Bright Lights Dimmed

June 21, 2014This is an article I contributed to our fraternity‘s magazine regarding the issue of socialized tuition in the University of the Philippines.

Socialized tuition is far from socializing access to UP education. It has instead made access to the national university largely inaccessible to a wide number of the brightest college-age youth of the country. The present socialized tuition scheme is nothing more than a mechanism for systematic state neglect of higher education. It has always been part and parcel of any attempt to increase matriculation in UP, so a discussion of socialized tuition cannot be had without discussing the context of state neglect of the national university and other institutions of social and public service. One cannot be divorced from the other, and any attempt to do so, is merely parroting national government scapegoats.

Socialized tuition was introduced in 1988 and was used to justify the increase in tuition the year after. The 300% increase in tuition in 2006 also came with a ‘restructuring’ of the socialized tuition scheme. More recently, another ‘restructuring’ of the socialized tuition scheme required prospective and present students to answer an absurd set of questions pertaining to their family’s lifestyle and submit sets of documents to prove they deserve to be in a tuition bracket aside from Bracket A – which means that the University assumes that a scholar is capable of paying P1,500 per unit until proven otherwise.

The result is very telling. From 20% of students who were afforded free tuition (full subsidy) in 1991, it has significantly dropped to a mere 3% in 2014. For 2014, 54% of students are, correctly or not, made to pay P1,500 unit. This lends truth to an observation by many that the University has been overrun by ‘rich students’ who are, correctly or not, assumed to be financially capable to pay full tuition.

One of the basic premise of those who defend the socialized tuition scheme is that the Philippine government’s resources are not enough to fully subsidize its national university. The argument goes that since government resources are scant, UP should earn its income through other means, particularly through increased tuition and other fees, and by selling or leasing out its assets to private corporations. This argument goes further to say that UP should tighten its belt because resources are better directed at other state universities. When cornered with the fact that there is no direct correlation between state subsidy for UP and other state universities, those who use the argument will go further by saying that state universities in general should tighten their belts in favor of basic education. This is, again, wrong for basic reason that there is no direct correlation between subsidy for basic education and subsidy for state universities like UP. This is a classic tactic of pitting victims against each other so the culprit can go scot-free.

Consider these. The Philippine government spends almost P800 billion a year in interest and principal payments to services its perpetually increasing debt, much of which has not benefitted the people (which makes it possible and justifiable for the national government to negotiate them down). Current events have likewise reinforced the fact that billions of pesos of the people’s money are being siphoned off into the pockets of our politicians. Resources are not scant. The people’s money is not only misdirected, it is also plundered dry by our bureaucrats. Studies show that it only takes just an additional P 11.34 billion in state subsidy for all state universities, not just for UP, to make higher education tuition-free for all the nation’s state scholars. This is a drop in the bucket considering the hundreds of billions of pesos wasted on corruption-ridden projects of the government. This is subsidy that the government refuses to give, not because it can’t, but because it is not priority.

It is also important to note that state neglect of higher education is not a mere function of scant resources, but a systematic policy direction following neoliberal economic dogma, where austerity is imposed as a matter of national policy and where private corporations are allowed to penetrate into social service functions of the state for profit. This has been true for many of our public utilities and increasingly true for our social services such as health and education. For higher education, this is outlined in the higher education programs of national government administrations from past till present. From Ferdinand Marcos’ Education Act, to Fidel Ramos’ Higher Education Modernization Act, to Gloria Arroyo’s Higher Education Development Plan, to Benigno Aquino III’s Roadmap to Higher Education Reform. All of them harp on the same thing, decreasing state support for higher education.

We have to go back to the basic function of a state university. A state subsidizes the higher education of its brightest youth so they can contribute their talents in the development of the country. Neoliberal economic dogma, however, insists that higher education is a mere private good, which trivializes education into a mere private commodity for individual development. It purposely refuses to admit, to a large extent, that higher education is not only beneficial but necessary to any society. This is particularly very important for a country like the Philippines that has yet to achieve the national development it aspires for, which it can’t without producing the professionals and the technology it needs.

This addresses one of the main arguments of the other side. Is it reasonable to subsidize bright young men and women from rich families? Yes! Why not? We have established that resources are not scant, and that the basis of higher education subsidy is the development and training of young Filipinos so that they are able to contribute to national development. Such does not rely on whether one comes from a rich family or not. Class background is not a factor in the potential of a young Filipino to contribute to national development. Such potential is measured through the UPCAT, which should ideally be the primary, if not one of the only basis for admission to the national university.

Socialized tuition thus puts many iskolars ng bayan in an awkward position as they are being labeled as state scholars with moral responsibility to give back to the people what they received in scholarship once they become professionals, when after all is considered, today’s iskolars ng bayan are barely scholars with the amount of tuition they already pay themselves. What moral ascendancy does the government have then to implore us to serve the people?

My last point is this. Data from the past years have shown that 30-40 percent of those who pass the UPCAT, presumably the best and the brightest of Filipino college-age youth, do not show up to enroll at the University. We used to have a University where the only consideration for admission is academic competence. For decades, the best high school students from across the archipelago attended the University. A survey of the composition of our senior batches prove this—they come from all across the Philippines and come from a wide spectrum of background.

As Upsilonians, this should be a great cause for concern, and it is one of the tragedies that we particularly bear because of this socialized tuition scheme. Our wellspring of purposeful young men to recruit has not only shallowed but narrowed in terms of origin and background. That many of the best and the brightest of the Filipino youth from many parts of the archipelago do not enter UP means we are not able to have the opportunity to gather into our fold the brightest lights to scatter—light that our country most definitely need today more than ever.

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.

There are millions of Mariannets

November 10, 2007. The way the government is handling the issue of Mariannet Amper, the 11 year-old girl from Davao who hanged herself because of her family’s impoverished situation, is very typical of the establishment’s pattern of covering up for the consequences of its evils and its other such shortcomings.

Unfortunately some people readily buy these spins. Primary of such spins is to dismiss the entire issue as an isolated case, and to trivialize the girl’s reasons for committing suicide as largely personal and psychological. And to match such issues with the harping of news that proclaim economic progress by the numbers–numbers that are largely intangible to the vast number of impoverished Filipinos. Too bad the benefits of the apparent strength of the peso, or the booming stock market didn’t “trickle down” to the Amper family, huh, Ms President?

You know what’s worse, the President has used this issue as an instrument and as a reason to hasten the implementation of her highly-controversial, corruption-laden Cyber Education Project, a sister project of the highly-controversial ZTE National Broadband Network Project. You know, these kinds of spins fuel the mentality that blames the poor for their misery because they are lazy, because they are born poor, because they have too many children, that’s the way it is, etcetera. Bullshit. Think what this kind of mentality leads you to do. Nothing. This kind of mentality only leads you to go on with your middle class life. To be purely guiltless. These spins only serve the prevailing order. I would like to echo what Anton said regarding this issue:

In our present society, everyone and everything can be grouped into two: those who support the status quo in their actions, and those who oppose it in their actions. while some peasants certainly spend their lives praying that the afterlife is somewhat better, there are those who realize that it was not ordained by the heavens that they should be slave to some master. while some workers spend their lives in diversions to the misery of their existences, some try to smash the instruments of their misery. and while some students spend their time trying to feel good here in multiply, some are trying to use this very instrument to enlighten others. there is no neutrality. no one put the noose around mariannet’s neck. no one told her to jump. but certain people made her short life miserable, and they can be divided into two categories: first, the ones who are in power and who make the policies of our country. second, the ones who just watch by.

Indeed it is not enough for one to feel sad or angry over the tragedy. There’s a prevailing order that sustains these conditions and tragedies. And there are collective ways of challenging this status quo.

Youth mobilization to Mendiola

Militant youth march to Mendiola

July 7, 2007. Yesterday, hundreds of youths from different universities, colleges and high schools, including out-of-school youths from across Metro Manila, marched together to Mendiola to protest against an education system that has become increasingly inaccessible, and to protest against the impending implementation of an “Anti-Terrorism” law.

Militant youth march to Mendiola

We were, however, as usual, stopped on our way to Mendiola when we reached Morayta, just in front of the gate of Far Eastern University. When we tried to push forward, the police violently pushed us back.

Militant youth march to Mendiola

Eventually, the dust cleared and we went on with a program right on Morayta. While everything was at peace and negotiations were going on, the police, amusingly, engaged some of us in casual conversations, and vice-versa. Some were even sharing their drinks. It was an amusing sight. It felt as if they were simply role-playing, and it was their salaried duty to play the role of protecting a repressive status quo.

Militant youth march to Mendiola

Militant youth march to Mendiola

As we always do, after a few hours, we pulled out from Morayta and tried to circumvent the police barricade by taking the narrow streets of Sampaloc in a mad dash to Legarda. Unlike previous years, we were able to push on to as near as a few feet from Chino Roces bridge. A few steps from Mendiola. A few blocks from the country’s seat of power and corruption.

Militant youth march to Mendiola

Just behind the police barricade on Legarda were a few armed policemen. What a clear breach of rules and protocol during rallies. Law enforcers are restricted from carrying firearms within a certain distance from the bulk of people. There were also firetrucks, though there was obviously no breakout of fire within the area.

Militant youth march to Mendiola

There was this inspiring boy who spoke to everyone at the rally a little before we self-dispersed. He was so young and yet he spoke so eloquently and passionately about our issues as young Filipinos.

More pictures can be found at my Multiply site.

Manifestation in numbers

Last December, the Board of Regents of the University of the Philippines approved the tuition increase that raised the standard tuition per unit from P300 to as much as P1,500 for incoming freshmen.

Months later at the beginning of a new academic year, only less than half of UPCAT (UP College Admission Test) passers showed up to enroll in the different UP units. In Los Banos and Mindanao, less than 17% of passers enrolled. In Diliman, the entire College of Social Work and Community Development has one freshman. In courses like BA Malikhaing Pagsulat, BA Araling Pilipino, and BA Filipino, none of the passers showed up to enroll.

Thousands of the country’s best and brightest students as assessed by the UPCAT didn’t pursue their dreams of affordable college education in the country’s premiere state university for it has indeed become increasingly expensive, commercial and prohibitive.

Can UP still claim to be the home of the country’s best and brightest? As of a few weeks before the beginning of classes, only 5% of incoming freshmen were able to avail of full scholarship. The rest, including those who are applying for lower tuition had to pay the full amount while they wait without assurance of refunds. Some families had to resort to selling their valuables and engage in loans to be able to send their children to UP. And these stories are not made up. Freshmen have come up to share their stories. In a mobilization this morning, we had a handful of freshmen who haven’t even joined rallies before, who spoke up and shared their struggles.

To appease those who did enroll, the administration, in efforts to appear caring to the freshmen it has burdened with increased tuition, admitted them into the university’s insufficient dormitories–even those reserved for graduate students–displacing hundreds of upperclassmen.

These problems are not confined to UP. In Eulogio Amang Rodriguez Institute of Science & Technology, a public college, students face a staggering 600% increase in tuition. I don’t understand why some people insist that it is not the government’s policy to gradually abandon its funding for tertiary education institutions. And that it does not force them to generate their funds from their own scholars themselves.

Yesterday, I joined some of my brods in the Upsilon in a courtesy call with UP President Emerlinda Roman. Courtesies, chicken sandwich and other pleasantries aside, I finally heard from her own lips a fact we’ve always claimed–that it is indeed the UP administration’s increasing objective to generate its own income. As prescribed by our national government. As prescribed by foreign financial institutions. And has now manifested even more.

Solutions can’t be convenient

A few nights ago, I came across the second episode of GMA Network’s Philippine Agenda. It was a tragic and morbid episode that tackled the public health services situation in the country. Tragic, obviously because the whole health sector situation is tragic in the first place, and morbid because two of the program’s subjects, after being shown struggling with their conditions, eventually die towards the end of the show. They couldn’t afford check-ups, nor the medicines, nor the other hospital fees. [Part of the documentary can be watched here].

When asked why public hospitals, which should ideally render much of its services for free, extract fees from things as minute as a patient’s use of a hospital bed, a government doctor said, “The government’s not giving us enough. We are being told to generate our own income.” What an all too familiar line, even in the University of the Philippines. From tuition increases in UP to fee increases in government hospitals, these have to be seen as part of a real and ongoing state policy of slowly abandoning social services. These has to be seen as a real and ongoing state policy of following policy impositions from foreign financial institutions. They are not unrelated situations.

Many even among my fellow students simply and more importantly, conveniently just tow the government and the conservatives’ lines–that there is not enough money, that there is nothing we can do about it but extract the income from the people themselves. But these shouldn’t be solved by simply giving up and surrendering to this constructed or manufactured, and more importantly inflicted, ‘reality’. It shouldn’t be solved by absolving the government of its duties by allowing public hospitals, public schools and state universities to generate their own income through tuition increases and other fee increases. Still, campaigns for greater state subsidy and other such policy shifts for social services must be intensified.

Yes, it’s election time once more, and though this is one of the people’s ways of manifesting their aspirations, it’s not the only democratic and participative way of demanding and implementing changes. And with such a huge clout of doubt in the integrity of such a “democratic process,” we can’t simply pin our hopes just on this.

Sama-samang manindigan

February 22, 2007. Many of the STAND-UP candidates in the student council elections, including Mikas and I, went to the youth sector mobilization. It was a demonstration similar to the youth sector rally a few weeks ago. This rally was scheduled towards the end of February because it is during these times when school administrations across the country conduct ‘consultations’ regarding tuition hikes for the next academic year.

This time there were also more representatives from different schools and universities across Metro Manila from the University of the East in Manila and Caloocan, University of Santo Tomas, Far Eastern University, Centro Escolar University, University of the Philippines in Manila and Diliman, De La Salle Araneta University, Mapua Institute of Technology, Philippine Christian University, Philippine Normal University and Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

I am unsure how many UP Mass Comm students get to see this but that was obviously a small gesture of campaigning. Just as we’ve been harping in all our room to room campaigns, we do not view the issues and struggles in our college as isolated problems that we can solve by patchworking or by socialized tuition hikes. We view and try to solve them in relation with and as part of a larger education situation in the country.

Youth mobilization (III)

This youth mobilization was still part of the week-long series of events and demonstrations against the passing of the UP tuition increase. The mobilization as a whole, however, is a youth-wide rally against the government’s failure to stop unabated tuition hikes and the apparent state abandonment of the youth and education. There were contingents from various universities, colleges and high schools in Metro Manila. [View photos from the rally here].

We were supposed to march to Mendiola, but as expected, mercenaries were set up to block us and defend some fortress as if it was to be attacked.

Here’s a press release from Kabataan Party regarding today’s rally:

Students blame GMA over tuition hikes in UP, private schools
More college dropouts seen next semester

Students from the University of the Philippines (UP) and other state and private schools led by the Kabataan Partylist today stormed Mendiola to condemn the Arroyo government’s failure to stop unabated tuition hikes and the apparent state abandonment of the youth and education.

“The railroaded approval of the 300 percent tuition hike in UP and unabated increases in tuition and other fees in private schools presage a bad omen for the education sector that could trigger the worst education crisis in history,” Kabataan Partylist president Raymond Palatino said. “The disheartening stories of Julie Albior and Flores Biwang who were the topnotchers in the high school category of the National Achievement Test (NAT) last year remind us of the futility of government education programs. It also underscores the need to curb corruption in the government and misprioritization of the national budget.”

“Albior and Biwang represent the millions of poor but intelligent students who are forced to skip schooling because of rising cost of education and decreasing family incomes. They are the poignant examples of state abandonment of the youth and education.”

“With more preventive fees being charged both in private institutions and state schools, we fear that their numbers will double up this coming semester.”

Palatino put the blame on the Arroyo administration, saying current policies on education and government’s disregard allow private institutions to charge onerous and dubious fees on students and transform public schools to corporate entities. “Since 2001, the government encouraged the reduction of subsidies for public universities. This forced schools either to accept fewer students or to raise fees,” he said. “Parallel to annual cuts in state schools budgets, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) implemented a new tuition guideline in 2004 which allowed private schools to impose higher fees below the inflation rate without consulting the students,” he added.

Meanwhile, Palatino called on incumbent officials and aspiring politicians to translate their electoral agenda and promises to practice by supporting the students’ position for the UP Board of Regents to recall the approved tuition hike and impose a moratorium on tuition hikes this year to resolve hanging issues over the implementation of the new CHEd memorandum order no. 14 “This will be an opportunity for them to prove to us that they are really for the youth and they are running to defend and uphold the interest of young Filipinos, particularly for education.”

Annual increases in UP tuition

January 23, 2007. This is not a widely known fact, but last December 15, aside from approving the proposal increasing the tuition of incoming UP students by 300+%, the Board of Regents (BOR) also approved annual tuition increases based on the Philippine’s national inflation rate. Many of the pro-tuition increase advocates justify their support by claiming that this is more of a pragmatic issue from the side of the university administration rather than an issue of ideological shift. They claim that while the government cannot provide what it needs (a claim we also contend), it’s imperative for the university to source part of its fund from the “scholars” themselves for the meantime.

But what does the annual increase in tuition prove? The approval of an annual increase in tuition simply proves right what we’ve been harping all along, that the tuition increase proposal isn’t just an act of “last resort,” it is a total surrender and an ideological submission to the government’s real plan of slowly abandoning its constitutional mandate to provide quality tertiary education to its people, all in part of the national administration’s medium and long-term higher education development plans.

An annual tuition increase adjustment ultimately strips the University of the Philippines much of its character as a state university because it permanently mandates the university to source part of its finances from the nation’s university scholars themselves.

It is also important to look at this from a wider perspective. This isn’t just an issue of UP adjusting its tuition because the government can’t provide for all its finances. The approval of UP’s tuition increase has serious implications on other state universities and colleges who all also experience state funding deficiencies. With the premiere state university leading the way of following the government’s higher education development plan, it is expected that other SUC’s will begin more aggressive (since they’re already doing it) means of sourcing funds from commercial means and from the students themselves, through more tuition increases. Which ultimately makes tertiary education less accessible to the poor majority of Filipinos.

This Friday, there will be a demonstration against the tuition increase approval. And don’t feel guilty if you cut your classes on that one day. It is the right of your benefactors, majority of whom are poor, that you’re fighting for.

Anti-tuition increase protest

November 23, 2006. UP students from the different UP units across the Philippines simultaneously protested today against the 300% tuition and other fee increases proposal by the UP Administration. In UP Diliman, throngs of students walked out of classes and mobilized in front of historic Palma Hall.

I’ve said my piece about this already and defended my stand to those who are in favor of the proposal, and even to those who are simply too allergic to activists and to my political party in UP.

My basic contention is that it is simply unjust for state university students to carry the burden of neglect of a government that conveniently loses billions in graft and corruption and conveniently allocates billions more in dubious repressive and status-quo preserving policies. It is unjust because it alters the very nature of UP as a state university and it violates the constitutional assurance of state promotion, protection and accessibility of education at all levels. It is especially unjust when a great majority of Filipinos live on less than a dollar or two a day.

I was able to invite some of my blockmates to come along. They’ve never joined rallies or mobilizations before, until this afternoon.

I was also told to speak in front of the crowd, in short notice. Whew. Impromptu public speaking is not my thing.