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Volume 3,  Number 22               July 6 - 12, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


 





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House and Senate Bills on UP Charter revision:
The Road to UP’s Commercialization

Constituents of the University of the Philippines (UP) registered their opposition to Senate Bill 2587, which seeks to revise the 95-year old UP Charter and commercialize the university’s educational system, during the system-wide protest held July 1.

BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
Bulatlat.com

All-UP Academic Employees’ Union vice president Dr. Edberto M. Villegas said in an interview with Bulatlat.com over the weekend that the Senate bill known as “The University of the Philippines Charter of 2003” is exactly the same as House Bill 455 filed at the lower House and approved in December last year.

Villegas criticized the two bills, filed by Rep. Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Edgardo Angara in the House and Senate, respectively.

He said the bill primarily preserves the “authoritarian character” of the Board of Regents (BOR) through its “plenary power” which can prevail over any decision of any entity within the four independent units of UP. These autonomous units are UP Diliman, Manila, Los Baños, and Visayas. The rest are extension units and programs.

The academic union fears that this “absolute power” includes the outright sale of the university properties and joint ventures with private corporations and securitization that may lead to the commercialization of UP resources and assets, eventually to its privatization as reflected in the UP Strategic Plan for 2008. The same thing happened to Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and Philippine National Bank (PNB), Villegas said.

Comparative (dis) advantage

Last May, officials and some personnel of UP Manila and UP Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH), led by the chancellor, issued a statement of support to the bill.

The statement supported five provisions of the bill: the declaration of UP as the National University of the country; exemption from the Salary Standardization Law (SSL); inclusion of the administrative staff/reps regent in the BOR; tax exemption of the university; and codification of executive issuances and statutes of UP’s fiscal autonomy.

The academic union, however said that the declaration of UP as the National University of the country is “just a change in name” and does not mean budget increase. Tax exemptions, already being enjoyed by private universities, “are no big gain to boast about since it may only encourage the board to further commercialize UP,” the union added.

UP Diliman’s university student council chairperson JPaul Manzanilla concurred. He said such distinction for UP “should not isolate itself from the plight of other state colleges and universities and the entire educational system.”

“If the government is still unable to provide for its ‘National University,’ what more can it offer to other institutions that the government treats without such distinction?” Manzanilla posed.

On the issue of SSL, the union worries that any increase in their members’ salary would be at the expense of students, through higher tuition and miscellaneous fees, housing rentals, and health services.

Though it welcomes the inclusion of the administrative staff/reps regent in the BOR, the union doubts where this additional member would come from. The group also pointed out that the sectoral representatives in the BOR – the staff, faculty, and student regents — could be easily outvoted on any issue by the other members of the board whose appointments are “blessed” by Malacañang.

This provision, Villegas said, is just a consuelo de bobo (token concession).

In a speech before the Senate on June 3, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said that the bill upholds the institutional and fiscal autonomy of the university, allowing it to “chart its own future without heavily depending on public finance.”

Pangilinan also said that the university “must be more self-reliant, able to produce and derive funds from its own financial undertakings in order to sustain its programs and activities” and solve the annually decreasing education budget from the government.

However, Manzanilla countered that this provision only “legitimizes the state’s abandonment of its responsibility to educate its people.”

Globalized education

Villegas explained in his speech in the Senate on April 29 how state universities in Europe and third world countries like Peru and Cuba operate and provide free education to students.

According to him, all universities in Germany offer free education. In Munich University in Bavaria, students do not pay tuition on the principle that the right to education should be fair for all based on the individual’s capacity to pass the college entrance exam.

In Great Britain, aside from the government paying for the annual tuition of 1,075 pounds, every student is also given an allowance of 2,000 pounds.

The government of Greece on the other hand pays for the books as well while offering free education from elementary to college. Its constitution prohibits the establishment of private schools.

Villegas chose Third World countries Cuba and Peru as examples since their cultures are similar to the Philippines. He said that although Cuba, like the Philippines, has been colonized by Spain and was a former neo-colony of the United States, education is free of charge. Students in Peru also reportedly enjoy free education.

Villegas revealed that European governments’ scheme to increase tuition in the universities and gradually remove government subsidy is a World Trade Organizations (WTO) plan, under General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) with the help of the World Bank (WB), where education would be market-based.

Glenn R. Jones, who heads the Global Alliance for Transnational Education and chief executive officer of the virtual university Jones International Inc., is one of the principal lobbyists in Geneva during WTO meetings on GATS since February 2002.

“WTO put pressures on governments to privatize universities and/or increase tuition as conditions for new loans,” said Villegas.

This action by GATS and World Bank, Villegas added, contradicts the idea of free universal education stated in Article 13 of the 1966 United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Aside from this, WB also formed the Alliance for Global Learning which specializes on electronic or e-learning through computers. This works under “intervention programs” sponsored by corporate banks, financial institutions like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, Ernst & Young consultancy firm, and transnational corporations (TNCs) on Information Technology (IT) like Sun Microsystems and 3Com.

Villegas said the world’s total expenses on education is $2 trillion or 1/20th of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), and IT business is one big business prone to exploitation.

Quoting Jones, “Education is one of the fastest-growing of all markets. Private training and adult education industry are expected to achieve double-digit growth throughout the next decade.”

Alternative bill

The academic union admitted that the 95-year old charter is undeniably a product of the American colonial design and needs to be revised to truly democratize and modernize the university.

To do this, however, the group demanded the holding of an elected assembly to discuss an alternative bill and called for the revival of Senate Bill 1580 also known as the Tañada Bill.

The bill was the product of the UP-Wide Democratization Movement (UP Widem), a system-wide movement in UP “to democratize the formulation and implementation of policies affecting its constituencies.” This movement, composed of elected delegates from the four autonomous units of UP has already held three general assemblies to discuss the revision of the university charter.

Former Sen. Wigberto Tañada sponsored the bill in December 1993 in the ninth congress.

Villegas said the “bill was feared and archived because it will abolish the BOR and replaced by a system-wide University Assembly whose members are elected from the four UP units.”

The bill will also establish University Assemblies in each unit “whose members shall be elected through a system of proportionate representation from the different sectors.”

Student participation will also be enhanced in the said bill through the inclusion of the Student Council in the formal structure of the university.

Moreover, UP constituents will have the right to recall officials, a power not provided in HB 455 or in SB 2587.

Meanwhile, the academic union stands firm on its principle that the “solution for the miserly budget of UP is for the Congress to prioritize the higher education of the nation’s youth than payments for foreign debts and military expenditures, nor granting new corporate powers to the BOR.” Bulatlat.com

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