In Tiempos Muertos: Why moving class opening to August is disastrous

The seasons are not natural. There are two seasons,
The milling season and the off-season, one wet
With grease and syrup, the other dry as bagatelle.
— Gelacio Guillermo, “The Seasons”

Moving the school opening to August is disastrous for poor families because this month is the onset of tiempos muertos, the dead season, the dead time.

This is not that dead time at dawn when spirits stalk the Earth nor is this that dead time while waiting for plants versus zombies 2 to load. Neither is this that dead time needed before the President BS Aquino can recognize the need to act on a matter.

August marks the beginning of what hacienderos call the “lean months,” when work in their estates grind to a halt in between the planting and the harvest.

This is dead season for landlords who will have so much dead time to while away in private resorts or the cities while waiting for the harvest season in October when they earn income from the fruit of the labor of those who toil the earth.

But for the poor peasants and farm workers, los muertos is literally the season of the dead as they struggle to find alternative means of income so as not to end up muertos.

The rural poor of Negros and Panay islands have another name for this dead season: “tigkiriwi,” a Hiligaynon term for a face in severe pain. Tiempos muertos is also the “tinggulutom,” the time of hunger.

Many farm hands would go down to the cities to look for work to augment whatever cash advances that they can scrape from the landlords. Loans are taken from sharks at usurious rates. Peasant girls are sent to work in the mansions of the hacienderos for extra income.

School opening during tiempos muertos would therefore only add to the burden of poor families who would have to think of a mountain of school expenses from tuition to uniforms, school supplies, and allowances on top of their day to day survival needs.

If only for this reason alone, moving the school opening to August is disastrous for poor families and must be opposed.

An Impractical, Non-Beneficial Scheme

The University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, University of Sto Tomas are the main proponents of this shift. Other universities and colleges are following suit while the Department of Education has proposed adopting the scheme for public elementary and high schools.

This would mean having classes in the months of April and May, at the height of the country’s sweltering dry season. How can the searing heat help educate 80 public students crammed in an average Philippine classroom?

“There will be less problem with semestral overlaps and students can easily get credit transfer on a per semester basis,” said a five-page proposal by the UP administration.

“Moving the classes to August will allow for greater synchronization of our academic calendar with that of Asean, Northeast Asian and the American and European universities as well,” the paper added.

But how can the increased “international student mobility” that proponents peddle as one of the advantages of the change benefit the ordinary student who does not even have the economic means to study abroad in the first place?

All-UP Academic Employees Union National President Ramon Guillermo asks: “What percentage of UP students will actually enroll abroad, in the Asean countries or in Europe in between their regular semesters at UP? Would it be even 2 percent?”

“The administration cannot even say if any ‘market’ exists for UP education in the Asean. The last we heard is that Thais would much prefer to study in Europe or North America than elsewhere,” said Guillermo.

If it’s not for the average Filipino, who stands to benefit from an impractical change in the academic calendar? It’s not hard to make a guess.

Raking Profits, Forcing Down Wages

“Profit-hungry school owners and administrators who equate international mobility with foreign exchange students who can afford to pay higher school fees,” said League of Filipino Students Panay Spokesperson JC Alejandro.

“Government statistics show that only two for every ten Grade One students would enter college while only one would eventually make it to graduation. With the proposed shift many more would not make it,” he added.

But the ultimate motive for the school calendar change, according to the national youth group Anakbayan, is to force down wages in the Philippines and the whole Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The calendar shift is in line with the upcoming Asean integration in 2015. The Asean’s 2008 Economic Community Blueprint seeks the “harmonization” of Asean universities and “increased mobility” to hasten the “free flow of skilled labor.”

In short, this academic shift is in fact another program that reinforces the neo-colonial character of Philippine society and the continuing domination of the United States in the context of its pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.

This indirect colonial rule is complemented by the persistence of landlord monopoly over large tracts of land and the exploitation of the peasants that till them, the subordination of which to foreign monopoly capital constitutes the country’s semi-feudal character.

This social order keeps the country’s economy backward and agricultural. It blocks the development of national basic industries and makes us perpetually subservient to foreign investments, loans, and imports.

“This is part of the scheme to pull down wages as the competition for limited jobs now becomes region-wide,” said Anakbayan. As they say, the spice must flow.

More Urgent Changes Needed

In the end, what at first glance seems to be a purely academic affair is revealed to be actually in service of something vampire-like which “lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks” (Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1982, p. 342).

Clearly, no good can come from moving the school opening to August.

From the budget cuts that have resulted in too much dead time for our state universities and colleges up to the Filipino youth’s declining access to a highly commercialized education, Philippine education has more pressing problems that need urgent action.

For — in the struggle for a nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented education in the context of the Filipino people’s wider struggle for meaningful social transformation, genuine democracy, and national liberation — there can be no dead time.

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