March 22, 2011

It was the last week of lecture classes for the second semester of our first year in law school. By tradition, we have something special on our last day of lecture class for most of our professors. On Tuesday, we had some sushi in class right after our last lecture in Criminal Law 2. Earlier, Mong took me to the congressmen’s lounge to have late lunch. I bumped into Congressman Socrates of Palawan, who is a senior fraternity brother.

Abusing the people’s tragedy

For a while now, I’ve been at loss as to what to blog. Scenes of devastation and the actual loss of life and property to millions of Filipinos were overwhelming. It didn’t feel right blogging about anything else where almost everything else will pale in gravity. Guilt perhaps, the very fact that I am able to blog in convenience indicates that, unlike majority of Filipinos who are poor, I am “unaffected.” For a while, blogging in the time of crisis reeked of insensitivity. Some people say blogging and online social media networks played a crucial role in the relief and rescue operations. I agree. But then again, the people who need the relief aren’t online, and prolonged online “involvement” seemed to me like a convenient excuse not to immerse with the people and get dirty with the actual operations. Posting and re-posting relief and rescue operations has to translate into actual relief and rescue operations. Many times, especially during the immediate days after the typhoons, they do, as proven by the thousands who flocked to organized relief operations. With an inept and inutile government, private citizens and civilian organizations needed to fill the vacuum in social services. But for how long? Especially when all those volunteers go back to their schools and to their workplaces?

During and after our relief operations, we still have to expose the ineptitude of the government and its causes. We, after all, pay taxes by force of law and thus maintain the system with almost every consumption we make. If the cost doesn’t translate to social services, especially in times of calamity, and worse, makes life more miserable for the masses, why maintain it? I’m posing that as a serious question. Even worse, calamities are often abused by the government and policy-makers to intensify the prevailing order by implementing unpopular and anti-people policies. Naomi Klen calls it the “Shock Doctrine” where government use “the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks ““ wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters – to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.”

A few days ago, I attended a Congress committee hearing on what we all thought to be was a junked proposal to tax SMS messages. Without as much attention as the previous hearings, and with the public focused largely on the relief operations, pro-tax congressmen actually revived the proposal, and even had the gall to use the calamity to justify the additional tax. Other congressmen who opposed the tax tried to junk it altogether to no avail. When more and more observers and media were coming in the meeting, the leadership suddenly decided to suspend the hearing and re-convene in executive session some other time, without all the observers and the media, and the other congressmen who weren’t members of the committee.

Another thing I’d like to point out is the excessive media exposure of American troops in their relief missions. This assistance, I’m telling you is far from selfless. It is a motivated and concerted action to ‘win hearts and minds’. I’m willing to bet that all these will be used to justify the continued implementation of the Visiting Forces Agreement. It’s all a big public-relations stunt. I’m not discounting the help they have probably extended. Yes, thank you, but it’s not worth our sovereignty. These are but a few government policies that are being rammed into implementation at the wake of the people’s tragedy. There will be more.

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Tulong Kabataan is continuing its relief operations for the victims of tropical storms Ondoy and Pepeng. We’re going to have a Balik Eskwela drive where we would do campus clean-ups and other intensified youth volunteer work to mark resumption of classes in storm and flood hit areas. Click here for more details.

A temporary relief for state universities and colleges

Last Wednesday, the sub-committee hearing the budget of state universities and colleges (SUC’s) unanimously committed to restore the budget to its 2009 level. It means to say that the proposed P3 billion budget cut by the President and the Department of Budget & Management is rejected at the sub-committee level, and the budget for the country’s 110 SUC’s would be back to around P24 billion.

Kabataan Rep. Mong Palatino remarked that this is imperative, as the proposed budget has barely any allocation for SUC’s capital outlay. How then can SUC’s affected by the recent calamities rebuild their schools? A few days earlier, the DBM released a statement defending the budget cut in response to several protests launched by the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP).

They claimed that the proposed P21 billion budget is sufficient to sustain the services of SUC’s, as they are anyway allowed to generate their own income. What they didn’t say is that this forced income generating policy is done at the expense of students, through tuition and other fee increases. The statement only proves that our analysis as correct, that budget cuts and tuition increases are state policies that harm the future of the youth and the nation.

The motion to restore the P24 billion budget drew cheers from the attending university officials and employees. One state university president, however, remarked that though he was elated by the motion of the congressmen, he feared that it may be another disappointment. Apparently, congressmen, the politicians that they are, have for the past years committed to similar promises of budget increases, only to disappoint SUC’s once the General Appropriations Act is passed. Hopefully, the attending congressmen stay true to their word and maintain the P24 billion commitment–insufficient as it is, is better than the P21 billion budget proposed by the Executive.

It must be stressed, however, that this relief is temporary, as though the sub-committee approved the increase, the same must also be approved by the Committee on Appropriations and the House of Representatives in plenary session. It also has to get the approval of the Senate. Needless to say, it is too soon to be glad about the development.


 

Tulong Kabataan‘s relief effort for the victims of tropical storm Ondoy is still ongoing! You may drop off your donations at any of the donation centers in schools across the Metro. You may also donate via Paypal. Or you may go to our headquarters at 118-B Scout Rallos St., Quezon City for volunteer work. The HQ is near GMA Network’s main offices along Timog Avenue. With your help, Tulong Kabataan was able to hold soup kitchens in some communities a few days ago.

Yesterday, we joined Makabayan’s clean-up effort at Tumana, Marikina. Hand in hand, volunteers helped the residents fill up two garbage trucks of debris. Today, there will be a medical mission in Malate. This weekend, if the weather permits, we will push through with the centralization of all relief goods collected from the donation centers and do repacking and distribution to several affected communities.

We make the university, they make the crisis

Today the House of Representatives will start hearing the 2010 budgets of country’s state universities and colleges (SUC’s).

We are of course, for the increase of the budgets of public institutions of higher learning. Unfortunately however, many of the appointed administrators of state universities are resigned, even subservient, to the government’s policy of reducing government support to SUC’s.

This year, the total allocation for the country’s 110 state universities and its almost 1 million students was slashed by P3 billion pesos. This situation, for the past years, has lead to the rampant increases in tuition and other miscellaneous fees in SUC’s, fervently implemented by its administrators. These have, in turn, made tertiary education in the Philippines increasingly inaccessible to the vast majority of Filipino youth.

This phenomenon of state abandonment of public higher educational institutions is not confined to the Philippines. It is a challenge being faced by many state universities and colleges around the world as an effect of a global free market philosophy that forces governments to cut on social services such as higher education in order to “balance the budget” and finance debt servicing.

A few days ago, thousands of students from state-funded University of California (UC) and other state universities and colleges in California walked out of their classes and protested against the budget cuts and the consequent tuition increases that were to be implemented by the state government. In defense of the cuts, the state government hammers the justification that everyone has to tighten their belts in light of fiscal crises and growing budget deficits. It is a rhetoric that is echoed even by the Philippine government. These belt-tightening justifications are nevertheless rejected as crises of their own making and as hypocrisies because governments continue to provide huge sums on questionable allocations and continue providing huge tax incentives to large corporations. In the Philippines for example, the government annually allocates tens of billions of pesos in Presidential discretionary funds that are immune from auditing scrutiny.

These state-abandonment policies conveniently forget that tertiary education is integral in the economic prosperity and political maturity of the people. Denying the youth of accessible and quality tertiary education will, without a doubt, create a more serious and long-term social crisis that will be detrimental to the progress of a nation.  Here are some links to news stories about the walkout: “University of California campuses erupt into protest”“Thousands protest fees, cuts at UC campuses”

Abandonment of State Universities and Colleges

This table shows the share of state subsidy and internally-generated income in state universities and colleges’ (SUC) total operating budget through the years. What is evident is that SUC’s are being forced to rely less and less on government subsidy and more and more on internally-generated income (in the form of tuition and other student fees, privatization of assets, etc.). One sector which has always suffered from the government’s policy of contracting spending for social services in favor of continued debt servicing is the sector of higher education. When I was still in UP, I had friends who abhorred militant activists and the “leftist” slogans. One of the state policies they continuously deny is existing is “state abandonment of education.”

Recently, I’ve been reading through the budget and financing books and policy papers of the government over the past years in order to draft a budget briefer and interpellation guide for some congressmen once the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the heads of SUC’s come to Congress to defend their budgets.

Government policy papers are very clear on the direction they intend to take state universities and colleges. Government intends to cut down on spending for public higher educational institutions and encourage such institutions to generate their own income, through tie-ups with private corporations and tuition and other fee increases.

All such mechanisms, unfortunately, places the burden of financing tertiary education to Filipino students themselves, many of whom will be unable to afford it. Such policies, as mentioned in the government’s Medium-Term Higher Education Development Plan include: strengthening income-generating capacities of SUC’s”; providing support to corporatization initiatives in SUC’s”; and encouraging “voluntary merging of SUC’s to pave the way for the direct channeling of financial assistance to students through a voucher system instead of maintaining and financing a large number of SUC’s.” Worse, the same policy paper directs SUC’s to “rationalize tuition by implementing the full cost of education in public HEIs and designing/adapting socialized tuition fee schemes.”

These same policies are echoed in other policy papers such as the Long Term Higher Education Development Plan, the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan, and the President’s own Budget Message for 2010.

Here’s one reason why the government should desist from its policy of minimizing support to SUC’s: Filipino youth are actually flocking to SUC’s due to the increasing cost of studying in private universities and colleges. In the past years, more and more Filipinos are opting to study in state institutions. In 1980, only 10% of all college students were studying in SUCs. By 1994, the number went up to 21%. By 2008, the share racked up to 35%. Here are the statistics for this decade based on CHED’s own data:

Despite the increasing demand and enrollment of Filipino students in SUC’s, its budget has remained stagnant over the years, forcing SUC’s to get its operating expenses from students, eventually leading to the ever increasing cost of tertiary education, which eventually result in the high drop-out rates, and non-enrollment rates in institutions that have hiked up tuition steeply like UP.

The table below shows how much SUC’s have been earning from students over the years, based on the Budget Department’s own data (Sources of Financing and Budget Expenditure books). Clearly, SUC’s income from the students have been growing steadily, which is simply a manifestation of the tuition and other fee increases that have been rampantly implemented in such institutions the past years. If the government aims to “broaden access to higher education,” this is definitely not the way to do it. Not even the government’s scholarship programs can adequately answer for its lack of support to state universities.

In SY 2007-2008, there were only 50,000 beneficiaries of CHED’s scholarships, and such scholarships only amount to P5,000 per student, not even enough to cover tuition in state universities like UP, where tuition is more than P36,000 a year. Budget for such scholarships was even slashed by P100 M this year compared to last year.

For those who say that there’s no such thing as free state-sponsored college education, they only need to look east and west. Ireland, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark provide and ensure free college education to its citizens. Even developing countries such as Sri Lanka, Cuba, Brazil, Libya and Argentina provide free college education to its people. Again, this “state abandonment” of tertiary education is real because the government is focused more on ensuring payment of its debt obligations. In order to ensure such, it follows policy mandates from foreign financial institutions and other foreign creditors to minimize spending on social services such as health, education and housing and to implement more consumer taxes in order to “balance the budget” and ensure debt payments. All these go without saying, that truly, the victims of this tragic order are the Filipino youth, continuously robbed and denied of their opportunity to attain tertiary education that is accessible and affordable, if not free. Such is not only a loss to the personal growth of the youth, but will also be a loss with grave consequences on a ‘developing’ country such as ours, denied of the many engineers, scientists, intellectuals and other professionals it needs to fuel the nation’s growth and road to prosperity.

Contracting social services, bleeding the people dry

It has always been a priority for the Arroyo administration to “balance the budget”–meaning, to decrease the gap between government revenues and government spending. In plain reading, this is good. Trimming the budget deficit should mean less borrowing, and eventually more money for health, education and other social services. However, the goal of balancing the budget under the Arroyo administration, and even before, has always been to ensure the payment of our debt obligations, unfortunately at the expense of social services spending. To make matters for ordinary citizens worse, in order to balance the budget and earn more revenues, the government, for years, has always put a stress on consumer taxes (E-VAT, sin taxes, proposed text tax) instead of directly taxing corporations and high-income tycoons, instead of taxing imports or plugging the leaks from corruption.

In the age of trade liberalization and globalization, government would rather give rich foreign investors, high-income tycoons and importers tariff cuts, tax holidays and other tax incentives. Aside from taxing the consumer, government has also been selling its assets and privatizing services and public utilities in an effort to hide its poor and lopsided tax effort. This results to private companies concerned largely with profit and not with public service controlling public utilities. Thus, the high power and water rates we experience. When corruption and smuggling comes into the picture, we arrive at the terrible fiscal decay we find ourselves in. Ordinary people are being taxed dry, and yet social services are continuously deteriorating, and despite all these, our debt just keeps growing and growing. Below are some graphs that would illustrate the trend of the government in its budget proposals for the past years.

National Government’s Outstanding Debt Stock (1990-2010*)

National Government Spending Per Capita Per Day (1998-2010*)

graphs from IBON Foundation’s “2010 National Government Budget: Confirming GMA’s Legacy of Fiscal Decay” presentation (*estimated)

The second table just shows how much government has been spending on debt-servicing and selected social services per Filipino per day. For the 2010 Budget, the government will be spending P1.10 per Filipino per day on health, but would be spending P21.75 per Filipino per day on debt-servicing. This is one of the simplest way of showing what the government’s priorities are.

Lobbying through blogging

It was our simple “day-off” together. Some of my co-staff members and I, together with Congressman Mong, went to the opening day of the Cine Europa Film Festival in Shangri-la Mall. We caught the screening of Just Another Love Story, which contrary to its pleasant name, is actually dark and engaging Danish thriller film. Having watched it made me miss the days when almost all I did for school, as a film student in UP, was watch non-mainstream movies in class and write papers about them. After the movie, we just had some snacks at the food court before parting ways.

Later that afternoon, I met up with some students from UP Manila who requested for an interview with regard to my opinion on lobbying through blogging and online social networking. Airah was also there to help me answer the queries.

Our first answer was that, there’s no such thing as “lobbying through blogging.” At best, blogging is only a complement to a lobbying campaign in the largely traditional arena of Philippine politics. The primary force in the shaping of public policy is and should always be the mass movement. I conceded, however, that money and economic influence often contest this in the present style of politics that we have. But no matter how slick the grease is, once policy makers are confronted with “people power,” there’s little that can stop the tide of public pressure.

There’s also, of course, strategic alliance building, speaking directly to and persuading congressmen to support or oppose certain legislative measures, building alliances with like-minded groups or organizations with similar advocacies and stands.

Petitions, press releases, media and propaganda actions also work, but none solely by itself. Blogging and online social networking can only be effective if it translates into and aids in creating another form of action such as those previously mentioned, and if it ultimately leads to a concrete mass movement. I added, tens of thousands of pledges in Ako Mismo or in a Facebook Cause page will not win the support of the President or even a congressman. Thousands of warm bodies complemented by other forms of concrete actions, however, will.

Lastly, I believe there can be no effective lobbying through blogging and online social networking because the Filipino “blogosphere” or internet community does not reflect the true sentiment of the Filipino masses, majority of whom do not have regular, if any at all, access to the internet. It is at best, the voice of the privileged middle class, influential but not decisive.

For someone who’s been blogging for almost a decade, it might sound shameful of me to seem to be belittling the political power of the internet, but really, one has to recognize the limitations of the virtual medium in order to achieve the fulfillment of an advocacy or cause beyond virtual reality. By all means, blog about your cause, as I do too, but do not limit yourself to it.

Anyway, after the interview, I invited the students to visit us in Batasan one of these days and witness plenary sessions themselves. Actually, if you want to watch committee hearings or sessions just message us, and we’ll find time to show you around.

POST-SCRIPT: To clarify, I think there are some causes where online lobbying can be highly effective. These are causes that are specific to groups which are technology savvy, like private school students, and issues that are relevant to information technology and communication concerns. For example, an advocacy to scrap internet censorship bills can be coursed successfully with great part through online campaigns.

Panata ng Brownman Revival

Our friends at Brownman Revival are helping us promote the Panata 2010 campaign to encourage the youth, not only to register for the 2010 elections, but to actively participate in the elections and in the campaign the change the course of how our country is governed. We went to one of their gigs last Thursday at 70’s Bistro to shoot some footage for a campaign video we are making for Panata 2010. Last week, we were able to shoot support footage from Kamikazee.

Panata ng Brownman Revival Panata ng Brownman Revival Panata ng Brownman Revival Panata ng Brownman Revival Panata ng Brownman Revival Panata ng Brownman Revival

Snapshots of our Batasan office

I attended a committee hearing yesterday with soaked socks and squishy shoes. It was raining hard and I, unfortunately, stepped on a deep puddle while walking towards the Ramon Mitra Building in the Batasan complex.

I spent the rest of the morning till some hours after lunch at the hearing of the Committee on Higher and Technical Education. They were able to pass a couple of local bills, but the controversial Magna Carta of Students was remanded back to a technical working group because of the vehement objections of A TEACHER Rep. Piamonte and Valenzuela Rep. Gunigundo, who were obviously championing the rights of school owners and administrators. Their lines go, “We cannot grant students’ rights at the expense of the rights of school owners and administrators.” “Schools have a right to exclusively determine fee increases, students or parents can just appeal to proper authority.” “School-student relationship is contractual. Academic freedom includes the right of the school to determine how to best attain their objectives.” “We cannot put private schools and state universities in the same situation. Government cannot compel private schools to give students same rights as those who are in state universities.”

Kabataan Party office in Congress Kabataan Party office in Congress

Late yesterday afternoon, we also decided to rearrange, for the fourth time I think, the few tables and chairs we have at our Batasan office. Here are some snapshots of our “make-shift” office, which is a compartment in a large room that used to be the office of the Congress security force. The room is now divided among a handful of newly-seated partylists. One of these days I’ll take a picture of our neighboring partylists’ offices. Walang laman. I don’t know kung hindi ba sila nagta-trabaho at sumusweldo lang nang walang ginagawa. Fine, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, baka sa ibang lugar nag-oopisina.

Kabataan Party office in Congress Kabataan Party office in Congress Kabataan Party office in Congress Kabataan Party office in Congress Kabataan Party office in Congress Kabataan Party office in Congress

Free Special Education Bill

This is the second bill we filed since Kabataan took its rightful seat in the House of Representatives. It’s a comprehensive measure that seeks to guarantee free and appropriate basic education to all Filipino children and youths with special needs, granted the severe shortage of public special education (SPED) facilities in the country and the lack of support from the government.

Based on the principle that children and youth with special needs have the right to participate and contribute to society, this bill seeks to ensure the equality of special children’s access to social services and self-improvement opportunities, their full participation in decisions concerning their welfare, and the possibility of their economic self-sufficiency.

Below is a brochure I prepared for the bill. Click here for the full text of the bill, H.B. 6771.