Senator Panfilo Lacson yesterday won the first round of his scrutiny of the P3.757 trillion proposed 2019 general appropriations bill (GAB) with the realignment of P3 billion fund to the Commission of Higher Education (CHEd) from the Tulong Dunong project.
In realigning the fund, the Senate also removed the endorsement power of legislators, some of whom are allegedly directly involved in choosing the beneficiaries of the Tulong Dunong project.
Lacson prevailed over Senate finance committee chair Sen. Loren Legarda, who tried to defend the Tulong Dunong project which she described as “laudable” and Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto who lamented the lack of funding support to free tertiary education.
He insisted the Tulong Dunong project became redundant after the passage of Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.
As a compromise, an agreement was reached to formulate a special provision preventing legislators from exercising discretion over the fund.
In the national expenditure program, the Tulong Dunong project was allotted with P1.193 billion which increased to P1.968 in the House-approved GAB and grew to P3.1 billion in the Senate budget measure.
“The agreement was to incorporate the budget to CHEd under the free tuition fee act so that there will be no exercise of discretion on the part of the legislators,” Lacson said.
“We don’t need Tulong Dunong because it’s just the same – free tuition fee plus other miscellaneous fees for poor but deserving students,” he added.
Under the current Tulong Dunong project, Lacson said some legislators are not only endorsing beneficiaries but even distributing checks themselves.
“This is a laudable project but the legislators have no business implementing the project because that is exclusive domain or jurisdiction of the Executive branch,” Lacson said.
Meanwhile, Lacson revealed that a congresswoman from Pampanga and a congressman from Camarines Sur got the biggest budget insertions in the House version of the proposed 2019 national budget.
In an interview after the morning session of the plenary debates, Lacson said the congresswoman had an initial budget of P726,710,000 for projects as approved by the House of Representatives during its second reading and an additional budget of P1,698,109,000 when the proposed budget was approved on third and final reading. All told, the congresswoman has P2,424,819,000 in available funds.
He said the congresswoman has a budget of more than P500 million for at least 69 farm-to-market road projects.
On the other hand, Lacson said the congressman got an initial budget of P360,405,000 after the proposal was approved on second reading but later got an additional 1,545,901,000 on the third and final reading, for a total of which was P1,906,306,000.