By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — William Regal, 17, is among the students of the University of the Philippines (UP)-Manila who joined the student strike in protest of the massive budget cuts on state universities and colleges (SUCs).
“Tertiary education is the point in our school life where we are being honed to become professionals,” Regal told Bulatlat. “But not everyone could afford it. This is why state subsidy is very much needed by poor and deserving students.”
With other students and members of the faculty, Regal marched within the UP Manila – Philippine General Hospital compound last November 25 to protest the budget cuts on SUCs. The budget for the University of the Philippines, the country’s premiere state university, has been slashed by P1.39 billion ($31.6 million at an exchange rate of P1=$44), the worst budget cut in nominal terms among all SUCs.
In his budget message, President Benigno S. Aquino III said his administration would be “gradually reducing the subsidy to SUCs to push them toward becoming self-sufficient and financially independent, given their ability to raise their income and utilize it for their programs and projects.”
Aquino, however, later belied his own budget message in a statement last October 19. He denied that there were cuts in the budget of SUCs. He said budgets have in fact been increased, saying that the P23.4 billion ($531.8 million) 2011 budget for SUCs is higher by 11.3 percent than his proposed budget, which was only P21 billion ($477.3 million).
In the same statement, Aquino admitted that they reduced the budget for UP because it has the means to generate income from the UP-Ayala Technohub, from the tuition of students and from state subsidy. The budget deducted from UP, said Aquino, would be redirected to other SUCs needing more help. “Those who could swim are expected to reach the shore. Let’s throw a lifeline to those who might still get drowned.”
Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino said, “Allowing SUCs to generate income and enter into partnerships with the private sector would only mean higher tuition, and consequently, higher drop-out rates and decreased access to tertiary education.” He added that this would “diminish the public character of SUCs, which are supposed to provide quality and accessible education to those who cannot afford it.”
Aside from UP, the budgets of the Philippine Normal University, with a population of 10,000, and Bicol University, with a population 20,000, were cut by P92 million ($2.09 million) or by 23.59 percent, and P88 million ($1.99 million) or by 18.82 percent, respectively.
SUC Maintenance and Other Operating Expenditures (MOOE) has also been reduced by P1.1 billion ($25 million) or 28.16 percent from the 2010 budget. The National Union of Students of the Philippines said the budget for operating expenses of 15 SUCs were cut by more than half while the budget for operations of 17 others were cut by 10 percent.
The MOOE budget of Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) has been slashed by P24 million ($544 thousand) or more than a fifth its value last year. PUP is the biggest state university in the country with 20 campuses and population of 65,000 students.
And similar to former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s budgeting, no single centavo was allocated for capital outlay. It would have been used for buying equipment needed in school.
During budget deliberations in Congress, Palatino said the Kabataan Partylist has steadfastly opposed the budget cuts. “But despite all our efforts, we have been ignored.”
Member organizations of the alliance Kilos Na Laban sa Budget Cuts (Movement Against Budget Cuts) said they, too, have lobbied with the Aquino government and the 15th Congress to “stand for the people.” But they were “insulted by the Congress’ railroading of the approval of the 2011 budget, which increased by billions of pesos the pork barrel funds, dole-outs and patronage funds, the budget for military and debt spending,” and maintained the cuts in education, health and other social services.
Because of this, they have issued a ‘Notice of Strike’ to all SUCs. “We owe it to the Filipino people. We owe it to the future generation. It is during these times that the youth are being called to take up its role as the hope of our motherland,” the group said.
Students and faculty members of SUCs in Metro Manila marched out of their classrooms on November 25 for the protest actions in their respective schools. In UP-Diliman, students barricaded the University Avenue and held a noise barrage around the campus. College deans and members of the faculty expressed their support for the protest.
In UP Manila, the students and teachers roamed the UP-PGH community. They held a boodle fight for lunch and stayed at the campus for a “sleep-in” protest. In PUP, students listened hand-in-hand with their school administration in a protest concert. Chairs were piled up at the campus main gate to serve as blockade.
In Baguio, 15 members of youth group Anakbayan held a lightning rally in time for Aquino’s ribbon cutting for an opening of a fastfood chain. They said the budget cut on education is unjust, adding that education should not be treated as a mere commodity.
Protest actions were also launched in the Philippine Normal University (PNU), Eulogio Amang Rodriguez Institute of Technology (EARIST) and Rizal Technological University (RTU). Even high school students joined the protests as around a hundred students walked out of Quirino High School in Quezon City.
“We need to act now to stop budget cuts in education and other social services. The cuts will lead to skyrocketing tuition and other fees and commercialization of social services, which will result to a greater number of Filipinos being driven into further destitution,” the statement read.
The following day (Nov 26), over eight thousand students from various SUCs marched toward the Department of Budget and Management to belie the claim of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad in a radio interview that there would be no budget cuts in SUCs. Abad said such cuts would be compensated by increasing tuition rates and using savings of public schools.
UP Diliman University Council Chair Rainier Sindayen said Abad’s statement only confirms that the Aquino administration would eventually abandon public tertiary education, “transferring the state responsibility of providing funding for higher education to the already burdened Filipino people.”
Right after their protest actions in front of the Budget office, the students proceeded to Chino Roces Bridge, formerly known as Mendiola, to further show their protest against the impending budget cuts on SUCs.
The nationwide protest action is expected to peak by December 1, as students march toward the Senate office in Pasay City in time for its deliberation on the budget. “We owe it to the next generation,” Regal said. (Bulatlat.com)