Southern Tagalog-based alliance urges Aquino to augment budget for social spending

Read SAVE OUR EDUCATION MOVEMENT’s Manifesto of Unity here.

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The Aquino administration’s 2012 budget must reflect significant increases in social spending that trickle down to the largest number of people and must do away with gross misappropriations and palliative but costly solutions to poverty, a multi-sectoral alliance based in Southern Tagalog said today.

In its convention held at the ACCI Auditorium in UP Los Baños, the Save Our Education Movement said that President Benigno Aquino III’s “glaring omission” of the social sector in his second State of the Nation Address is “more than a mere oversight” but an indication of “the administration’s lack of commitment to improve social services, especially the education sector”.

The SAVE OUR EDUCATION MOVEMENT was formed in opposition to the deep budget cuts to State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), as well as in other areas of the social sector, that triggered large-scale students’ strikes and protests across the country in September 2010. It consists of student councils, student and youth organizations, faculty members, academic personnel, workers’ and farmers’ group, among others.

“Aquino has merely paid lip service to the principle of investing more on the people’s welfare, while elsewhere, the people are yet to enjoy universal health care benefits, decent housing programs, and accessible education at all levels, among others,” Allen Lemuel Lemence, SAVE OUR EDUCATION MOVEMENT spokesperson, said.

“Under his administration, we have only experienced more of the same, relative to Arroyo, in terms of prioritizing social spending,” he added.

He cited last year’s Php 367.2M slash in the budget for SUCs and the Php 1.4B cut in the budget for the health sector, which according to him redounds to the detriment of the common people.

“With such decreases in allocation, the people’s access to public services is obscenely constricted. Public hospitals and public universities, for example, are forced to venture into eco-enterprises and income-generating projects that either raise the cost of these public services or altogether cut down access of low-income families to these services.”

Meanwhile, University Student Council-UP Los Baños Chairperson Pura Beatriz Valle said even the country’s national university suffers from the “systematic state abandonment of education and other social services”.

She said last year’s Php 1.65B budget cut for UP, the largest in the university’s history, is a clear manifestation of how public institutions “that supposedly cater to the public welfare are forced to adjust to the government’s design of privatizing a large portion of the public sector, with the end result of erosion of their public character.”

She said the perennial cutbacks in the UP budget has set in motion income-generating schemes such as tuition and other fees increases, shifting of default bracket for the university’s tuition assistance program, and sale or lease of idle assets.

“We have seen how such coping mechanisms to decreasing state subsidy for UP have transformed UP from being a ‘University of the People’ to the ‘University of the Privileged Few’. This is aggravated by the university’s flawed admissions policy and tuition assistance program,” she added.

Not much to look forward to

While the Aquino administration’s first version of this year’s budget may seem to have increased subsidy to the main spheres of social services such as education and health, the SAVE OUR EDUCATION MOVEMENT said this does not easily translate into an increase in the prioritization of public spending.

“The devil is in the details. Since the Aquino government’s main design still remains intact, that is, privatizing areas of the public sphere, there’s not much to look forward to as regards grassroots-level impact of the increases,” Lemence said.

“With Public-Private Partnerships, much of the additional allocations will be used to facilitate the conversion of public utilities and services into semi-private or private corporations, or direct them towards serving the interests of the business sector and multinational corporations,” he said.

“This will get us nowhere in broadening the people’s access to basic social services.”

The group also hit Aquino on “misallocating the budget and focusing on dole outs in combating widespread poverty”.

“It just won’t work. Having a budget that invests more on alleviating the debt burden and buttressing the armed forces, which are facing a barrage of corruption allegations, than on its people will only produce miseducated and unhealthy citizens. The government is now bent on reducing poverty through the Conditional Cash Transfer with an added Php 10B, which is a ridiculous, short term and narrow approach to ending a deeply-rooted social problem,” Lemence said.

Meanwhile, the SAVE OUR EDUCATION MOVEMENT has drafted a campaign plan that will take effect until the national budget is passed into law and includes several activities that aims “to intensify the campaign for higher state subsidy for social services”.

“The SAVE OUR EDUCATION MOVEMENT will not hesitate to stage a repeat of the national students’ strike last year if Aquino will not heed our calls,” Lemence said.


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