled in either a public or private university will be granted PHP12,000 in financial assistance per school year.

For 2019, Tulong Dunong has been allotted a budget of PHP1.9 billion.

But Lacson pointed out that legislators are the ones who determine those who will benefit from the program

“A congressman can just choose the daughter or son of one of his leaders and make him a beneficiary. Some legislators are even distributing the checks themselves,” he told the plenary during interpellations for the proposed PHP3.757-trillion budget for next year.

“Tulong Dunong is a laudable project, but legislators have no business implementing the project since that falls under the exclusive domain or jurisdiction of the executive branch. Whether it’s PHP1 or PHP3 billion, it’s still pork if legislators are the ones implementing it,” Lacson said.

He also pointed out that the passage of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (Republic Act 10931) or Free Tuition Law last year has already made the Tulong Dunong program redundant.

RA 10931 created the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) which grants as much as PHP60,000 in financial assistance per academic year for every qualified student-beneficiary.

Lacson urged that the budget allotted for the TD program be realigned and incorporated instead to the CHED budget allotted for the free college education program.

“Realign na lang natin yan, augment na lang natin sa Free Tuition Act na pinasa natin last year (Let’s realign this, augment it to the Free Tuition Act that we passed last year),” Lacson said.

He said unlike in the TD program, the free college education program limits the exercise of discretion among legislators.

“There are parameters in the Free Tuition Act that should be met, unlike TD which is discretionary,” Lacson said.

“We can endorse constituents who we know are deserving but poor, but they should be subject to vetting by CHED,” he said.

While the financial assistance granted in TES is higher compared to TD, stricter rules have to be followed to enter the program.

Under RA 10931’s implementing rules, prioritization of TES beneficiaries will apply in the following order: continuing grantees of the existing CHED’s Expanded Students Grant-in-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation Program (ESGP-PA) belonging to 4Ps families; students studying in private schools in cities and municipalities with no existing state university and college (SUC) or local university and college (LUC); students included in the Listahanan 2.0; and those not in the Listahanan 2.0 but can show proof of indigency.