By Kimberly Villegas

Karen Davila introduces the senatorial candidates present at the ANC electoral forum held last January 29 at the UP Theater. Photo by Kimberly Villegas

Senatorial candidates from different political parties disagreed with the recent budget cuts for State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) which include the University of the Philippines.

Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Neri Colmenares promised the audience composed of students and faculty members that he will continue the fight he has started in Congress against any form of budget decrease in the education sector.

“We believe that education is a right, and if the government does not provide subsidy to education, government is violating human rights,” Colmenares said. “In fact dapat ‘pag SUCs, libre ang edukasyon (SUCs should have free education).”

Colmenares was one of the legislators who fought against the cut in the Maintenance and Other operating Expenses (MOOE) of 15 SUCs to as much as half in 2010.

According to Article XIV Section 1 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, “the State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.”

Colmenares also disagreed with the leasing of UP properties in order to generate income, labeling the country’s educational system as “privatized” and “commercialized.”

‘Yung mga mahihirap, hirap na hirap pumasok dito sa ating universities at colleges. Tapos kapag nakapasok sila, kailangan i-subject sila sa mga ganitong constraints like fees, other fees, tuition fees, at kung ano pa man yan (It is already very difficult in the first place for the poor to enter college, and then once they are able to enroll, they get subjected to these constraints like fees, other fees, tuition fees, whatsoever),” Colmenares said. “Any form of compromising the educational system is unacceptable.”

Former Chief of Staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Susan Ople, on the other hand, said any form of commercialization in the university must not progress without the referendum of the students themselves.

As for the budget issue, Ople believes the P 2 billion cut in the UP budget is a “criminal offense” and that the capital outlay of SUCs should include digital infrastructure.

Ople is the daughter of former Labor Secretary and Senate President Blas Ople who was one of the authors of the provision in the Constitution which mandates the government to allot the highest budgetary priority to education.

Meanwhile, Valenzuela 1st District Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian, who advocates for free education in SUCs, also expressed opposition to the said move of the government.

Gatchalian said the national government only needs P14 billion to support the 1.5 million students in SUCs nationwide. The said amount, he said, is small compared to the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which is at P 220 billion and P 140 billion, respectively.

“(Free education) is a hard promise (to keep) if the country cannot afford it. The budget for this year is about P 3 trillion already. If you (take the percentage) of 14 billion from 3 trillion, that’s 0.4 percent. It’s less than 1 percent of our total budget,” Gatchalian said.

Gatchalian also believes that free education should be granted to all students, “even to the millionaires.”

Marami dito (sa UP) ay mayayaman, pero they come to UP because of the quality. Pero tingin ko maliit na parte lang iyan ng kabuuan. Karamihan sa mga estudyante sa SUCs, almost 70 or probably 90 percent, talagang nahihirapan sila magbayad ng tuition nila because may other costs pa — transportation, food (Many here (in UP) are rich, but they come to UP because of the quality. However, I think this is just a small portion of the whole (picture). It is really hard for a lot of students in SUCs, almost 70 or probably 90 percent, to pay for their tuition because there are still many other costs (to pay like) transportation (and)  food),” Gatchalian said. “We have to look at the system as a whole.”

This was echoed by Atty. Lorna Kapunan, saying the issue of high cost of education should also be given attention.

[H]indi lang kailangang tingnan ang budget ng edukasyon, kasi maski na libre ang edukasyon n’yo, kung mahal naman ang pamasahe, mahal ang internet, mahal ang ilaw, mahal ang pagkain, mahal ang baon hindi rin kayo pwedeng mag-enrol sa university ([W]e should not only look at the budget in education per se because even though education is free but the (transportation, internet, electricity, food and allowance) is costly, you still cannot enroll in a university),” said Kapunan.

Former senator Miguel Zubiri, on the other hand, echoed the stand of Gatchalian while also noting that budget increase should not only be for prominent SUCs but also for all the other universities and colleges all over the country, especially the ones in far-flung areas.

“We should strengthen state universities and colleges all over the Philippines because let’s face it, students from Biliran cannot afford to go here in UP Diliman, same as those who are from Mindanao,” said Zubiri, a UP Los Banos graduate.

Meanwhile, House Committee on Higher and Technical Education Chairperson Roman Romulo discussed the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education Act (UniFAST).

Under the UniFAST Act which was authored by Romulo himself, any qualified Filipino who wants to go to college but could not because of financial incapability is given the chance to receive financial assistance for tuition, books, school uniform, dormitory or apartment and stipend.

The said act was signed by President Aquino on October 2015. About a year after, the fourth decrease in SUCs budget under the current administration was implemented.

Two senatorial bets Kapunan and ACT-CIS Partylist Rep. Samuel Pagdilao agreed with the current socialized tuition scheme in the university, wherein the tuition fee paid by students is dependent on his socio-economic status.

Kung sinuman ang mas may kakayahan sa buhay, he should also be able to pass on, to share doon sa mga mas nangangailangan (Those who are privileged should also be able to pass on, to share with those in need),” said Pagdilao. “They (the poor) deserve to be given education, and the only way for it is for others who are more situated in life to be of help.”

Kapunan, meanwhile, believes that the rich should pay full tuition in UP: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

On the other hand, Romulo, who is part of the UP Board of Regents as Chairman of the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education, defended the UP Administration by pointing out the mechanisms included in the scheme which he believes can help the less fortunate students.

Syempre gusto natin lahat ay libre. Pero I think gumawa naman ng efforts (ang UP Admin). Halimbawa yung bracket E1 at E2, in-increase na po iyan. Yung dating 250 000, ang presyo po niyan ngayon is 500 000. Gumawa po ng sistema para masigurado po natin na hindi na maulit na during midterms, finals, wala nang nagbabayad dahil talagang kulang ang pera niya (Of course we want everything to be free. However, I think efforts were also made (by the administration). For example, brackets E1 and E2 were already increased. What was once 250 000, is now priced 500 000. A system was created to ensure that during midterms, finals, no one would be forced to pay anything if he or she could not),” said Romulo.

The controversy of the proposed revision of the General Education (GE) program of the university was also discussed, with some seeing beyond the increase or decrease in subjects.

Senatoriable Leyte 1st District Rep. Martin Romualdez said the issue is the possibility of permanent displacement of faculty members.

Ako personally I have no problem kung mag-decrease tayo ng general subjects pero ang faculty po ay dapat masigurado lalo na yung matagal nang faculty na hindi naman po sila masesesante dahil sa K-12 (I personally see no problem with decreasing our general subjects but employment of faculty members must be ensured especially of those who have been long-time employees), said Romualdez. “If we have to combine subjects, that is what we should do.”

The University Council decided on its Jan. 25 meeting to defer the revision for the meantime, and review the proposed reform instead.

Gatchalian, meanwhile, thinks the K-12 program is “one of the most important education reforms our country is undergoing right now” and said it is only right that “subjects under the GE and K-12 program are rational and synergized.”

However, Gatchalian said he opposes the removal of the Filipino subject. His opinion was shared by Kapunan and Ople.

Dapat ang educational program natin ay magturo ng love of country… Iyang K-12 program na iyan, kung ang objective ay magdagdag ng courses para pag-graduate n’yo ay ready kayo na ma-employ kayo sa mga multi-nationals abroad, para ma-employ kayo na maging OFW at magsilbi sa ibang bansa, tutol po ako sa K-12 na iyan. (Our educational program must teach us love of country… If that K-12 program’s objective is to increase courses so if you graduate, you become ready to be employed by multi-nationals abroad, to be employed as OFWs who serve other countries, I disagree with that K-12 program),” said Kapunan.

Other bets present in the Jan. 29 ANC forum were former Department of Interior and Local Government Chief Raffy Alunan, former Philippine Tourism Authority General Manager Mark Lapid, former Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jericho Petilla, former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Dionisio Santiago, jueteng whistleblower Sandra Cam and current Assistant Secretary for Muslim Affairs and Special Concerns in the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Ina Ambolodto.


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