On the one hand, the University of the Philippines has been regarded by the people as a bastion of academic excellence, critical thinking, and social awareness.
This reputation is the legacy of generations of iskolars ng bayans who excelled in their particular fields of study and forwarded the people’s rights in the streets, the impoverished communities, and the countryside.
On the other hand, the university conditions its students to accept modes of thinking that conform to the dominant beliefs and values in Philippine society. The university, after all, can never be separated from the greater community in which it is situated. The problems that affect the people in general, likewise, find themselves reflected within the university.
The government, for instance, being beholden to foreign powers, must acquiesce to unequal economic prescriptions by the International Monetary Fund as a precondition for further World Bank loans.
The budget allotted for education is thus decreased in favor of foreign debt servicing. Education is likewise restructured to meet the demands of the foreign market.
The privatization of public education, as carried out in the Long-Term Higher Education Development Plan of 2001-2010 effectively reduces the number of state universities and colleges and transforms the remaining ones into semi-corporations that generate their own income.
The university is thus deprived of much-needed budget annually. Next year, the university will be given only P5.3 billion pesos by the government. Not only is this figure way lower than the current year’s P7.06 billion budget, it is P13 billion less than the P18 billion originally proposed by the university.
In the end, the responsibility of subsidizing UP education is passed on the students through tuition and other fee increases.
Is education given in the university then still for the people considering these circumstances? Or does it simply aid in the reproduction of values that instill in the students a silent acceptance of the unjust social realities?
We iskolars ng bayan are essentially being molded to become subservient automatons that uncritically follow the norms and dictates of an unjust social order.
The closing of democratic access to education restricts certain “know-hows,” and therefore the means to succeed later on in life, to the more well-off – in short, the dominant groups of society.
Repressive measures like the tagging of progressive organizations as communist fronts, the closing of student publications, and the harassment of student leaders are designed to preserve such a commercialized and elitist orientation.
The proposal to implement the 2009 Code of Student Conduct and other measures that will limit our rights to organize, freedoms of speech, and other democratic liberties in the whole UP system is part of this dynamic.
What is truly decisive, however, is our response to such a condition. Will we iskolars ng bayan allow the university to go on its present course? Or will we forward an alternative paradigm, a more people-oriented direction, for the university?
To serve the people in this light is to uphold the people’s democratic right to quality and accessible education. The Filipino people wants nobody, nobody but you. ■
Note: Published as the editorial of the November 2009 issue of Pagbutlak, the Official Student Publication of the University of the Philippines Visayas College of Arts and Sciences.