By Rep. Raymond Palatino
KABATAAN PARTYLIST on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 6:20pm
November 30, 2010
Mr. Speaker, dear colleagues, a pleasant afternoon.
I rise today to talk about the just demand of our public universities for a higher share in our national budget. I will also discuss the problems plaguing our country's education system and why the government needs to rethink its education policies.
Today we are commemorating the birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio, one of the country’s national heroes and without doubt the most popular working-class icon in our history.
The best way to honor the memory of Bonifacio is to continue his revolutionary dreams. And today, while it is truly depressing that the conditions of the poor during Bonifacio’s time and our time have not significantly improved, it is also worthy to mention that Bonifacio’s militancy continues to inspire countless Filipinos, many of them young. And like Bonifacio, today's young idealists rely on the collective wisdom and power of the oppressed to build a better and more humane and progressive society.
I wish to cite the campus strikes initiated by students in our public universities as a good example of how our youth are reliving the legacy left behind by Bonifacio. We are all familiar with the issue of the decreasing subsidies allocated by the national government to our state universities. I do not wish to repeat the arguments already raised when we tackled the national budget during the committee and plenary deliberations. But I wish to thank our colleagues, those who supported and signed the manifesto urging the government to increase the budget for education.
The reason why students continue to protest is to convince the senate, which is expected to pass the General Appropriations Act bill this week, to make significant amendments in the budget; in particular, restore the slashed MOOE funding of state universities and provide some Capital Outlay to deserving schools. This appeal, I think, is very relevant, doable, and reasonable.
But tomorrow’s campus protests will be different. For the first time in Philippine history, students, teachers, school personnel and university officials will hold a united stand in their respective campuses nationwide. Political bickering inside schools will be set aside for the meantime so that the public higher education sector will speak as one voice tomorrow. There will be various symbolic activities to be staged at lunch time: some will hold prayer rallies, others will conduct campus strikes, student rallyists will troop to the senate. It is hoped that our senators will listen to the collective sentiments of our education stakeholders. It is also hoped that Malacanang will change its hardline position on the issue and begin to review the negative impact of the current higher education policy of the government.
I want to emphasize the last point I made because it is a fundamental issue from the perspective of students. Our students are protesting not merely to beg for a few crumbs from the state; they want President Noynoy Aquino to reject the policy of reducing the role of government in providing higher education services to our youth. They want the president to draft a new higher education roadmap. An education program that does not subscribe to the misguided doctrine that higher education should not be shouldered by the state.
If only Malacanang will review some of the global news stories this year, it will be able to discern that Filipino student protesters are not alone in their demand for greater state subsidy for higher education. For the past few months, we have witnessed massive student protests that swept across the globe. In Ireland, up to 40,000 people flooded the streets to halt a possible increase in registration fees for university students. Tens of thousands of student activists in Ukraine, meanwhile, picketed in front of the Ministry of Education to demand, among others, the scrapping of unjust student fees and to make basic student services accessible to all. Widespread mass actions erupted in London, with hundreds of thousands of students marching steadily into the headquarters of the Liberal Democrats to oppose rising tuition rates and the government's cutting of higher education budgets.
In other places such as Nepal, Indonesia, New Orleans, California, Argentina, Ottawa and New Jersey, students boycotted classes, barricaded classrooms, occupied universities and disrupted classes for weeks, undaunted and unrelenting in their fight for higher state subsidy for education and the scrapping of detrimental and lopsided education policies.
In all these countries, one common slogan was sprayed on buildings and was written on the placards: “Education is not for sale. We are not for sale.” This message, Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, best captures the unified and principled stand of students worldwide against how their governments have been treating education—a private good, a commodity, an adjunct of corporate business.
Indeed, the string of massive student protests that erupted during the past few months were only a logical response to the aggravating education crisis brought about by the disarray in the current global economic order. Economies that once seemed unscathed are now experiencing economic recessions. In order to curb their impending decline, countries intensify their privatization, deregulation and liberalization schemes—the three essential components of the current dominant economic framework notoriously known as neoliberalism.
And neoliberal globalization, Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, is the real culprit behind the problems that our education sector is facing today.
Spending on higher education has been treated as more of a burden than a responsibility the government has to fulfill. As a result, state universities and colleges were forced to fit in the neoliberal framework and generate their own income. To sustain their operations, SUCs either enter into business ventures or increase tuition, thereby transforming education into a commodity.
The student protests that occurred during the past few weeks, thus, were meant not only to put forward the demands of their sector but to call for the dismantling of the prevailing neoliberal policies that neglect the people's basic rights.
Instead of viewing the ongoing campus strikes as a nuisance, Malacanang should regard it as an act of desperation on the part of our state universities. Because of the reigning neoliberal ideology, state universities are now considered endangered species. And the protests reflect the struggle of our public schools to remain relevant.
Mr. Speaker, dear colleagues, today we commemorate the birth anniversary of Bonifacio, a very important historical figure. Tomorrow, December 1, we could witness the unfolding of another historic moment – that of students, teachers, and school officials linking arms, marching together, speaking as one, reminding the government about its duty to provide decent education to all. My dear colleagues, let us join the education community as they create history.