By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Youth groups condemned the violent dispersal of a protest against budget cut yesterday, Sept. 25 in Iloilo City, where 12 protesters were arrested and detained. They were released at 1 a.m. today, Sept. 26.
Kabataan Partylist spokesperson Sarah Elago said the dispersal shows “how the government is increasingly using an iron fist against legitimate peaceful assemblies in Iloilo, mostly after the city’s hosting of one of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) ministerial meetings.”
Those arrested were Fr. Marco Sulayao, Iglesia Filipina Indipendiente Diocese of Iloilo Vicar General, University of the Philippines-Visayas professors Erick Dasig Aguilar and Gretchen Velarde, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan-Panay) Chairperson Hope Hervilla, Karapatan-Panay Secretary General Reylan Vergara, Anakbayan-Panay spokesperson Bryan Bosque, Anakbayan-Iloilo member Gabyel Guillen, Bayan-Panay staffers Rea Ogoy, Anne Primalion, Randy Vergara, Wilfredo Doblizo, and Rene Paredes.
The protest was part of the two-day UP system-wide walkout against the P2.2 billion impending budget cut in UP for 2016. Protesters also condemned increases in tuition and other schools fees and the commercialization of education.
Elago said some 500 UP students, faculty, staff, and activists marched from the UP-Visayas campus in Iloilo City yesterday afternoon, as part of the national day of action against budget cuts in education. On their way to the Iloilo provincial capitol, the marchers were blocked by about 200 riot police.
The bulk of the protesters were forced to turn back to the UP campus, but some 100 protesters were pushed to the sidewalk, where a stand-off with police lasted for an hour. As the police allowed the smaller group to retreat, they picked off the identified leaders of the groups.
‘Virtual martial law’
The youth group Anakbayan called the police action as “virtual martial law.”
“We are supposed to be commemorating Martial Law this month of September, not re-enacting it. Unfortunately, political repression remains a brutal reality for many Filipinos three decades after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship,” said Anakbayan national chairman Vencer Crisostomo.
On Sept. 21, police also violently dispersed protesters commemorating the 43rd year of the declaration of Martial Law.
“These are clear repressions against church people and human rights advocates by the government who wanted to project a peaceful and developed city in the view of financial ministers of APEC,” the IFI said in a statement also condemning the arrest of Sulayao and others.
The APEC ministerial meeting is being held at the Iloilo Convention Center, from Sept. 21 to Oct. 6.
“The state violence exercised by the President Aquino’s administration against the protesters is reminiscent of the dark days of martial law, when even legitimate issues and concerns were met with state violence,” Elago said.
On budget cut
Crisostomo scored the Aquino government for spending millions “to host lavish occasions like the APEC meetings but cannot even give the sufficient budget for UP and other state universities.”
“They are only too eager to please APEC delegates to the point of inflicting violence on protesting students,” said Crisostomo.
Kabataan Partylist said at least 59 state colleges and universities will suffer budget cuts woth P477 million ($10 million)for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE). Forty SUCs will suffer cuts in their capital outlay (CO) amounting to P4.1 million ($90,000).
State universities in the Visayas regions are most affected by the MOOE cuts, with eight schools in Western Visayas getting reduced budget, as will seven schools in Eastern Visayas.
The largest decrease will be suffered by the UP system, which is set to incur a P2.2 billion ($50 million) budget cut for its CO.
Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon warned that the sharp decrease in the operating budget of SUCs will lead to hikes in tuition and school fees next year.
Ridon decried that as the Department of Budget and Management proposed budget cuts, it projected increased collections by 114 SUCs next year, amounting to some P7.8 billion ($170 million) in tuition, and P4.7 ($100 million) billion in other school fees.
The National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP) said the Aquino administration is pushing SUCs “to recoup the losses through higher collections from students.”
“It is apparent that the governmental framework for public tertiary higher education is to transmogrify it into a system steeped with elitism, for education to be a commodity that only a select few could afford,” NUSP said.
Several presidents of state universities and colleges have joined the call to stop impending budget cuts, in a unity statement.
“The state of tertiary education is at a constant decay partly due to insufficient state spending…We cannot emphasize enough the severe effect of cutting our state schools’ budget, especially when it comes to MOOE,” the school administrators said in the unity statement.
The unity statement was signed by: Rizal Technological University (RTU) President Jesus Rodrigo Torres, PUP President Emanuel De Guzman, Technological University of the Philippines (TUP) President Adora Pili, TUP Manila Campus Director Catalino Fortes Jr., Mindanao State University (MSU) President Macapado Muslim, MSU-Iligan Chancellor Sukarno Tanggol, MSU-General Santos Chancellor Abdurraman Canacan, MSU-Naawan Chancellor Proserpina Roxas, MSU-Tawi-Tawi Chancellor Lorenzo reyes, MSU-Sulu Chancellor Adjarail Hapas and MSU-Buug, Zamboanga Sibugay Chancellor Sultan Taha Sakip.
“We therefore challenge our legislators to carry out their constitutional mandate and fulfill their obligation by fighting for increased budget for SUCs and the education sector. We enjoin students, teachers and the whole community to join us as we collectively assert our right and claim for greater fiscal support for public higher education,” the statement read.