By EARL O. CONDEZA
DAVAO CITY — Aimee Camo, an Education freshman at the state-owned University of Southeastern Philippines-Obrero Campus, faces a dilemma regarding the public clamor to abolish the pork barrel of lawmakers.
While she understands the rage against the corruption-laden discretionary fund of senators and Congress representatives, she wonders however, on what would happen to the scholarships offered by the lawmakers through these funds.
“Makulbaan ko ba kay scholar ko, basig mawala ang scholarship pag mawala ang pork (I’m worried about my scholarship, that I would lose it if they take abolish the pork barrel,” said Camo, one of several students in the USEP Obrero campus whose studies are being shouldered by the scholarship fund of this city’s first district Rep. Karlo Alexei B. Nograles.
Kenneth Renegado, a scholar of the Gabriela Partylist, said if the pork barrel would be abolished, other agencies like the Commission on Higher Education, should handle the continuity of the Congressional scholarship programs.
“It is not the job of congressmen to impose and implement projects such as scholarships; rather these belong to the CHED and DOH,” said Renegado, who is also the president of the USEP League of Class Mayors.
Melissa Antivo, who is taking up Bachelor of Technical Teacher Education (BTTE), said she would not mind with abolishing the pork “para maiwasan ang corruption (to prevent corruption)”. This should challenge the congress representatives “to genuinely serve their constituents without using the pork”.
In his Internet website, Rep. Nograles said that his Oplan Kaalam scholarships had already served 20,000 “less fortunate but deserving” students since May 2001, when he inherited the scholarship program from his father, Prospero, also a first district Congress representative for several terms.
Nograles’ website also reported that last school year, 31 of their USEP scholars graduated cum laude, the batch of 1,800 scholars three years ago. The Oplan Kaalam also funded 35 percent of scholars from UP Mindanao in 2010, the most number of scholars in the state university.
Aside from Nograles, second district Rep. Mylene Garcia-Albano has also more than 1,200 scholars in the USEP. Media reports said Garcia has allocated P6 million every semester, or a total of P12 million in one school year for the USEP scholars.
Both the Nograles and Garcia scholarships provide P5,000 in tuition support for each scholar each year.
A big number of scholars funded by the Congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) are studying in subsidized government-ran schools.
And not all scholars in these government institutions are subsidized by the PDAF. USEP, for instance, has scholars sponsored by both public and private institutions including the A. O. Floirendo Adopt a Child to School, the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Educational Benefit System Office, the Commission on Higher Education Scholarship Programs, Cibac (Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption) Partylist, City Educational Grant of the Davao City Water District, Davao Light & Powert Company, Davaoeño USA, Inc., Department of Science & Technology-Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI), Philippine Long Distance Telephone–Smart Foundation Inc., the Pulabato Barangay Local Government Unit–Philippine Business for Social Progress, Rotary Club of South Davao, SM Foundation, Inc., and United Coconut Planters Bank–Coconut Industry Investment Fund.
The USEP Obrero’s student population is around 7,000, of which the Nograles and Garcia’s scholarships support around 3,000, or nearly half of the university student population.
With some Congress representatives now moving in to abolish the pork barrel, student leaders and administrators in USEP believe there are mechanisms to ensure programs will continue for government scholars in their campus.
USEP’s Student Affairs Director Susan Villarente told Davao Today it is unlikely that scholarship programs under congressmen will be immediately cut off.
“Maybe they will just limit the number (of scholars). They will have measures on how to control it” she added.
USEP Student Council President, Eugene Gaspan said that scholars should not lose their right to education. “It is impossible to lose this right to be scholars because it is people’s money,” he said.
Chedelyn Tabalba, news editor of the USEP paper Collegiate Headlight said it was unfortunate for scholars to absorb the anxiety with how Congress representatives have been exposed of using these scholarship programs “as a means to ensure their position”.
“The fact that a lot of students availed of scholarships means that students have difficulty to afford high tuition in university,” she said.
Rendell Cagula, student of University of the Philippines Mindanao and Davao region coordinator of Kabataan partylist, said it is high time that the pork barrel funds must be re-channeled to state universities and colleges (SUCs) who faced budget cuts.
The proposed national budget 2014 slashed the budget of 79 of the 110 SUCs, with one congressman here, Third District Rep. Isidro Ungab, proposing to merge all state-ran schools under one entity for government to save.
The move has been earlier opposed by students, teachers and school administrators.
Yuriel Soriano, an information technology student, said the move is not beneficial to students, “Although the advantage is a centralized school and minimum funding, the disadvantage is that the students who are living in faraway places would be traveling back and forth, and it will be too expensive.”
“Nganong tipid-tipiron man? (Why are they cutting off our money? ) They are amalgamating SUCs in the face of corruption. That is the issue, and not shortchange us,” Gaspan said. (Earl O. Condeza, davaotoday.com)karlo nograles, Mylene Garcia, Oplan Kaalam, pdaf, pork barrel, USEP