(Senator Franklin Drilon in today's Senate budget
hearings via webcast (http://senate.gov.ph)
By Chanda Shahani
In what basically amounts to a virtual admission of the official policy of the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III on State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Florencio Abad said in an interview today that the State was committed to funding the needs of primary and secondary schools ahead of the needs of SUCs.
And in so doing, SUCs will face closures, mergers, consolidations and will be increasingly left to fend on their own on the issue of raising funds for their Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE), Abad said in a telephone interview on the ABS-CBN News Channel where League of Filipino Students (LFS) Chairman Terry Ridon was a guest. Both Abad and Ridon were interviewed on the issue of budget cuts to SUCs.
Secretary Abad said that he was in close coordination with Commission on Higher and Education Chairperson Patricia Licuanan, and there was a consensus between them that there were 112 SUCs too many and that some of them had to go with the remainder streamlining their personnel, course offerings, processes and assets.
But Chairman Ridon said that the State was mandated to provide affordable education to those who had less in life.
Secretary Abad said that legislators were partly to blame for the problem as they keep on insisting every year that new SUCs be created in favored provinces, even if there was no budget for the same. They do this through the mechanism of congressional insertions into the national budget while pressuring CHED to approve the permits of these proposed SUCs. Congressmen can pressure CHED to do this because they have the power to undertake a line item veto of CHED's budget. Even senators with an agenda can pressure the CHED Chairperson to allow the creation of new SUCs because they have the power to veto a cabinet secretary's appointment in the Commission on Appointments (CA). Under existing Senate rules, a single dissenting CA member can derail the confirmation of a cabinet secretary's appointment.
Chairman Ridon said that LFS and other student groups “would be lobbying” senators to restore the budgets of SUCs. He said that he was willing to sit down with Secretary Abad "or preferably, President Aquino" to discuss the budgetary problems of SUCs. Secretary Abad agreed, but said it would be better if CHED Chairperson Licuanan was there too along with members of both houses of Congress.
Secretary Abad said that “we have to be honest,” as in 2009 the budget of SUCs was PhP 21 billion which actually increased to a high of PhP 23.4 billion in the proposed 2011 budget. He said that the PhP 2.4 billion increase went mainly to the increases of salaries of the faculty and teachers in SUCs as required under the salary standardization law.
Secretary Abad said that the “alleged reduction” in Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) of SUCs amounting to PhP 1.8 billion was a misnomer given that PhP 1.1 billion of that money were insertions by congressmen which DBM could not act on “due to lack of revenues.”
He said that unlike other government institution and entities, SUCs had the privilege “of keeping their revenues from other undertakings.” Abad also said that affirmative action had to be implemented in favor of younger students in primary and secondary schools as “it is more progressive to invest in basic education.”
Secretary Abad argued that out of 100 young people who enter primary school, only 14 remain to enter and graduate from college. “These 14 have the resources and are relatively well off,” Abad said. He said that it was more logical to prioritize the allocation of scarce resources into the primary and secondary levels in order to ensure that more students end up going to college.
Secretary Abad said that many of the smaller SUCs did not make the grade in terms of being able to competently educate their students. He said that a better strategy was for the government to support CHED-defined Centers for Excellence. He gave examples such as Mindanao State University (MSU), University of the Philippines (U.P.) and Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP).
Confirming the link between cutting the budgets of SUCs and increasing the budget for Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs), Secretary Abad said that giving PhP 1400.00 to a poor family to ensure that a child finished his or her requirements for grade or high school”was not throwing money away but was an investment.”
He said that CHED and DBM was also under pressure to streamline SUCs because many of the SUCs had students who arrived at their doorsteps at below-par capabilities and time and resources had to spent in giving them remediation courses to bring them up to academic speed. Instead of doing that, he said the Department of Education (DEPED) is adding a combined two years to the elementary and high school levels in order to bolster students' fundamentals such that they would no longer need remediation courses in college.
But Chairman Ridon said that it was “unfair for the Aquino administration to turn its back on its commitment to education.”
Secretary Abad disagreed with this assertion, however. He said that education in its entirety was getting a PhP 32 billion increase or a 20% share of the national budget. However, he admitted that the bias was for the private sector to handle the bulk of tertiary education “with SUCs being consolidated.”
But Chairman Ridon said that closing down more SUCs was discriminatory because it meant that the poorest students would no longer have a chance to avail of a tertiary education in a landscape populated with expensive private schools and a few showcase state universities that would become difficult to enter unless one was effectively a child of privilege in the primary and secondary levels with access to resources that improved the probabilities of hurdling entrance exams of these schools.
He criticized the Aquino administration for its “policy of no deviation from nine years of former Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who did not support a clear and affordable alternative to commercial education.”
The ramification of Secretary Abad's remarks are enormous. It essentially means that CHED, working with DBM will be at the forefront of pressuring SUCs to merge with each other in order to create economies of scale.
Even CHED-certified Centers of Excellence such as MSU, U.P. and PUP are only certified on a per program, institute or college basis, which means that programs that do not merit this seal of approval could end up facing the ax from their own university administrations.
This means that by withholding increases in the budget for these SUCs, DBM is forcing SUCs to remove “less efficient” programs in favor of revenue generating programs while SUCs are forced to undertake varying degrees of commercialization in order to make ends meet.
This also means that the democratization of tertiary education may be nearing its end as high tuition costs in commercial educational institutions and tough entrance standards in the surviving CHED-certified Centers of Excellence virtually guarantee that the majority of potential students who have modest financial means and academic abilities and who want a tertiary education will have the doors rudely slammed in their faces by their own government, resulting in severe limitations being placed on their and their families' futures.
In a related development, the U.P. Diliman University Council issued a statement through U.P. Diliman's website (http://www.upd.edu.ph/~updinfo/index143.html) saying that it "is alarmed over the reduction of state subsidy to the University of the Philippines (UP) and other state universities and colleges. The proposed budget for UP is way below what the University needs."
"A low budget has a debilitating effect on UP’s capacity to fulfill its mandate as the national university. The underprivileged students’ access to quality tertiary education will be compromised. The sustained development of academic facilities and programs will also be hampered."
"The new UP Charter declares that “the State shall promote, foster, nurture and protect the right of all citizens to accessible quality education. Toward this end, it is the policy of the State to strengthen the University of the Philippines as the national university.”
"The UP budget is a measure of the government’s commitment to education and public service. It is necessary that UP is provided sufficient funding so that it can continue to achieve academic excellence. At the same time, it is imperative for the government to ensure the full release of UP budgetary allocations."