Carol Pagaduan-Araullo | Education Blues

Streetwise | BusinessWorld
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The adage that Filipino families put top priority on education – after basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter – is often held up as an example of traditional values that we can be proud of as a people and that holds us in good stead in our endeavors, nay struggles, to achieve a better quality of life for our children.

But this seeming truism appears not to be shared by government as records show how education as a budget priority has been steadily and alarmingly eroded over the decades until today, students and faculty are up in arms over extensive cuts in budgets of state colleges and universities (SUCs). Campus-wide walk-outs, student strikes, rallies to Congress and to Malacañang have taken place involving hundreds if not thousands in Manila and other major cities in a span of a few days.

The Aquino government, with its claims to practicing transparency and accountability to its constituents, has disappointed many over this controversy. Mr. Aquino, his budget secretary and Liberal party mates, have engaged in so much double talk in order to becloud the issue.

Budget Secretary Abad and Senators Drilon and Sotto chorus, “No, there is no budget cut.” Accordingly, the old budget allocations were never given in the first place since these were only “congressional insertions” and the Arroyo government simply vetoed the budget items arguing that there were no funds available. Therefore, these are tantamount to “ghost” appropriations and were simply removed from the proposed 2011 budget.

The Aquino administration and its allies would still want to pass the blame on the unlamented Arroyo regime that it has replaced by arguing that what Congress had approved as much needed additions to the 2010 budget of SUCs had practically been torpedoed by Gloria. That being the case, the supposed increase in their budgets was illusory. However since the SUCs managed to survive with much less than what was appropriated, in 2011, they can do so again.

The protestors on the other hand are saying that historically, the budget the SUCs have been getting has been so inadequate that the quality of their physical facilities and of education in general has been on a continuing decline. Moreover, SUC administrators always invoke the constantly diminishing budget especially in real money terms as the reason for hiking tuition and other school fees and for leasing or disposing of their so-called idle assets such as land and buildings to private entities for commercial and not educational purposes.

Mr. Aquino appears to do one better than his subalterns and loyalists by readily admitting in ambush interviews that there is indeed a budget cut thereby validating what he said in his budget speech in August, to wit:

“We allocated P23.4 billion to 112 State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) in 2011. This is 1.7 percent lower than the P23.8 billion budget for 2010. We are gradually reducing the subsidy to SUCs to push them toward becoming self-sufficient and financially independent, given their ability to raise their income and to utilize it for their programs and projects.”

That should settle the matter yet Mr. Aquino also attempts to dissemble by saying that education as a whole got an increase although basic education is the focus since more of the poor avail of elementary education while it is those who can afford who go on to tertiary education.

In the first place a huge chunk of the 32 billion peso increase in the education budget, 23 billion or seventy per cent, will go to an automatic increase in salaries because of the Salary Standardization Law.

The remaining amount is a paltry sum and will hardly make a dent in the tremendous backlog in classrooms, textbooks and teachers the country faces.

But it is also intellectually dishonest to argue that government money is better spent on poor students still trying to get some basic education than students, many of them also economically disadvantaged and struggling, who have managed against great odds to step into a state college or university. The latter’s achievements are now used against them in the matter of enjoying a state subsidy for the education prized so highly but now priced beyond reach for a vast majority of our youth.

Mr. Aquino only manages to affirm that his administration’s “reform budget” has nothing by way of reforms underlying it since the same old mispriorities exist. Concretely, 58 centavos for every peso will go to debt servicing; for the military, 7 centavos; while only 1.6 centavos will go to all 112 state colleges and universities.

Put it another way, there is no money for SUCs but plenty for legislators’ pork barrel – increased by more than P13.9 billion for a total of P24.8 billion and Malacañang’s lump-sum funds amounting to P245 billion of which P68 billion is audit-free presidential pork.

But there is more to the SUCs and the education budget cuts than diverting more funds from basic social services to debt service, pork and military expenditures.

The more fundamental question underlying the raging debate and the heated street protest is that of education for whom?

In the seventies, the Dictator Marcos instituted educational reforms that issued out of the Presidential Commission to Survey Philippine Education (PCSPE). It was funded and pushed by the International Monetary Fund to orient Philippine education towards vocational courses and thus provide more skilled workers and technicians for multinational corporations. The tradition of higher education in the liberal arts was derided as a waste of government money citing the lack of employment opportunities for graduates in such fields.

What was deliberately glossed over was the fact that such a tradition had provided intellectual space for the development of a radical counter-culture that was nationalist, anti-imperialist and fiercely anti-authoritarian and democratic. It breathed life into a vibrant youth and student movement that threatened the US-backed dictatorship and the status quo.

The Aquino regime has propounded as its far-reaching educational reform the enhanced K-12 program, that would overhaul the basic and secondary education curriculum by adding two more years to the system. Mr. Aquino has said that he wants to concentrate on reforming at the basic level rather than attempt to try to “fix the problem” later on. This would allegedly bring Filipino graduates at par with global standards.

Does this mean that the Aquino administration has made a conscious decision to abandon the hundreds of thousands Filipino youth who aspire to attain college or university degrees to their own devices? Is this why he has no qualms much less sympathy for the students’ appeals to rescind the budget cuts? (Posted by

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