“The country is not for sale, Noy. We will resist all efforts by government to further commercialize the education system with its commitment to public-private partnerships in government infrastructure and services.” This was the statement of Terry Ridon, national chairperson of the League of Filipino Students in reaction to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s State of the Nation Address.
Ridon described the SONA as more of a ‘State of Negosyo Address’, for catering more to the interests of big business interests and foreign investors instead of addressing the people’s legitimate demands such as access to education, healthcare, land reform, better wages, among others.
Public school assets for use by private firms?
“Public schools might go the way of the University of the Philippines, which lands along Commonwealth Avenue are being used by Ayala Technohub for leasing to call centers, instead of being used for school buildings or university support services such as student and faculty housing,” said Ridon, who served as UP Student Regent in 2007.
He insisted that public school lands and other property must serve the goals of increasing access to education and improving quality of instruction instead of private, ‘profit-driven’ interests as envisioned by Aquino.
Private schools free to continue to increase fees
Ridon also said Aquino’s commitment to public-private partnerships affirms the privileged role of private schools in the determination of tuition and other fees with minimal government regulation.
“We take this policy as a complete rejection by Aquino of the students’ demand to fully regulate tuition and other fee increases. We foresee more tuition and other fee increases in the next six years, no different from Arroyo’s time,” he said.
Excuse to decrease government spending in education
He said the new policy might be used as an excuse by the Aquino government to lower subsidies to public schools, especially the country’s budget-deprived 111 state colleges and universities.
“In past appropriations hearings, UP had always been threatened by Congress that its budget would be significantly slashed due to the profits it received from allowing the lease of its assets to private corporations,” Ridon said.
He explained that student groups reject cuts in the budget of state colleges and universities (SCUs) as leads to tuition and other fee increases even in supposed ‘schools of last resort’ for poor college students, as previously experienced by UP and the Philippine Normal University, whose tuition rates increased by at least 300 percent.
Same policies, different president
Ridon said student groups cannot hide their absolute disappointment in Pres. Aquino’s SONA.
“Many students expected much more from Pres. Aquino, and it seems their hopes for real changes in education had been dampened,” Ridon said.
He said that despite Aquino’s anti-corruption rhetoric, the absence of any policy declarations to benefit the students cannot be overlooked.
“Pres. Aquino is slowly unraveling himself as no different from Mrs. Arroyo in belittling student issues in wanting greater access to education by increasing subsidies and regulating tuition,”
He vowed that the LFS would continue challenging the President to act upon their demands, but warned that they would go around schools in the next few days to expose the ‘pro-commercialization’ framework of the Aquino government.