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Missing the point: Aquino covering up twisted priorities

(Article for Blogwatch.ph. Continued from Cutting through the lies: Examining Aquino’s statement on education budget cuts )

stop_cutsIn his statement in response to protests against state universities and colleges (SUCs) cuts, President Noynoy Aquino appealed to critics to “also look at the budget of Department of Education.” This was also his response to the student protesters during his 100 days townhall meeting.

“Mas tinututukan lang natin ang higit na nangangailangan ng tulong. Ang basic education ay dapat libre para sa lahat, kaya malaki ang budget na idinagdag natin sa DepEd.”

Here, Aquino pits education against education. A problematic premise is revealed: for the president, only basic education should be free for all, government responsibility in making education accessible covers only basic education, and “priority” for which thus justifies cutting spending for tertiary levels. Article XIV, Section 1 of the constitution, however, states otherwise:

“The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.”

It may still be of worth to us, however, to study and take a closer look at this claim of a significant increase of funding for basic and secondary levels.

The DepEd Deception

UP_regents_against_the_cutsBoasting about the nominal increase in DepEd budget from P175 billion to P207.27 billion, the president has failed to mention that much of the increase is in compliance of the Salary Standardization Law 3 for government employees — a salary hike approved before Aquino became president.

This is the reason why Personal Services take up a chunk of the increase in the DepEd budget amounting to P23 million. In this light, the claim that the increase in the DepEd budget is due to the new government’s “prioritization” is not exactly true.

What is left of the increase is grossly insufficient to address the shortages in classrooms, facilities, and textbooks. Government only plans to build only an additional 18,000 new classrooms, while the shortage is pegged at more than 152,000. Target additional armchairs is about 1 million while the shortage is at a staggering 13 million. Only 32 million new textbooks are planned to be purchased while the current shortage is at 95 million. Target for new teachers meanwhile is only 10,000 when the shortage is 103,000.

P5.79 per day

The plan to spend too little on DepEd will worsen the already grim situation of our public schools. The budget allocated will also not be enough to mitigate the rising number of drop-outs and out of school youths. Together with the implementation of the K12 program, the situation may in fact get worse.

Computations will reveal that the government will only spend P5.79 per Filipino per day for education in 2011. Will this be enough to even buy markers or chalk for blackboards?

Slashing Social Services

stop_cuts_2Aquino also tries to makes it appear that his government rechanneled the funds he refused to give to education to other social services:

“Ang ganitong pagpopondo ay kailangan natin para matugunan ang mga problema sa iba’t ibang sektor ng bansa tulad ng edukasyon, kalusugan at trabaho.”

Where to exactly? Health services and hospitals will be experiencing drastic cuts in their 2011 budget; government will spend less than P1 per day per Filipino for health. Funds for overseas workers have also been slashed. Subsidies for agriculture have also been reduced.

Funding corruption, human rights violations

Aquino tries desperately to make it appear as though the government has no more money to spend, that it is trying hard to balance its funds and that it is doing everything to fund social services.

“Sa atin pong Reform Budget, tinitiyak nating magiging maayos at karapat-dapat ang ating paggastos.”

Last November 9, Aquino allies in congress railroaded the budget for 2011. The budget transmitted to senate contained no major amendments despite appeals and protests.

In this “reform” budget, pork barrel funds will be increased by more than P10 billion. Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will be given an additional P2 billion in pork barrel funds. Lump-sum (read: corruption) funds for 2011 total P245 billion.

Dole-out and patronage funds under the Conditional Cash Transfer program of the DSWD has a budget of P21 billion. The military, notorious for violating human rights and killing civilians, will be awarded a P10 billion increase in its budget. Debt servicing eats the chunk of the budget, getting an increase of P80.9 billion with P823 billion in total spending or more than 40% of the budget. What does these say about the priorities of this government?

Stop the cuts

There is still time to reverse these major major wrongs. The budget process is set to be deliberated and voted upon in the Senate within the month. Meanwhile, student and youth groups are calling for an escalation of protests against the education and social service cuts.

At this point it would be a lot wiser for Aquino to start the process of reversing the education and social service budget cuts instead of resorting to rhetorics, cover-ups and lies.

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