Break the Norm
(A Statement by the Kabataan Partylist for the Nov. 25-26 campus strikes)
There are periods in history that necessitate the disruption of the norm, instances that call on us to break the vicious cycle of everyday occurrences. Now is such a time, a period wherein what is deemed normal is much more violent and oppressive, a time when what is typical and customary has become destructive and unjust.
This is the norm: the highest official of the land presents his proposed budget to Congress, a set of documents that detail how skewed the government’s priorities are. A Congress populated by Palace loyalists approves the budget without significant amendments, making its so-called “power of the purse” a mere display of staged democracy. It is when the budget bill is implemented that we see how the people are placed at the receiving end, taking in the biggest blows of a perfectly distorted type of governance.
It is an annual event—this show of detached leadership and representation called the budget process. The first budget proposal of the new administration and the way it was approved in the Lower House clearly exemplify this reality. Placing utmost importance on debt servicing and the military, the P1.65 trillion budget is regressive and anti-people, an assault to the marginalized and most vulnerable sectors of society. President Noynoy Aquino touts that his budget is biased towards social services, referring to the unprecedented increase in the allocation for his unimaginative centerpiece economic program called the conditional cash transfer—a P21 billion dole-out program that favors his political allies and serves a mere palliative to the country’s worsening economic woes. In reality, there is no priority given to social services when the budget of vital sectors such as health and education was slashed or remained inadequate.
It is enraging that we, the youth, has been presented with a budget that neglects our most basic rights and needs. Funds for basic education remain scarce. The increase in the budget of the Department Education that Aquino boasts of is merely in compliance with the Salary Standardization Law for government employees—a salary hike approved before he even became President. What is left of the increase is grossly insufficient to address the shortages in classrooms, facilities and textbooks. An even more brazen display of its neglect for education is its allocation for state universities and colleges. A total of P1.1 billion was slashed for the operations of the 97 SUCs while no single centavo was earmarked for the construction of new buildings and facilities. Adding insult to injury, the Aquino administration also reduced the funds for student financial assistance by a whopping 43 percent.
This is the norm: Every year, fewer and fewer young people are able to attend college as the cost of education has become very expensive. During the past decade, Filipino youth are actually flocking to SUCs because of the increasing cost of studying in private universities and colleges—a result of the government’s failure to regulate tuition and other fees. Yet, every year, state support for our public schools has been dwindling as well, forcing school administrators to jack up tuition rates and impose dubious laboratory and miscellaneous fees. This ultimately places the burden to the students and their parents, who are unable to cope with such increases as wages have become stagnant and the cost of living has become even more expensive. Evidently, the malevolently-crafted government policy on education always culminates to a tuition increase. State support to education has been obscenely cut in order to channel more resources to skewed government priorities such as debt and military servicing.
We did not fail to remind them. In the course of the budget deliberations in Congress, Kabataan Partylist and its allied youth groups have been steadfast in opposing the said budget cuts, citing the above reasons as enough justification for our lawmakers to reverse Aquino’s plan for our education sector. We have garnered the support of almost one-third of the entire House of Representatives in our fight for higher state subsidy. We have literally and figuratively made our voices heard inside Congress’ Plenary Hall just to make sure that our demand will not be relegated to the sidelines. We have sought many avenues of dissent just to remind our leaders that we will remain unrelenting in our fight for education.
And yet despite all our efforts inside the halls of parliamentary procedure, we have been ignored and belittled. What Aquino gave us is a barrage of flimsy excuses—that the budget for SUCs has been reduced because it is hard-pressed to fund other important needs, because state schools are allowed by the Higher Education Modernization Act to generate their own income through public-private partnerships and tuition increases no matter how debilitating their effects are. That is why Aquino’s explanation only fuels the rage of our youth instead of calming it through his well-scripted lies. Without shame, the Aquino administration proudly cited these laws to justify a deplorable act when at the onset, these long-stand policies are the ones that have been pulling the strings.
Indeed, the luster of Aquino’s yellow is quickly fading. It is a government that has at this early stage invited not only our vigilance, but our most intense opposition. The promise of change remains illusory when the bias against the youth is being continued and institutionalized in government programs and policies. There is thus a pressing need to break these norms. It is no longer tolerable when a student is unable to enroll because of excessive fees, when a student is forced out of school because of his economic status, when our teachers and professors continue to receive meager pay, when our youth is already denied of a better future even before he attends his first class. When these have become an everyday state of affairs, there is no reason for us to wallow in apathy.
It is amid this backdrop that the youth is called upon to give what is demanded of us. We bear the expectations of history as our country’s narrative is replete with references demonstrating the bravery of the youth. We owe the little freedoms that we enjoy today inside and outside our universities to the collective and militant action of those who earlier created ruptures in history. It is only appropriate that we create another one in this time of state neglect.
Starting November 22, students, councils and organizations, educators, faculty unions and associations, employees and administrators of state schools nationwide will be holding mass protest activities, walkouts, class stoppages and campus strikes against Aquino’s budget cuts. Let us make history and declare: we are ON STRIKE for the right to education, for the sake of our nation and our future.
Para sa bayan, para sa kinabukasan. Kilos na laban sa budget cuts!