Who’ll pay for ‘pork’ scholars? solon asks

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Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento: Worried. Photo from http://www.congress.gov.ph

MANILA, Philippines—With the Supreme Court suspending the release of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), what happens now to the so-called pork barrel scholars?

A top ally of President Aquino on Wednesday asked the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) to issue a “guarantee that would cover the unpaid tuition” of scholars benefiting from the congressional pork barrel for the rest of the year.

Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento, secretary general of Aquino’s Liberal Party, said he was worried that these students might be “forced to stop their studies” as a result of the court’s temporary restraining order (TRO) on the release of the PDAF.

Members of the House majority have also agreed to remove the P25-billion PDAF allocation in the 2014 national budget, amid the growing public clamor to scrap the entire pork barrel system for good.

“I think that it would be heart-breaking if these scholars would become collateral damage to this pork barrel controversy,” Sarmiento said in a statement.

“Since it is now impossible for members of Congress to continue financing the education of their scholars, I really think that the government, through CHEd, should take over and guarantee that these young men and women would not join the growing number of istambay and kanto boys.”

A number of House members have reluctantly supported the President’s call that it was time to abolish the PDAF, citing their respective constituents who benefited from health and educational benefits funded by the pork barrel.

During the budget hearing last week, two senior administration congressmen—Deputy Speaker Sergio Apostol and Davao Oriental Rep. Thelma Almario—grumbled over the move to remove the PDAF.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone on Tuesday said that he respected the TRO, but said that the court should be “cognizant of the scholarship and medical needs of our constituents, particularly the poor and those in crisis situations.”

Sarmiento said a CHEd guarantee on the PDAF scholars for the remainder of the year “would be a big assurance that  the government has not abandoned them.”

He said the government “should not abandon its obligation to invest on education to ensure a brighter future for the country’s youth and underwrite a more productive and progressive Philippines.”

“Shall we allow them to stop their studies because the funds coming from the PDAF for fiscal year 2013 have been put on hold by a recent Supreme Court’s TRO?” he said.

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