Unaffordable (?) free tuition law unconstitutional (???)

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RENE SAGUISAG

I CONSIDER it a privilege to count, or have, Celeste Legaspi-Gallardo and hubby Nonoy as longtime supporters and friends. They helped in my 1987 Senate run when I won without spending a single centavo of my own. A free ticket. Only my pal, Orly Mercado, beat me in Metro Manila. I understood that Nonoy and fellow Bedan Raul Contreras (late) conceived the winning “ampunin si, or adopt Rene” theme, and made me an accidental public servant helping a providential President.

It is, I’d say, the same free-ticket theme behind the fund-raising efforts of supporters of VP Leni Robredo, to fend off the protest of mega-billionaire Bongbong Marcos. To level the playing field. His source of wealth arguably also came from the People, which led to the creation of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG, which later somehow became known as Puro Chicks Gabi Gabi). The Supreme Court ordered the Marcoses, on July 15, 2003, to return billions of ill-gotten wealth (done) but strangely did not order the prosecution of the “ill-gotteners.” A mystery.

Celeste, I see, also supports far-from-affluent Leni Robredo. Same page, I find myself on. Celeste, who had a magnificent show last Saturday at Solaire, is among those helping raise funds for Leni. The effort is costly but the hope is to uphold the people’s will, as we see it. It is not free at all. Far from that. The best things in life are free??

Free tertiary education, to general acclaim, we will have, in government institutions under RA 10931 (Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act). But, is “free” the same as “quality”? Would our standards be elevated by such free education? Would our standing in the regular polling on the region’s universities rise? Or would we merely democratize mediocrity without state-of-the-art facilities and focused qualified well-paid teachers?


What will Digong use for money? Can we afford the cost of Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education? His economic and finance people opposed the new law as beyond our means; they are now told to shove it and scrounge for the billions needed. I bet they cannot find any tree with money growing on it.
Now, the issue of constitutionality, in this seeming governing by gimmickry.

The framers of the 1973 and the 1987 Constitutions, both less than perfect and arguably a mix of the good, bad and ugly, saw through the gimmickry. And prudently framed the following: “A special appropriations bill [as distinguished from a General Appropriations Act measure]shall specify the purpose for which it is intended and shall be supported by funds actually available as certified by the National Treasurer, or to be raised by a corresponding revenue proposal therein.” 1973, Art. VIII, Sec. 16 (4), 1987, Art., Art. VI, Sec. 25(4) (emphasis added). Is there such certification? Or the required revenue proposal? Do we have a constitutional issue to stop more pa-pogi measures and honor the fundamental law of the land?

These may be foolish questions. Typical of what I, a spoilsport, have raised all my life, as one used to marching to the beat of a different drummer, taking the less traveled road, sailing against the wind and thinking out of the box. No, I cannot ignore Digong’s economic team and the many valid competing claims on our scarce resources. Baka tuluyan na rin gaya ko pong mapapanot si Kalihim Ben Diokno – sent on a Mission Impossible?

The framers had their feet on the ground, not planted firmly in mid-air. But, Digong has intoned: “o mga bata, pogi na ko. Listen, cheers cheers cheers from everywhere. Now, on this little matter of funding, bahala na kayong hanapin ang kailangang datong. Kahiyaan na ‘to.” But, the spender must also take into account Sec. 29(1) of Art. VI of the Constitution which says “no money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.” Where is the “appropriation made by law”?

With startling candor, Digong said: “Congress knew there was no budget. It reached my desk and I knew there was no money for it.” Lech, oooops, lekat! Is he winking not to worry about the Supreme Court? Where are the legal lions and eagles? Ronnie Zamora, “how could you do such a do“? With all due respect, and acknowledging the good intentions, do we have pie-in-the-sky-distant-oil-wells-snake-oil salesmen?

Digong has also promised humongous sums for soldiers and policemen (even a Hong Kong vacation with families and/or starlets, as “consolation prizes”, ngeeek), calamity victims, etc. Who has the power of the purse anyway? All appropriation measures are supposed to originate exclusively in the House (the origination clause), not in the Senate, much less in the Palace.

To me, we must improve slowly, given our limitations, which we should know. We should prioritize agriculture. At Rizal High I had poultry and swine for my vocationalrequirements. And all my classmates spoke straight English, schooled by pre-World War 2 teachers. Facilities should be improved and the working conditions of teachers bettered. We need good philosophers as well as good plumbers. Else, neither our philosophies nor our pipes will hold water.

I hope that this latest populist priority of Digong is one where again I, a killjoy, wet blanket or party pooper, will be proven wrong, abysmally, and the politicians, trapos and non-trapos alike, proven right, celestially. I’ll be in good company though, with his vaunted economic managers, who are not traditional politicians, with feet on the ground, and cannot follow every caprice or whim of Digong or Congress.

For one valid competing claim, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez wants BIR salaries to be at par with those in the private sector.

But, I accept the Shavian epigram the Kennedys popularized, that some people see things that are and ask why? Others may dream things that never were and ask, why not? To paraphrase a French statesman, the difficult, we do right away, the impossible takes a little longer. Maybe Digong is a St. Jude devotee. There may be no such thing as a free lunch but there may be free education, thanks to St. Jude.

On RA10932, the anti-hospital deposit law, if the reimbursement and tax deduction provisions would work, why not? Pero kung parang hihila po ng bayawak sa lungga sa paniningil ng inabono, I can understand the resistance of private hospital owners, coerced to provide service government can’t.

We need a national health care program with say, Canada’s, as a model. A cousin of mine, my age, had a total knee replacement operation. It cost her exactly nothing. In the US the late mother, a naturalized American, of a former staffer of mine, had frequent dialysis. Cost, a dollar a month.

Will the Supreme Court declare the new free tuition law unconstitutional? Today, I hesitate to prophesy cuz I don’t enjoy being called isang bulaang propeta. Recall the very,very sad Libingan ng Mga Bayani at iba pa case.

Anyway, we see countless lawmakers claiming credit for the latest legislated freebie. Confusing, even discombobulating. A witness was asked in family court in a paternity case: “Is your husband the father of the child?” Her answer, “Sir, it is mostly his.”

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