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Cutting through the lies: Examining Aquino’s statement on education budget cuts

Last October 19, President Noynoy Aquino issued a statement regarding the proposed cuts in the education budget for 2011. This was a response to the the wave of protest activities by students and youth groups vs the proposed cuts in spending for state schools.

PUPThe protests picked up when thousands of students walked out from their classes last September 24 and marched to Mendiola demanding a reversal of the Malacanang proposal to cut the SUC allocations. Series of actions urging the House of Representatives to reject the cuts were mounted, some even disrupted plenary sessions which got the attention of most congressmen.

Perhaps the most notable of these actions was the lightning protest by leaders of the UP Manila student coucil held during Aquino’s 100 days report, interrupting the president with chants of “libro hindi bala, edukasyon hindi gera! (books not bullets, education not war!)” and a speech on why the president should increase funding for state universities if indeed the people are his “boss.”

The protests prompted Aquino to address the issue directly. However, instead of undertaking the necessary measures to reverse the cuts and address the concerns of the students, Aquino issues contradicting statements and obvious spins, if not blatant lies.

‘Cuts? What cuts?’

The most ridiculous of which: a flat out denial that there is a cut in the budget of State Universities and Colleges (SUCs). According to Aquino, he is “wondering” why the different groups are protesting the budget cuts when there is no cut in the spending for SUCs, and claims to have in fact, increased spending for SUCs.

“May nagsasabi rin pong mas mababa daw ang pondo para sa SUC’s sa susunod na taon, na hindi rin naman po totoo.”

Well denial is surely not just a river in Egypt, for this statement is contrary to what he said about a month before in his budget message for 2011:

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..

A further investigation of the SUCs budget submitted to Congress will uncover the body of the crime: only 15 out of 112 SUCs will be spared from cuts in their Maintainance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) allocations and many will have their operations budget cut by more than half. The figures reflect the biggest decreases in the budgets of state schools in history.

‘Well, yeah.. we are cutting a ‘little bit’’

In the latter part of his statement however, Aquino admits to cutting the budget of UP by “a little bit.” Well, for one, that, boys and girls, is what you call a major major understatement. Fact: the country’s national university will be experiencing its biggest budget cut ever amounting to P1.39 billion, and its MOOE set to be decreased by a staggering 51.85%.

Also, the president tries to make it seem that it is only the budget of UP that is being cut, saying the budget formerly alloted to UP will now be used by other SUCs. He even utilizes metaphor to illustrate this point:

“Sa kabilang banda, marami pa pong mga SUC na nangangailangan ng kaukulang atensyon. Sa kanila po natin itututok ang pondong dati’y nakatuon lamang sa UP. Ang makakalangoy po ay inaasahan nating makararating sa pampang; abutan naman natin ng salbabida ang mga maaari pang malunod.”

This, again, is pure spin. We know for a fact that all but 15 SUCs, even the poorest, got huge cuts, and among the lucky 15, not one got an increase higher than 5% of their MOOE. This shows that the UP is not the exception, but the rule.

Another important fact that should be noted: the president has cut even the scholarship funds of CHED by half. From P1.15 billion last year, it will be cut by P650.6 million, to P501 million. These scholarships are the so-called salbabidas for the poor.

Using his own rhetoric, we can thus retort: tila wala nang makakarating sa pampang dahil lahat ay itinulak na sa malawak na dagat. No one will be able to reach the shore, as everyone now is being left to drown in the deep blue sea.

‘We can always build technohubs’

A common theme among his statements on SUCs is “self-sufficiency,” along with the call for SUCs to generate its own funds. He invokes the Higher Education Modernization Act of 1997, which encourages SUCs to raise funds via the commercialization of its assets and raising tuition and other fees.

This policy is a continuation of government policy under previous administrations which was implemented in adherence to “globalization” calls of privitizing public assets and turning services into commodities. The target: zero spending for tertiary education. In effect, the policy Aquino will continue and perhaps “do better” will turn all our SUCs to profit raking private schools.

He takes UP as example, which he says now earns from the Ayala Technohub project. Gov’t boasts that earnings from the commercial park can cover for the lack of state subsidy. A quick internet search though will reveal that Ayala pays only P160 million per year for the lease, a rather small amount compared to the P18 billion – the UP administion estimate of what UP needs annually. This means UP has to build more than 100 huge commercial centers to raise its budget. If this is what we want UP to do then we might as well abolish the national university and get a business corporation to run the education of our future leaders.

In the first place, commercialization of lands and other assets, must not and can never be used to justify lack of public funding for our SUCs. Aside from the simple fact that funds from these projects will not be enough, it runs counter to what these assets are there for in the first place: to provide the widest access to quality education.

‘We will raise tuition’

If funds from these “public-private partnerships” will not suffice, where then does the government want the SUCs to get funds to cover their operations?

Aquino and the palace spokespersons cannot make it any simpler: let’s increase tuition and other fees.

And it all comes down to this: the Aquino government wants to deny access to an even greater number of Filipino youth by raising the tuition and other fees of our state universities and colleges.

(To be continued)

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