University Student Council: Rollback TOFI!

[Drafting this statement was such a grueling ordeal in the University Student Council (USC) with all the contentions and whatnot. But here it is. The original had a discussion on how President Arroyo must be accountable for the education crises and a call for her ouster, but it was unfortunately disapproved by a simple majority within the USC]

The Centennial Iskolar ng Bayan in the Thick of Crises

Last June 20, 2008, the story of a freshman Chemistry major who dropped out on the third day of his classes found its way in the pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The Letter to the Editor was written by a professor in the UP Math Department who was dismayed to find out that his student dropped out because he was assigned to bracket C of the restructured Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP), which in consequence would require him to pay P600 per unit. Sadly, our fellow Iskolar ng Bayan’s situation has become more common in UP since the Board of Regents approved the 300% tuition and other fee increases (TOFI) last 2006, despite the lack of comprehensive consultation from the students and the absence of the Student and Faculty Regents in the meeting.

More alarming, however, is how common our fellow Iskolar ng Bayan’s plight is in this country. According to the CHED, 11 million Filipinos aged 6-24 years old or just over one-third of those in that age bracket have stopped going to school. The Commission adds that for this school year alone, approximately a million school-going Filipinos have had to drop out.

Should we be surprised? After all, as the prices of basic goods like rice, bread, canned goods, vegetables, meat, fish, petroleum products, transportation, and electricity skyrocket to record-highs, the Filipino family’s budget for sustaining their children’s education has virtually disappeared. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO), families in developing countries, such as the Philippines, spend 60% of their budget on food alone. Moreover, the IBON Foundation cites that the poorest 30% of the Philippine population spends even more than that. When the cost of staple foods rises, therefore, the poor are the first to suffer. So when both the cost of staple foods and education simultaneously increase, it is nothing but a recipe for disaster for the 65 million Filipinos living below the P112/day poverty line.

Dole-outs in the form of rice and other subsidies do nothing to address the real causes of spiraling poverty and diminishing access to education in the Philippines. Many groups have insisted that a P125 across-the-board wage hike and the scrapping of VAT are realistic measures the government can take to provide instant relief to those hardest hit by the prevailing economic crisis. Last year, the government allotted a miserable 2.66% of the GNP for education once again, nowhere near the minimum of six percent set by UNESCO Delors Commission for developing countries.

Since 1998, when the education budget peaked at 3.8%, the government has continuously and deliberately decreased public spending on education in line with its commitment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its Structural Adjustment Program (SAP). The IMF’s SAP encourages governments with massive foreign debt to reduce spending on social services so as to increase allocation for debt servicing. Certainly, a look at the Philippine budget in the last eight years clearly illustrates how compliant the government has been to the SAP: giving more than half of the pie to pay off debts and leaving so little to care for the physical and mental well-being of the Filipino people.

Since 2001, President Arroyo with her administration has done nothing substantial to re-appropriate government spending and genuinely prioritize education. On the contrary, she has aggressively pushed for the full realization of the SAP through the Long Term Higher Education Development Plan (LTHEDP), which aims to make 70% of all State Universities fiscally autonomous by raising their tuition fees to private-school-level by 2010. She has also refused to do anything to alleviate the impact of oil price hikes and instead continues to implement E-VAT to the further detriment of Filipinos. In light of all these, we demand for: the immediate rollback of the tuition increase amidst a worsening economic crisis; the junking of the UP’s most recent tuition policy (automatic tuition increase based on inflation, tuition increase to augment government subsidy, restructured STFAP), without prejudice to further investigation of the STFAP, and; the increase of state subsidy for education.

These are but some of the many genuine steps towards providing economic relief to all iskolars ng bayan. These are crucial steps so that families today and in the future no longer have to choose between spending for food or spending for education. As Iskolars ng Bayan, we must analyze these social and economic issues besieging our country beyond the comfortable confines of the academe. We cannot afford to ignore the widespread hardship, which the majority of the Filipino people are barely enduring, because sooner rather than later it will affect us all and the UP Chemistry freshman’s story will be too commonplace to be on the news.

Roll back 300% tuition increase! Junk UP’s newest tuition policy! Push for a comprehensive review of the STFAP! Increase government spending on education! Reform the Philippine educational system!

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