THEY’RE called state universities and colleges (SUCs) — part of a public educational system that’s supposed to enable those who either can’t afford to pay the huge fees most private schools charge, or who simply prefer schools where winning basketball games isn’t a matter of life or death, to send their children to college.

SUCs are supposed to prevent the injustice of someone capable’s being prevented from entering college because his or her parents can’t afford it. They deepen the country’s pool of teachers, lawyers, engineers, doctors, accountants, journalists, etc., and are at the same time keys to social mobility. Without them the country would produce lawyers and doctors whose parents are lawyers and doctors, and would make it almost impossible for the son or daughter of a farmer or worker to be a teacher or an accountant. They are as much institutions for democratization as they are for learning, which is why the state founded and should support them. That’s why they’re called state universities and colleges, in the first place.

The “lightweights” (Senator Miriam Santiago’s word) Benigno Aquino III has surrounded himself with and their friends in the House of Representatives either don’t understand the phrase “state universities and colleges,” or are completely clueless about what policies can propel this country to the 21th century (assuming it’s already reached the 20th). They declare that SUCs should be “self-sufficient”; they argue that SUCs should have the capacity to raise their own maintenance and operating funds; they declare in no uncertain terms that, the tuition in some SUCs being “too low,” they should be raising their fees (which would keep the poorest out, and defeat their purpose).

I’m considering either possibility — that they’re just plain clueless about the role of education in the development that has eluded this country for centuries, or have absolutely no understanding of the concept behind SUCs — on the assumption that they’re interested in reducing poverty incidence not through the dole-outs Gloria Macapagal Arroyo put in place during her unlamented term, but through the authentic development that will enable the people of this country to realize their potentials in a society of justice and relative prosperity.

I’m also assuming that they’re not being elite-malicious — i.e., looking at the children of poor and middle class families as unworthy of tertiary education, and that they think education beyond high school to be only for the children of the privileged. I am also hoping that these creatures and their House cohort are not so short sighted as to limit their vision (if they have any) of this country’s future to more of the same: that is, keeping its status as the main supplier of maids and peons to the world as well as of raw materials to the industries of other countries.

But it’s possible that they don’t even have the excuse of ignorance, and may actually be acting and speaking out of the kind of malice one doesn’t have to go to college to acquire. The chances are they’re knowingly developing the same policy past administrations have implemented in furtherance of the global division of labor over which the 20 most developed countries preside, and which mandates that certain countries shouldn’t be sending their young men and women to college because they’re better used as busboys and domestics.

What these lightweights have done is to submit a budget for next year to the House of Representatives, which has approved it, in which SUC budgets have been severely cut. When SUC students and faculty members began protesting the cuts, these creatures justified them by saying that the government’s emphasis is on basic education; that certain state colleges and universities can raise their own funds; and that, in any event, there’s not enough money to even maintain the budgets of state universities and colleges at their current levels.

Aquino III himself pled for “understanding,” echoing the argument that basic education is his government’s main concern, and that some SUCs can raise their own funds. But his subalterns began singing a different tune as the protests escalated: after justifying the cuts, they began denying them. The current line is that there aren’t going to be any cuts in SUC budgets at all, and that, in fact, those budgets have been increased — in a demonstration of how quickly this administration has developed a forked tongue.

The version of the 2010 budget approved by the House severely reduces state support for several SUCs. The budget for operations and maintenance of the University of the Philippines System, which has seven (7) constituent universities including an Open (Cyber) University, has been cut by 50 percent — the biggest among the SUCs — from last year’s P1.2 billion, for example. The budget of the biggest state university in the country, the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, has been cut by P24 million, and that of the Philippine Normal College, which trains most of the country’s teachers, by P92 million.

Budget secretary Florencio Abad declared that there wasn’t any money to keep the SUC budgets even at their current, already deficient levels. What he didn’t say was that there’s money to increase pork barrel allocations, bloat the police and military budgets, and boost the intelligence funds of the Office of the President, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Philippine National Police. And, of course, there’s more than enough money for the widespread corruption, which costs the treasury billions, that Aquino III pledged he would eradicate once in office. Billions for human rights violators, assassins and crooks, but not a cent more for the country’s future.

The message the budget the Aquino administration has put together is sending should be crystal clear by now: it’s no better than past ones in meeting state responsibilities in maintaining state universities and colleges, and in mapping a future that’s any better than the present. The cuts are the worst since the Marcos dictatorship, and should help complete the destruction of the SUCs that began during that period, further bringing this country down the slope of the poverty that every Fidel, Joseph, Gloria and Noynoy has been promising to end since campaign speeches were invented.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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