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Welcome silence

As expected, the usual skeptical noises have been made about the bloody police assault at the home of Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Jr. But I’m glad that Congress doesn’t seem too keen on giving the same old anti-government forces a forum to attack President Rodrigo Duterte and his campaign against illegal drugs based on last Sunday’s events.

The truth of the matter is, there isn’t a lot to go by yet to even start a congressional probe. Apart from the questionable statement made by a supposed survivor and the predictable acoustic barrages from the regular critics of Duterte—to include former President Noynoy Aquino, this time—there’s really not much to look into.

The main reason why there’s no momentum is the unsavory reputation of the Parojinog family, which converted a military-sponsored anti-communist armed group into a broad-spectrum criminal syndicate that seems very much involved in the drug trade. It’s awfully hard to convince people that the Parojinogs were innocent, let alone defenseless.

If Congress is really made up of representatives of the people, then they will have to take into account the widespread belief that the Parojinogs got what was coming to them. That, and the facts that are coming out—like the new findings that the slain politician and his household have tested positive for firing guns—do not augur well for an investigation even by the most rabid, publicity-hungry critic of Duterte.

That doesn’t mean that no such headline-grabbing investigation (which Vice President Leni Robredo has already endorsed) will be started. It’s just going to go nowhere fast and, if it ever happens, will end quickly in the usual whimpers.

Let the real investigations, by the police but not by the fame-whoring congressional opposition, continue. We can do very well without the noise this time, thank you very much.

* * *

Senator Ralph Recto is at it again, putting his reputation and political career on the line for a worthy cause. And just like when he campaigned for the value-added tax, which sounded scary but which saved us when the last financial crisis hit, Recto is still doing the right thing in the face of stiff opposition.

I agree with Recto that the government should move towards providing free tuition in all state universities and colleges. The cost is not as big as it has been bruited about to be—and the potential returns on this very important public “investment” are too great to put off.

The free public college tuition program, for those who have better memories than the average “netizen,” was actually the result of the excellent work of another senator, Panfilo Lacson. Lacson, who has morphed from being one of the most feared police officers into one of the most feared scrutinizers of the national budget, nearly caused the delay in the approval of the first full-year budget of the Duterte administration.

This year’s national outlay nearly didn’t get approved on time after Lacson discovered that Congress had set aside an infrastructure fund for a bunch of congressmen in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, even if the region already had such a fund. In the bicameral conference committee, lawmakers agreed to use the redundant fund for a one-time free-tuition program for SUCs—a windfall that not even the proponents of various versions of the same proposal in Congress expected at the time.

But the Duterte administration, while it set aside the biggest outlay in next year’s budget for public education, felt that this one-off bonanza was not worth funding again. The arguments put forward by President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic managers included, apart from the cost of the program, their belief that only people who could send their children to college in the first place (who are not necessarily poor) would benefit from continuing on with their education on the government’s dime.

But Recto has countered that those who will benefit from the program—apart from well-off students who dominate the state-run University of the Philippines—actually need the program most. “The parents of these students in the SUCs are already paying the bulk of individual taxes, so there is justice in allowing their children to go through college with government help,” he told me in an interview yesterday.

And the government can very well afford the scheme because it has actually more money than ever before, which it intends to pay for its P8-trillion “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program over six year. It can certainly spend a few hundred millions that were originally inserted in one region’s pork-like program to pay for a “Teach, Teach, Teach” college education scheme for tens of thousands of students in SUCs, Recto said.

I have no doubt that Duterte’s economic team means well, even if it seems to have overlooked this small item in an annual budget that is fast approaching P4 trillion for one year alone. And there’s still time to include Recto’s proposal in the General Appropriations Act of 2018, which was just submitted by Duterte to Congress right before his gave his State of the Nation Address last month.

It makes sense to fund the education of young Filipinos who have already been given the benefit of free elementary and high school education for decades now. The next step is really to help them go the last mile by letting them go to college with the help of the government.

Topics: Jojo Robles , Welcome silence , Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Jr. , bloody police assault , Congress , President Noynoy Aquino , Senator Ralph Recto
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