By JOAN GARCIA
ILOCOS Sur — As couples around the world celebrated Valentine’s Day, students from Ilocos Sur led by the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP)- Ilocos Sur, Anakbayan- Ilocos Sur and Kabataan Partylist called for a different kind of love.
The students gave away hearts with written messages regarding the current state of the education and peasant sectors.
“I am bitter because of the education budget cut”, “Stop in the name of love, stop collecting exorbitant fees”, “Fight for love, fight for higher state subsidy” and “Share the love, increase the selling price of tobacco” were only some of the messages.
According to Lee Erwin Biscarra, Regional Coordinator of Kabataan Partylist in Ilocos, the activity was conducted to “remind others that love is not just for two people, rather, as Andres Bonifacio said, there is no greater love than love for country, and this is what is going on in our country”.
Dismal state of education
Last year, the budget for social services, including the education sector decreased. In Region I alone, the State Universities and College’s (SUC’s) budget was cut by 6.79 percent and is P1 billion ($23.25 million) less than the proposal of the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC).
“With the Aquino administration’s policy of cutting its subsidy for education, the possibility of another decrease in the 2013 budget is looming. With this situation, the only recourse for SUC’s to augment their budget is to increase the tuition and other fees. In fact, SUC’s in the Cordillera have already announced a 300 percentr increase in tuition. If this happens, more and more students will not be able to finish or even sustain their college education,” Modesto Aday Jr. said. Aday is the Deputy Secretary General of NUSP Ilocos Sur.
Aday added that the increase in tuition of SUC’s will encourage private schools to also follow suit. The NUSP Ilocos Sur has already received reports of tuition increase in schools but they are still in the process of confirming it.
The current average tuition in private schools in the province is P20,000 ($465) a semester. Thus, according to Aday, any increase will be too much for students.
“We call the attention of the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) to have a heart for students and not allow private school owners to implement increases this year. We reiterate that HB No. 3708 or the “Three-year Tuition Moratorium Act” should be implemented while the current guidelines being used in tuition hikes are being polished,” said Aday.
Peasant families most affected
Meanwhile, Biscarra explained that the budget cut in SUC’s and the increase in tuition and other fees will only make education more inaccessible to children and youth coming from peasant families who make up the majority of the Ilocos population.
Aside from the high cost of education, peasant families are burdened with the low selling price of tobacco.
The tobacco selling season is geared to start anytime this February with the average price still at P75 ($1.74) per kilo. From the study conducted by Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (Stop Exploitation), the selling price of tobacco must be P128 ($2.97) per kilo.
“The farmers’ low income and the high cost of education create the alarming rate of out of school youth (OSY) in the region. That is why aside from our call for a higher state subsidy for education and a tuition hike freeze we also join the peasants’ call to increase the price of tobacco. We call on the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) to listen to their hearts and heed the call of increasing the selling price of tobacco as the buying season is near,” said Biscarra.
“This season of love, the best way for the youth to show our love is to continue the struggle for our right to education and join our parents’ call for a higher tobacco price. We have been taught to fight for love, so we will fight for our rights.” Biscarra adds.