By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Students, led by youth organizations College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), Anakbayan and National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) based in different universities all over Metro Manila, staged coordinated noise barrage/pickets to protest the continuing oil price hikes and the impending tuition increases.
Organizers said the protests were a precursor to the youth sector’s national day of action against price and tuition hikes on February 28. The groups also led similar activities in Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Samar and Pangasinan.
Trina Federis, CEGP national president, said the government was deliberately neglecting social services and accused President Benigno Aquino III of failing to honor his campaign promises to prioritize the same.
Federis said that instead of giving sufficient subsidies to education, the government has resorted to “lopsided” tie-ups with private corporations.
“These firms, most of them foreign, make massive profits out of industries and services that should be enjoyed by the public at low or even no cost,” Federis said. “What’s worse is how Aquino has settled on the twisted idea that public-private partnerships are the solution to the dilemma of deteriorating social services,” she added.
Almost simultaneous with the fare hikes, many schools have begun consultations for tuition hike as high as 12 percent. The NUSP estimates a 10 to 15 percent increase in tuition rates in the coming school year. Around 400 schools nationwide are expected to increase their tuition.
“The allocation for social services remains small because the allocation for debt servicing takes the lion’s share of the national budget,” said Antonio Perdigon, CEGP-NCR chairman. “It’s shameful that the government would rather pay these onerous debts than use the money to improve public facilities and services. These debts should be cancelled because they did not benefit the people,” he said.
The student groups said that annually, allocations for state colleges and universities are becoming smaller.
Moratorium on Tuition Hikes
In the meantime, Anakbayan and the NUSP called on the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to impose a moratorium on all school fee hikes this year given the left and right increases in prices of commodities and oil prices. They accused private school owners of imposing “unjust and exorbitant” tuition and miscellaneous fee hikes in recent years in the absence of government regulation.
Vencer Crisostomo, Anakbayan national chairman, said many schools have already begun consultations for tuition hike. Among those set to increase tuition in Metro Manila are the University of the East [UE] (5 percent), University of Santo Tomas (6 percent), Far Eastern University [FEU] (4.5 percent), Trinity University of Asia (10 percent), College of St. Benilde (5 percent), Technological Institute of the Philippines (9.6 percent) and Lyceum University (7 percent).
Crisostomo also said they have received reports that in Baguio, at least eight major schools posted tuition hike proposals with an average of 9 percent increase. In Iloilo, at least seven schools are set to increase tuition.
More reports of tuition hike proposals are expected this coming week as the deadline for consultations is set on February 28.
“The government should take action immediately and impose a moratorium on the hikes. Amidst price and fare increases, the tuition hikes will surely result to a dramatic increase in drop-out rates and will push more families to poverty,” said Crisostomo. He also said schools have also been collecting questionable miscellaneous fees for years.
“The Ched’s guidelines on tuition hikes have failed to regulate abuse and profiteering of private schools. School owners have been raking billions of pesos in profits at the expense of poor families and students,” he asserted.
Financial records of the top five highest earning schools reveal a net profit of P3.45 billion ($78 million) during the last six years. Schools have raked in a total of P15.43 billion ($352 million) in gross revenues. In 2011 alone, the FEU posted P585 million ($13 million) in profits, while UE posted about P600 million ($13.7 million).
“There is no reason for the Aquino government not to heed the demand to stop tuition and other fee hikes. That is, unless he is deliberately waging war on the youth and students; and is unjustly favoring abusive capitalist-educators,” said Crisostomo.
Crisostomo said youth groups are expected to hold nationwide protests against tuition hikes this week. Nationwide youth actions against tuition, fare and price hikes are also set on February 28 and March 4.
Ched Can Regulate Tuition
In recent reports, a Samar congressman said that the Ched has the power to limit and therefore regulate tuition increases in private colleges and universities.
Representative Antonio Nachura, a former education undersecretary, reminded education officials that under Section 42 of the Education Act of 1992, they can regulate tuition hikes. He said that the said section was not repealed by the Education Deregulation Law (Republic Act 6728).
He explained that the Supreme Court ruled in 1992 in the case of Lina vs. Carino that the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (now the Ched in the case of tertiary education) can set guidelines for and limit the imposition of tuition adjustments.
“Then senator Jose Lina challenged the legality of then Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) Order No. 30 issued by then education secretary Oscar Cariño limiting any tuition increase to not more than 15 percent. Unfortunately, the Ched which took over DECS functions insofar as tertiary education is concerned, revoked the order and issued in its place two memoranda which do not prescribe a limit on adjustments,” he said.
Nachura however insisted that the Ched can can still restrict increases if it wants to and order a refund of whatever excess tuition students may have paid for the coming school year.