By Krysten Boado
A different noise rattled the corridors of Palma Hall last week.
It was not the usual student chatter, but the echoes of enraged Iskos and Iskas walking out of their classes last Sept. 20 to join the university-wide mobilization against the pork barrel system and UP’s looming 1.43 billion-peso budget cut for 2014.
Armed with chants and placards calling to rechannel pork barrel funds to education and other social services, UP students pushed past the halls and braved the streets, filling them with their loud cries of opposition against what they called the government’s ongoing state abandonment. It was a hymn of protest and hope in the face of an “elitist” education system.
This is not the first time a budget cut strike was held by the country’s premier state university. However, the incoming year’s budget cut of 1.43 billion pesos will be the biggest one yet.
UP is among the 79 out of 110 state universities and colleges that will experience a decrease in their next year’s budget.
There are no funds for capital outlay in UP’s current budget, which are supposed to be for long-term projects such as buildings, laboratories and equipment fall. Funds are also inadequate to support professors in their promotions and opportunities abroad, making it difficult for the university to attract faculty to come and teach in the university.
The further reduction of UP’s proposed P8.1 billion budget will also make it difficult for UP to recruit non-academic personnel and will force the university to depend on income-generating projects and the commercialization of UP lands.
When pushed to the extreme, the university may be forced to pass the burden of tuition payment to students via a fee hike and the collection of exorbitant fees – defeating the students’ identity of being Iskolars ng Bayan.
“Isa itong kalokohan (This is madness),” Student Regent Krista Iris Melgarejo said.
“Makikita natin na ‘di talaga priority ng gobyernong ito ang social services para sa mamamayang Pilipino (This clearly shows that this government doesn’t prioritize social services for the Filipinos),” she added.
‘Mabuhay ang pag-asa ng bayan’
Like lightning in the midst of a storm, UP students rose to action and struck the looming threat of the university’s largest budget cut with a courage going beyond words.
The week-long strike against the cut kicked off with a Unity Walk delegated by UP’s three major political parties and concluded with a communal Zumba dance.
The following night, a fashion show with the theme “No Pork, No Cuts” was held to oppose against the pork barrel system and the imminent budget cut. This gave room for the students’ artistic side as models from various colleges paraded fashionably cut garments and fancy costumes portraying those connected to the pork barrel controversy. Music and poetry also entertained spectators as various organizations supported the cause.
Although school authorities prohibited holding a program on the AS steps, this did not dampen the spirits of the students. Instead, the flame ignited by the desire to change the status quo sparked further as students emerged from the safety of their classrooms and allowed their voices to be heard by the administration.
“Hindi nananahimik ang mamamayan. Mayroon pa ring mga Iskolar ng Bayan na hindi pa nabubulag at may nagpapatuloy na hamon sa iba pang Iskolar ng Bayan na lumahok sa mga ganitong uri ng pagkilos (The people will not remain silent. There are still Iskolars ng Bayan that have not been blinded by the continuous struggles of other students to join these kinds of mobilizations),” said University Student Councilor Charlotte France.
And as thunder follows, the voices of Iskolars ng Bayan continue to ring across the nation, striking a powerful chord as they push the fight beyond the UP budget and on to issues concerning the nation.