Should all SUC students study for free?

February 1, 2016. Should all [state universities and colleges] students study for free? This question was asked of several candidates for the Senate elections in a forum held last January 29 at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman. Not all Senate hopefuls agree.

Many candidates rely on the often invoked mantra that justify tuition increases in state universities: “Rich students should pay,” or, “Those who can pay must pay.” These are all but familiar lines that are invoked by those who support and continue to support the current “socialized tuition scheme” in UP.

So should all students study for free? Absolutely, yes!

“Those who can pay must pay” is a farce. We fund university education of young Filipinos based on their potential to contribute to the advancement and progress of society. And that is not measured by ability to pay tuition, but by merit (measured by entrance exams, among other tests). So what if a student comes from a well-off family? If he has the aptitude to help in the progress of this country, subsidize him!

That we compel families to pay tuition in state schools, even if it is just a fraction of the cost of education, seriously puts students’ moral obligation to “give back” at great doubt. What are they to give back? At present rates of tuition in UP, students and their families practically pay for the education themselves. This becomes especially problematic when the university imposes return service agreements or contracts that mandate graduates of health sciences degrees to serve in the Philippines for a certain number of years on pain of penalty–which is a reasonable obligation if students were full scholars.

Now, if the problem is we want more youth from poor families to enter UP and other state colleges, the remedy is not “socialized tuition” which really is post-facto and seriously does not address the issue especially because of extraneous costs of education that are not covered by typical matriculation. In the almost three decades of “socialized tuition” in UP, has it increased admission from poor families? No, absolutely the reverse! It is an income generating mechanism and a scapegoat for state abandonment. Public basic education should be fully subsidized and improved so that all children are able to develop the aptitude for higher education regardless of economic background.

Read more: UP education: Burden of students or the state?

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.

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.

It’s not just a Plan B or C

A few weeks ago, my colleagues in the UP Diliman University Student Council and representatives from the College Student Councils in Diliman deliberated among each other and chose to send me as the Student Regent nominee of UP Diliman to the UP System-wide Student Regent selection tomorrow in UP Miag-ao in Iloilo.

Hay, the things I [allow myself to] get into. I don’t know how to plan my life for this year anymore. With all these present uncertainties and possibilities. I’m just very indecisive right now. I don’t know which ones to do, which to drop, which to prioritize. Let’s see what will happen. So it’s off to Iloilo for me today for a KASAMA sa UP (Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP) National Congress then for the SR Selection sessions of the General Assembly of [UP] Student Councils (GASC).

See you all when I get back. I’m pasting below a short essay I wrote after some of my law blockmates nominated me with the College of Education Student Council endorsing the nomination.

As the next hundred years of the University of the Philippines begins, it is faced with challenges that confront its nationalist history and opportunities to reaffirm its pro-people and pro-student character.

We are at a time when education in the University is becoming increasingly inaccessible to a vast majority of Filipinos. Despite a one-year freeze on a supposed annual tuition hike, laboratory fee increases are pending across the board in almost all UP units. Student organizations, catalysts of student involvement in campus, are being challenged through imposed policies and requirements that essentially limit their freedom. Despite an increase in the capital outlay budget of the University, the government severely decreased UP’s maintenance and operating budget.

These are just a few of the issues that will confront the next Student Regent.

We are also at the juncture of time, however, when, due to the recently and successfully concluded CRSRS Referendum, there is heightened awareness with the Office of the Student Regent, its tasks and function, and its history. We are at a time when students’ involvement with the issues of the Student Regent is unprecedented. It is a great opportunity to reaffirm the Student Regent’s role among iskolars ng bayan.

Indeed, this is the year when great expectations are demanded from the Student Regent, and when great opportunities are present. This year is an opportune time for the Student Regent to harness the heightened awareness into increased involvement. This is a great opportunity for the Student Regent and his Office, to reach out to the widest number of students, through genuine and effective means of consultation and communication, and engage the students in matters that directly affect their lives as iskolars ng bayan.

More than ever, this is a time for the Student Regent to be more transparent, accessible, accountable and attuned to his constituents. The Student Regent, notwithstanding geographic limitations, must be accessible to iskolars ng bayan in all UP campuses. He must take advantage of effective and modern means of information & communication technologies and must devote time and resources to be physically present whenever it is imperative, through regular campus-hopping. The Student Regent must strengthen present mechanisms, through institutions like the historical KASAMA sa UP but be also more open to students and student groups who may decide to pursue alternative formations.

He should create innovative mechanisms for students to air their grievances to the BOR. He must also ensure the presence of devoted liaison officers and volunteers in every UP campus, distinct from the student council but in coordination with them, in order to effectively and efficiently mount campaigns and projects in a university system that spans the entire archipelago.

The Student Regent must also be accountable and transparent. He must constantly communicate his agenda through regular press releases to be published in campus papers, and via communication lines through the internet. For this purpose, the Student Regent may also maintain an interactive website to ensure access to information that pertain to the BOR’s agenda.

The Student Regent must also not only represent and ensure the rights of present students of the University but of every Filipino aspiring to enter UP, and for all Filipinos who look up to the University as an agent of change and as an incubator of the nation’s progress. Decisions passed by the Board of Regents are policies that shape the destiny of UP and affect present and more so, future UP students. Policies in UP are also echoed among many other public institutions of higher learning across the country, and affect every Filipino’s chance of achieving formal higher education. As such, the Student Regent must always and continue to be grounded on the principles of accessible education for all Filipinos, especially whenever he is confronted with the many issues that tend to limit access to this inalienable right.

The Student Regent must be unwavering in his principles, despite adversity or animosity, for he must recognize that the University exists at a time when the government’s standing policy is to decrease spending on higher education, more so this year when it is bound to implement and fulfill the objectives of its Long-term Higher Education Development Plan 2010. He must also recognize that he exists in an arena largely controlled by administrators and politicians. He must not be cowed by administrative pressure, and not be afraid to expose irregularities in the administration where they exist.

Despite these, the Student Regent must also know how to strike a balance and to cooperate, whenever possible, with allies in the administration and the government, to gain tactical victories and ensure that the rights and interests of present and future UP students are not compromised at the altar of vested interests.

Most importantly, however, the Student Regent must recognize the potency of the collective strength of the tens of thousands of UP students he represents. He must draw inspiration from them, and learn from the history of collective action.

Through this vision he must ensure that UP students themselves, together with his humble but dignified representation in the BOR, and the rest of the student institutions such as the student councils, will chart their own destiny in the University and the nation. With all humility, I submit this vision for the Office of the Student Regent as a nominee for the position of Student Regent.

Collective action for social change

Those who profess the futility of collective action know nothing of their history. For the tide and ebb of world events are determined precisely by collective action. As one revolutionary put it, “The history of the world is the history of class struggle.”

Throughout the world, regimes and tyrants have been toppled down, and democracies established by the strength of collective action. The wheels of history from feudalism, capitalism to socialism, from monarchies to parliaments to peoples’ governments, were concrete conclusions of class struggle. Examples of which are the anti-colonization movement in Africa and Latin Amercia, the Liberation movement in Southeast Asia and Indo-China, the Religious Tolerance and Womem’s Rights Movement in most parts of the world, the anti-apartheid movement in Africa, and the establishment of the International League of People’s Struggle against Imperialism. And even individual heroes are propelled by the thousands of men and women who clamor, hand in hand, for a common aspiration.

History itself reveals that there is no stronger mark of popular sentiment than mass actions, making collective demonstrations indispensable in the realization of our common goals. In the Philippine setting, the stirrings of collective dissent began in the aftermath of the Spanish conquest. For instance, the Katipunan was borne out of the unity of the peasants and artisans against the colonizers. From the Spanish to the American regime, a common sentiment for national sovereignty fueled radical movements for freedom. Corrupt and authoritarian regimes were crushed when confronted by the ferocity of widespread mass demonstrations. In fact, the mere existence of repression attests to the potency of collective action — why suppress mass demonstrations if it does not instigate fear in the most hardened of dictators?

Thus, our stance remains — collective action is still our most potent weapon for social change. For only by participating in a coordinated action of thousands of people can individuals pursue both their personal and social liberties. As long as there are forces and establishments that conspire against the democratic rights of the people, individuals have to unite to register their shared will.

The sharpest position is to stand for collective action, which is comprised of all arenas of struggle, whether in the parliamentary or in the streets. Indeed, claiming that collective action is passé succeeds only in exposing the crass ignorance of the groups doing the claiming.

The history of UP alone is rich with instances that illustrate the potency of concerted action. During the 1950 witch hunts, when calls for nationalism were vilified as communism, our shared efforts were crucial in the struggle for academic and press freedom. In the 1970s, at the height of political repression during Martial Law, our united dissent contributed to the struggle for democracy, with hundreds of student leaders heeding the call of history, whether in cities or in the countryside. The social ferment generated by the Diliman Commune and the First Quarter Storm pierced the core of national affairs. Student institutions, publications, and formations were reestablished in the 1980s through adamant and tireless collective action. The list goes on, from the closure of US military bases in the country, the ouster of Erap in 2001, the retraction of the largest budget cut in 2000, and the removal of Provision 444 of the University Code, which unduly prohibits religious and provincial organizations.

Despite the machinations of the state and administration, the student movement persists because it has forged an inextricable link with all sectors in the call for social change. After all, the aims of collective action are collective victories — a gain enjoyed by the broadest and the most democratic.

At present, we are facing the blatant implementation of neoliberal policies, which direct the state to fully abandon state universities and colleges. The manifestations of commercialization are increasing, from corporatization to the endless proposals to increase tuition and other fees.

As students reject this overall scheme through protest actions and other peaceful activities, the state and administration have responded with crushing repression, through direct attacks against student formations and institutions. All over the nation, there is a systemic effort to entrench an education that is colonial, commercialized and fascist. Meanwhile, in the political arena, the state continues to commit grave sins against the people — intensified suppression and repression, political killings, the neglect of social services, high unemployment, lack of genuine land reform, increasing hunger, and continuing plunder — while aiming to extend its term through Cha-Cha. Now, more than ever, we need the force of collective action.

The fact of the matter is, those who say that collective action is “illusory” are themselves in delusion — they do not understand history nor do they know their place in history. The challenge for us, iskolars ng bayan, is to participate in the struggle for social change. We must fight for an education that is nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented. Because we cannot spur change in isolation, we must therefore link arms with the broadest masses in our struggle for a better society, where there is genuine land reform, national industrialization, genuine freedom, and social justice. For the broadest collective is also the strongest. Ultimately, we must recognize that our collective is our people and our nation.

VOTE STRAIGHT STAND-UP!

Scrap all proposed fees! Rollback the tuition!
No to commercialization!
Struggle against state abandonment of UP education!
Fight for a nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented education!
Strengthen our unity! Advance our struggle for greater victories!

THE LEAGUE OF FILIPINO STUDENTS-UP DILIMAN

Strengthen our unity! Advance our struggle for greater victories!

Last week, we secured the historic success of the CRSRS (Codified Rules on Student Regent Selection) Referendum, a process that drew over 26,000 students from all over the nation, a resounding 73% if which voted yes. This is the epic triumph of all iskolar ng bayan who responded to the clarion call of the times, heeding the need to defend that most basic of civil liberties — fair representation.

Our success in the referendum attests to three things: that efforts to discredit the mandate of the Office of the Student Regent — an institution that is borne and continues to assume the democratic struggle of the students — will end in futility; that attempts to place student representation at the crux of uncertainty will fail at the gates of our collective dissent; and finally, that we are ready to overcome divisions so that higher battles may be fought and won over. Indeed, both the UP administration and the state have evolved mechanisms to thwart our democratic rights, covertly attacking student formations and institutions. Yet no assault can withstand the strength of our united stance; our collective resolve shall always persist and prevail.

The referendum, however, is just one of a series of victories. Last year, we were able to set a dialogue with UP Pres. Emerlinda Roman, resulting in the barring of Provision 444 of the 2006 UP Code, which unduly prohibits sectarian organizations. Through UMAKSYON, an alliance of student formations against commercialization, we exposed exorbitant and pending fee increases from the colleges of Engineering, Mass Communication, Human Kinetics, Economics, and Education.

We also forged inter-unit alliances to assist other UP units in their campaigns. For instance, following strong pressure from students systemwide, UP Los Baños Chancellor Luis Rey Velasco finally recanted his earlier stance to bar the university student elections, resulting in the highest voter turn-out of 70.53% in UPLB after seven months of delay.

We also made a deep mark in national affairs, mobilizing some of the largest number of students, professors, workers and other sectors to protest the depravity of the current Gloria Arroyo regime. We lead in the convening of the national youth alliance, Youth ACT Now, to press for truth and accountability from the government, especially after the $329 million NBN-ZTE scandal.

In all these, the iskolar ng bayan was a critical participant in the shaping of issues both local and national in scope. For in a time of conflict, where opposing ideas contend to determine the order of society, it is all the more crucial to stand for the voiceless and marginalized. This is why, in its 100 years of existence, UP has stood as a stronghold of activism.

STRENGTHEN OUR UNITY
At this juncture, we recognize the long, arduous road ahead; there are grave concerns that we have yet to confront. Even as the global economic crisis deepens, with over 1 million Filipinos jobless, the thrust of the government is still aligned with the blatant neglect of social services.

Our response, then, is to glean lessons form previous victories to guide us in present confrontations. Today, battles continue to be fought. The ferocity of struggles we wage within and outside the university is crucial in the resolution of social ills that have kept many deprived. We should not hesitate in the fulfillment of such vital responsibility.

As past events demonstrate, only the collective action of students can counter the regime’s systematic attempts to abandon the education sector at the behest of commercial and corporate interests. Let us summon, therefore, the spirit of collective indignation. Let us rebuke authorities who occupy the highest echelon of government, but do not serve the common interests of the people. Let us break the bonds of apathy and silence, and instead, claim the nation’s destiny as our own. Let the force of our united dissent reverberate through the halls, inside the classrooms, and in all corners of the university.

ADVANCE OUR STRUGGLE FOR GREATER VICTORIES
Thus, we look on to the future, resolute in the struggle for our student rights, and those of other marginalized sectors.

We shall amplify our fight for added state subsidy, and assert our legitimate right for accessible and quality education. We have endured dilapidated facilities and equipment, and declining university services due to reduced state subsidy. But we share an abiding desire to end this imposed scarcity, seeing that budget cuts have proven disastrous for UP.

We will push for democratic access of education, especially for the brightest and poorest of our youth. We are steadfast in the belief that education is a universal right, in which each of us has a claim. It is tragic irony when solons refuse to provide adequate funding for education but, in the same breath, condone the lavish misallocation of resources to military spending and corruption.

We will expose commercialization as a scheme that merely reinforces state abandonment. The government has maliciously approved various policies that erode the basic rights of the people. Through the Long Term Higher Education Plan (LTHEDP), exorbitant tuition and other fees have been imposed, despite the intense hardship of the Filipino people. But we know that once commercial interests pervade the university, profit-making — not academic pursuit or democratic access — becomes the overriding concern. That is anathema to the needs of the Filipino people who, at the very least, deserve a relief from the excessive fees that have kept them from receiving education, a right that is duly theirs in the first place.

Hence, our principal task is to advance our struggle for democratic rights, in the perspective of attaining a nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented education. Let us condemn state abandonment by opposing the UP tuition policy while simultaneously insisting on greater state subsidy.

Let us fight the commercialized and repressive nature of neoliberal education by renouncing its manifestations — such as exorbitant fees, scarce resources and services, attacks on student representation, and the lack of tambayans and even the unfair procedure for the recognition of student organizations. On this historic platform, we will not be silent or passive.

History tells the story of a great struggle for democratic rights. That struggle is alive and well today, in each of the thousands of youths who will stand for justice, freedom, and ultimately, real and encompassing democracy.

Iskolar ng Bayan Pag-aralan ang lipunan Paglingkuran ang Sambayanan

STAND-UP: Defend student rights, uphold human rights!

There is no room for indifference or fence-sitting, especially when doing so only bolsters a status quo where the rights of many are sacrificed at the altar of narrow interests.

The University of the Philippines sits at a unique juncture in history. This year, we, Iskolars ng Bayan, have witnessed the turning points in both the local and the international arena; turning points that have introduced rapid changes that rippled across the country and into the university. From the Wall Street meltdown to the UP centennial, these shifts define the juncture in which the Philippines and UP is imbricated, and in this decisive moment, the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights – UP (STAND-UP) reaffirms and invigorates its principles — to serve the students and the wide majority of the Filipino people.

This year calls for nothing less than the most steadfast commitment to the students’ rights and the larger interests of the people. But while this tumultuous year draws to a close, the critical hour of dissent is far from over. In its centennial year, UP has much to be proud of. Within the university’s grounds, cries for social transformation have propelled the politicization of entire generations, giving birth to a social movement that tirelessly clamored for national emancipation from the Marcos dictatorship and from neoliberal policies. It is this tradition of critical dissent which STAND-UP continues to uphold, leaving no room for neutrality or passivity.

Yet, in the same year, the UP Administration introduced commercial and repressive measures that constitute an attack to the principles that form the university’s mandate — academic freedom and democratic access to education. Despite the severe economic hardship of the Filipino people, the 300 percent increase in tuition has yet to be reversed. And as UP tuition is pegged to the inflation rate, which will inevitably increase next year, the tuition is bound to increase further. The UP Administration remains blind and deaf to the people’s woes as it continues to banner the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) as a guarantee for democratic access, twisting the logic of socialized from a system that provides for all into a system that provides for none.

Also, this centennial year was marked by the approval of the UP Charter. Among the UP Charter’s many contestable provisions is the requisite on referendum for the Student Regent (SR) selection. STAND-UP sees this provision as an attack on the students’ right to representation. The requisite on referendum has a dangerous implication for the SR institution — the failure to reach the majority vote of the entire student population system-wide may remove the only student representative in the highest policy-making body in the university, the Board of Regents. We cannot neglect the instrumentality of the Office of the Student Regent (OSR) in the historical campaign to reclaim students’ democratic rights. This year, it arranged a series of dialogues between the UP Adminsitration and the Ugnayan ng mga Mag-aaral Laban sa Komersyalisasyon (UMAKSYON) resulting in a handful of concessions in favor of the students.

Finally, never to neglect the connection between university issues and the national setting, STAND-UP condemned the Gloria Arroyo regime for the sorry state of Philippine education. They sought accountability from the highest office, which lavishly squandered national resources on debt servicing, military spening, and corruption, while failing to provide enough funds for education and other basic social services. This critical hour of dissent can never be over until the balance of power is shifted towards the students and the wide majority of the Filipino people.

There is no room for indifference or fence-sitting, especially when doing so only bolsters a status quo where the rights of many are sacrificed at the altar of narrow interests. Let us persist in our call to roll back the 300 percent tuition increase, to defend student representation and the Office of the Student Regent. Let us continue to wager the fight against the regime’s flagrant implementation of neoliberal policies at the expense of the people. Let us reclaim our democratic rights, and those of other sectors, as inherent and inviolable.

Education is a right! Roll back the tuition!
Defend our student rights! Defend student representation! Defend the Office of the Student Regent!
Stop the anti-student, anti-people US-Arroyo regime!
Oust GMA!

UP Pres. Roman: No Rollback; Hands off UPD and UPLB student demands

July 31 UP Board of Regents Meeting

UP President Emerlinda Roman was forced to respond to the students’ demands after student leaders submitted petitions through mass lobbying and demonstration last July 31 during the Board of Regents (BOR) meeting.

The meeting held at UP Manila was greeted by student protesters from UP Diliman, UP Manila, and UP Los Banos, carrying their demands for tuition rollback, immediate UPLB student elections, and the reclaim of student institutions and organizations’ democratic rights. Determined that these demands need to be answered directly by the UP Administration, the students insisted that the BOR face the students and hold a dialogue outside the halls.

After minutes of negotiations, President Roman agreed to meet the protesters and gave her responses on the different issues raised by the students. Her initial responses were: there will definitely be no rollback of tuition; the UP Administration refuses to intervene in the UPLB student-elections issue; and that the student organizations’ demands will be studied and be left to the discretion of the Chancellors of different UP units.

Student leaders believe that it was a collective victory that students were able to urge President Roman to give immediate responses to student demands. However, it was also clear to them that she was merely washing her hands off the issue, a clear refusal to take responsibility over the dismal state of students’ democratic rights in the university, according to Jaqueline Eroles, Chairperson of Students Rights and Welfare (STRAW) Committee of the UP Diliman – University Student Council (USC).

Student institutions and organizations who led the action pledged that all BOR meetings will be greeted with mobilizations until the demands were properly addressed.

No Rollbacks
Early this month, the USC released a statement calling for the rollback of tuition and the junking of the UP’s newest tuition policy. In the statement, the USC declared that in light of worsening economic crises plaguing the Filipino people, the UP Administration must provide economic relief to iskolars ng bayan and their families through a rollback in tuition. It also demanded for “the junking of the UP’s most recent tuition policy without prejudice to further investigation of the STFAP and the increase of state subsidy for education.”

President Roman, acknowledging the present economic condition, was however firm that there will be no rollback of tuition for this academic year since UP has not increased tuition for the past two years in spite of inflation. She added that the issue of tuition increase is already over, thus she encourages students to “move on” and leave calls for rollback and support the review and revision of the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP).

Some students claim, however, that the issue of tuition increase is far from being over. They said that the increasing no-show rates, the increasing number of student loans, the decreasing number of enrollees in non-marketable courses, and the continuous commercialization of education, among others, are proof that the tuition increase has not addressed the problem of quality of education. Rather, such has only apparently caused other issues that are inconsistent and contradictory to the aims of a state institution such as UP.

They also believe that UP’s recent tuition policy proves to be anti-student and anti-people, having provisions that allow automatic increase of tuition based on inflation. The danger of uncontrolled, escalating tuition in the future continues to confront iskolars ng bayan.

Hands-off the UPLB student elections
Admitting knowledge of the four-month delay of student council elections in UPLB, Pres. Roman said that the UP Administration will not act on the said issue, on the fear that it may be interpreted as a form of administration intervention on student institutions. However, the protesters were able to assert for a dialogue on August 4 between the incumbent UPLB University Student Council, UPLB Chancellor Luis Rey Velasco, and Vice-President for Legal Affairs Atty. Theodore Te which shall be mediated by the President herself.

On the August 4 dialogue, student leaders from UPLB challenged President Roman, having the highest administrative position, to take responsibility and uphold her statements that the administration should not intervene with the autonomy of student institutions such as student councils and publications. They challenged her to direct Chancellor Velasco to cease its intrusion on the UPLB SC constitution and should hold elections within the month. The dialogue ended with the students successfully urging the UPLB Administration to concede into allowing for an immediate conduct of student council elections in Los Banos.

Calls for reclaim of democratic rights, to be acted upon by Chancellors
President Roman will not act on the demands of more than 111 student formations in UPD since she believes that these are within the jurisdiction and discretion of Chancellors. However, student leaders insisted that the dismal conditions of student organizations’ democratic rights are alarming, since they are evident in almost all UP units, thus, the need and the demand for a system-wide policy that will safeguard the rights of all organizations in all UP units. Pres. Roman later assured the protesters that she will direct Chancellors to study the said demands.

Continued support and collective action
For the contingents from UPD, UPM, and UPLB, the July 31 BOR protest action and mass lobbying proved that gains can be achieved through collective action. The signature campaign, the petition, and the mobilization were not simply disregarded by the UP administration because it showed the broad support and the commitment of students for the address of their demands. Thus, they were resolved to go back to their campuses to gather more support from students, faculty, and likewise, administrators, to gather them in a collective force to push the BOR to concur and act upon these demands.

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!

Oblation Newsletter Editorial: Rollback tuition increase! Junk tuition policy!

A few weeks ago, the Arroyo administration declared a tuition increase moratorium on all State Colleges and Universities (SCUs) and discouraged Private Higher Education Institutions (PHEIs) from increasing tuition and other fees. According to Malacanang, this is a way of providing relief to the Filipino people, given the current economic conditions that the country is facing. All these declarations have been found as a mere propaganda ploy by the Arroyo government. Rising prices of oil, rice, transportation, among others, are part of the undeniable factors that burden the iskolars ng bayan and their parents.

Notwithstanding all these, the students are burdened further by the relentless laboratory fee increase proposals such as those in the Colleges of Engineering and Mass Communication, despite the already implemented tuition increase in the University of the Philippines. More so, President Arroyo and her cohorts in the UP Administration found it fit to declare UP exempt from such a moratorium, as evident in UP President Roman’s Inquirer.net video, as though the UP and its constituency are exempt from the extraordinary challenges faced by the average Filipino family in these most trying of times.

In all these, the iskolars ng bayan need to understand that such pronouncements all ring hollow in the face of the seeming insurmountable problems facing the Philippine education system, in which the UP are among those that are being used as guinea pigs for commercialization schemes.

We need to understand that the structural problems in higher education are rooted in the failure of government to appreciate the central role of state higher education in national industrialization and genuine economic development. Instead, the present government and the UP Administration slavishly embrace the entire neoliberal economic policy imposed by multinational financial agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund where the abandonment of social services, like state higher education, is among its basic tenets. Such a policy has been crystallized as policy by government through its Long Term Higher Educational Development Plan (LTHEDP).

It is quite clear that the solutions being offered by the Arroyo regime are sham tricks and bogus pretense that deceive the youth and the Filipino people to make it seem that serious steps are being undertaken to resolve the crisis of the educational system. These are mere smokescreens to hide the fact that it is the government itself that has actually aggravated the already chronic economic crisis faced by the country.

Thus, it is imperative for the iskolars ng bayan to unite today and stake their constitutional claim to their right to education, by standing firmly for the rollback of the UP tuition increase, and the eventual junking of the UP tuition increase policy itself.

Rollback the 300% tuition increase, Stop laboratory fee increases! Junk the Tuition Policy, Fight for Greater State Subsidy for UP and Education! Oust GMA! Struggle for a Nationalist, Scientific, and Mass-oriented Education!