“We see nothing wrong with the UP student’s line of questioning. In fact, Stephen Villena has given Mayor Rodrigo Duterte the rare chance to expound on his education platform.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — Youth groups backed the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) campus student who was maligned as “disrespectful” in his manner of asking presidential aspirant Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in a forum in their campus last week.
Kabataan Partylist first nominee Sarah Elago lauded UPLB student Stephen Villena for doing the duty of every iskolar ng bayan (people’s scholar) when he asked Duterte about his plans for budget allocation for education, vis-à-vis addressing peace and order.
“An administration’s national budget mirrors its priorities. That is why we see nothing wrong with the UP student’s line of questioning. In fact, Villena has given Duterte the rare chance to expound on his education platform,” Elago explained. She said the issue interests youths and students, specially amid government’s diminishing priority for education.
Many netizens reacted to the online video which showed Villena pressing Duterte to answer his question on how he will implement peace and order without compromising the budget on education, which the mayor said will be a top priority if he wins as president. Some netizens said Villena was “disrespectful” when he interrupted Duterte whose initial answer digressed from the question.
Comments from apparent Duterte supporters maligned Villena as bobo, tanga and bastos (ignorant, stupid, rude) and some even issued death threats. Some generalized the UP community as “disrespectful and arrogant.”
Anakbayan said that questions on education spending and the national budget are legitimate, regardless of the form. “These are articulated and should be seen as an opportunity to explain the candidate’s stand on the issue rather than as an offense,” said Anakbayan national chairperson Vencer Crisostomo.
What had happened
In his defense, Villena posted in his social media account his side of the issue. He said before he took to the floor to ask his question, it was made clear Duterte was in a hurry to leave the forum as it was getting late.
“I therefore rushed my question, hoping for an immediate answer. And since I did not get a direct answer to my question I requested him to please answer my question directly ‘para makauwi na sya’ (so he can leave).’”
Villena lamented how the video uploaded to the internet made it appear that he wanted the mayor to leave. “The spliced video that was uploaded to the internet did not show the full exchange between me and Mayor Duterte… he was the one in a rush to leave,” Villena said.
He said he gave consideration to Duterte who expressed to have the question-and-answer portion part over with as soon as possible. But people who only saw the shortened video got a different impression.
“He said in the forum that he wanted to give priority to the budget for education. So I asked him how he planned to achieve this knowing that in various sorties and interviews he also said that he will give priority to peace and order, which I surmised would require a greater budget for the police force and the military,” Villena said.
“Much as I wanted to give the good mayor all the time he wanted to answer my question, I was also considering his very limited time with us. If I appeared to rush him it was in no way motivated by an arrogant desire to cut him. I only wanted him, despite his limited time, to give a clear cut answer to an issue which I deem very important,” Villena said.
Crisostomo said there is nothing wrong with questioning a candidate’s budgetary priorities. He said under President Aquino’s regime, UP has seen chronic budget cuts and tuition and other fee hikes.
“We thus understand the UPLB student’s concern about a presidential candidate’s budgetary priorities for the next six years,” Crisostomo said.
He said more students should ask candidates these questions given how the high cost of education under Aquino has pushed many students to desperation, like graduating college student Jessaven Lagatic who committed suicide last month after losing his scholarship.
He also challenged all presidential candidates to stand against the “neoliberal” education reforms being pushed by the Aquino administration, saying that they should repudiate programs that intensify the commercialization of education.
KPL’s Elago cited data from the Department of Budget and Management, which showed the total expenditure of 114 SUCs in the country amounts to an average of P59 billion ($1.26 billion) annually, but government allots only an average of P43 billion ($920 million) since 2014, or a shortage by P16 billion ($342 million).
A study by Kabataan Partylist for the congressional deliberation of the 2016 national budget revealed that for every P100 ($2.14) that the government intends to spend this year, P4 ($.09) goes to defense, P4 to health, P17 to education ($.36), and a “whopping” P22 ($.47) for budgetary items considered as “pork.”
She said these are issues that concern people, who should “raise the level of discourse,” instead of viewing the incident as an issue in propriety.
“This election season, we as a nation should not be bogged down by name-calling and muckraking. We should maximize this period to expound on the concrete platforms of candidates, and such process will only ensue if we start asking the right questions,” Elago said.