What is wrong with a P185-million ($3.69-million) financial assistance program for college students? For one, this will be handled by legislators who were chosen on the basis of their political affiliation. For another, the funds are being released a few months before the 2007 elections.
BY JHONG DELA CRUZ
At first glance, the Emergency Financial Assistance for Students (EFAST) will benefit the youth coming from poor families. According to a May 26 memorandum of the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), the EFAST is “meant to assist college students belonging to the low and middle-income families for this school year.”
The EFAST which has a funding of P185 million ($3.69 million, based on an exchange rate of P50.105 per US dollar) can help “widen the access of deserving Filipinos to quality higher education opportunities” as stated in Republic Act No. 7222 (Higher Education Act of 1994) which established the CHEd.
However, the funds will have to go through the offices of selected legislators who are tasked to screen and select the grantees, as well as monitor their performance. The legislators will be given P1 million ($19,958.09) each from the EFAST.
In an August 27 status report on fund transfer obtained by Bulatlat, P42,058,020.82 ($839,397.68) has already been released under the EFAST. The funds have been given to selected legislators who, in turn, would provide the funds to 6,572 grantees.
The CHEd status report showed that the cause for the delay in fund transfer is the incomplete or non-submission of the master list of grantees of most of its regional offices and those of legislators’.
Alegria Basco, assistant director of CHEd Office of Student Services, admitted that the funds were given to pro-administration lawmakers. “Siyempre mga pro-GMA. Hindi namin alam kung paano napili…basta lumabas na lang diyan sa fax yung list kung sinong legislators.” (Of course, they are pro-GMA. We do not know how they were selected, since we only received via fax the list of legislators. We have to abide.)
“Yung EFAST, for this school year lang ito (The EFAST is only for this school year)….only selected congressmen were given P1 million ($19,958.09) each to be given to their respective constituents. Nasa prerogative ng congressman kung magkano ang ibibigay nilang assistance to their constituents” (It’s the congressman’s prerogative as to how much assistance they will give to their constituents), she said. “Out of the P1 million ($19,958.09), bahala siya kung ilang students ang bigyan niya diyan” (it is up to him or her how many students will benefit).
This reporter asked for a list of the lawmakers who were given EFAST funds but was denied twice. The list was signed by CHEd Commissioner Ricardo Puno, according to the official.
However, the number of those who were not given P1 million ($19,958.09) each from the EFAST is exactly the number of legislators who signed the first impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2005.
Bulatlat sources revealed that the program was first introduced to selected legislators in a June 5 letter by CHEd, inviting them to participate in a short orientation of the procedures for the implementation of the study grant on June 8.
A source working with an administration ally revealed that the fund came from a Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) of the CHEd.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said, “Obviously not all congressmen were given (P1 million or ($19,958.09 each). We didn’t receive any. Apparently mga piling congressmen lang ang nakatanggap niyan.” (Apparently, only selected legislators were able to receive that.)
He added, “Marami (sana) kaming constituents na mapapakinabangan yan.” (Many of our constituents should have benefited from that.)
He also asked why a supposed financial grant for students is just for one year, and at a time when elections are scheduled to be held. He said that if the government is serious about giving financial aid, a scholarship program should be “more comprehensive, more of a long-term commitment.”
Casiño dismissed the EFAST as just a way to help selected legislators in the coming elections.