Rolling in the Deep: ACT and the Cebu City scholarship scandal

I wrote this article for the Philippine Online Chronicles.

“We could have had it all / Rolling in the deep / You had my heart inside your hand / And you played it to the beat” – Adele

Cebu City Councilor Rodrigo “Bebot” Abellanosa must be singing the same tune by Adele now that the Cebu City Scholarship Committee has withdrawn accreditation of the Asian College Technology (ACT) for the coming school year.

The ACT, of which Abellanosa is both president and proprietor, has the most number of beneficiaries from the Cebu City Scholarship Program with over 15,685 scholars since 2010. Each scholar is given P10,000 for the payment of tuition.

The city government’s scholarship program and the ACT have been “rolling in the deep” since the past year over allegations of “conflict of interest” and “patronage politics.”

Abellanosa, who is also running for Congressman of Cebu City’s 2nd District, is a member of the city’s scholarship committee even as his own private school is its main participant.

The non-accreditation effectively blocks the enrolment of new scholars in ACT even as those who were enrolled in ACT in the last three years are still allowed to pursue their scholarships in the same school.

“We Could Have Had It All”

In a country plagued by a commercialized system of education characterized by annual tuition hikes, exorbitant fees, and insufficient budget for state-run schools, only 1 out of every 10 Grade 1 students would eventually graduate college.

Providing scholarships is a laudable way of giving support for poor but deserving students who would otherwise join the growing number of the country’s out-of-school youth. But there seems to be more at work than simple altruism in the case of the Cebu City scholarship program.

Each beneficiary receive P10,000 from the Cebu City government each semester. They also get an additional P5,000 from Bebot Abellanosa himself for a total of P15,000.

As if to highlight the entire scheme’s malevolence, the beneficiaries are called “Scholar ni Bebot.” The magnitude of the operation can be grasped more firmly by making a simple computation.

If there were 5,589 beneficiaries from ACT for the First Semester of School Year 2012-2013 and each of them receive P10,000 then the school earned P55.89 million in that period alone!

An inquiry by the College Editors Guild of the Philippines and the National Union of Students of the Philippines reveals that the ACT received over P156.58 million from the Cebu City government since the First Semester of the School Year 2010-2011 when the scholarship was first implemented.

In contrast, the University of Cebu (UC) which had the second highest number of beneficiaries from the Cebu City scholarship only got 8,553 scholars since 2010.

“You Had My Heart inside Your Hand”

Abellanosa’s defenders claim that most of the scholars choose to study in ACT because it is simply the cheapest college in the city.

“It’s because ACT is the cheapest and most of the people will really look for a cheaper school in order to study in college,” said Vice Mayor Joy Augustus Young, a party mate of Abellanosa in the Bando Osmeña Pundok Kauswagan.

But even a cursory look at the tuition rates of the major universities and colleges in Cebu City will show that this is not true.

According to the Cebu City Scholarship Program’s very own 2011 Primer, the tuition rate per semester in a Computer Engineering course in ACT costs P17,000 to P24,500 in the year 2011. But the same course offered in UC averages only at P14,000 to P21,500.

Furthermore, all Engineering courses in the Cebu Institute of Technology University only ranges from P5,500 to P7,500.

Some of the other issues raised by the student groups CEGP and the NUSP regarding the scholarship program involve the absolute prohibition of scholars to transfer to another accredited school from the first university or college where they enrolled.

Another is the mechanism in which the entire amount of the city government’s P10,000 assistance will go directly to the school regardless if the scholar drops out in the middle of the semester.

“And You Played It to the Beat”

In response, Abellanosa questioned the motives of the critics of his involvement with the scholarship program. He also explained that ACT’s involvement in the scholarship program is only an example of the Public-Private Partnership program of the Noynoy Aquino regime.

The fact that the complaints filed at the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas last December 2012 and the petition submitted to the Office of the President in Malacañang last January 2013 on the issue are all penned by Aristotle “Totol” Batuhan does not dispel this notion.

“Totol sounds like a broken record… He just wants to exploit the media so that his name will be mentioned every now and then,” said Abellanosa referring to his electoral rival. He also accused CEGP and NUSP of politicking “instead of answering the issues raised with proof and evidence.”

To answer this accusation, CEGP and NUSP issued a joint statement: “Please don’t muddle the issues raised by raising false information against both organizations. Falsely identifying us with your political opponent is a pathetic display of paranoia.”

“No matter how you look at it, there is a conflict of interest. He has a hand on how the scholarship program works and he owns the school with the most number of city scholars,” said NUSP Cebu Coordinator John Lord Escatron.

The Cebu Educators Forum also echoed the calls for the reform of the scholarship program starting with the creation of a committee of experts from different universities in the city that shall implement the scholarship, among others.

It also proposed that only educational centers of excellence and other schools with higher standards of learning should be included in the program and that student applicants should be distributed equitably among all qualified schools.

“Any government must be true to the requirements of the standards of academic excellence and not make the scholarship program an adjunct for patronage politics,” said the Cebu Educators Forum.

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