IT APPEARS that another student was forced to death by the outrageously high cost of education in the Philippines. Last Feb. 11, Jessiven Lagatic, a fourth-year student at the Central Bicol State University of Agriculture, committed suicide reportedly after losing his scholarship.
Three years ago, University of the Philippines freshman Kristel Tejada also took her life, apparently when she was forced to stop schooling after failing to pay her tuition. The Kabataan Partylist has documented at least five cases of education-related suicides under the Aquino administration.
That promising young men and women can be pushed to such desperation despite the academic “reforms” pressed by President Aquino from the K-to-12 program to the “internationalization” of higher education is telling of the real nature of these changes. These so-called reforms have aggravated what nationalist historian Renato Constantino described as the “miseducation of the Filipino people.”
The impetus of “internationalization” pushes the revision of curriculums and courses of higher education institutions to attract more foreign students and investments by foreign corporations for joint projects and programs with local universities.
Marketable courses in the international market are highlighted, while programs like Filipino language and literature, history, and others are reduced, like the planned cutback of the UP General Education program from the current 45 to 21 units.
Moving the class opening from June to August sought to further align UP and other leading universities to the academic calendars of the West, away from the old schedule that is more attuned to the country’s agricultural cycles.
Meanwhile, the K-to-12 program transforms basic and secondary education into an assembly line producing a huge reserve army of cheap and docile contractual labor for foreign corporations; graduates are exhorted to go straight to work at the young age of 18. Thus, the additional two years of senior high school are focused on providing specialized and technical training for caregiving, housekeeping, tailoring, welding, and other courses “in demand” in the global market.
What are all these but direct attacks on the nationalist inroads in the academe and the gains won by the democratic reform movement of the students of the 1970s and 1980s in asserting the public character of education?
Mr. Aquino continues education deregulation, or the removal of government control over fee increases. The dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ Education Act of 1982, which gave private schools the liberty to set school fees, is in effect up to this day.
The average annual tuition has soared from P30,000-P50,000 in 2010 to P60,000-P100,000 in 2016, according to student groups.
State universities and colleges (SUCs) are further commercialized to make them “self-sustaining,” while their funds are slashed.
Mr. Aquino’s “Roadmap for Public Higher Education Reform” compels SUCs to get 50 percent of their total financial needs from their own revenues. Consequently, the income collected by SUCs from students soared from P8 billion in 2010 to almost P13 billion last year, with UP, for example, hiking tuition from P300/unit in 2006 to P1,500/unit in 2015 under the so-called socialized tuition scheme.
Apart from imposing tuition and other fees, SUCs are privatizing services with the lease of their lands and properties to private business, as in Ayala’s Technohub complex in Diliman and Henry Sy’s P400-million investment in UP Bonifacio Global Center. Private entities are likewise enticed to profit from food, dormitories, and other services.
Public funds are meanwhile directly coursed to big school owners offering courses under the K-to-12 through vouchers or the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (Gastpe).
The International Monetary Fund and World Bank (IMF-WB) have pushed for an unparalleled increase in Gastpe’s budget under Mr. Aquino’s watch to P20 billion in 2016, which is equal to its entire allocation in 2001-2009.
This is the exact opposite of Constantino’s vision of a Filipino education producing a nation “conscious of its nationhood and has national goals for the betterment of the community, and not an anarchic mass of people who know how to take care of themselves only.”
The current moves to restructure Philippine education are driven by the neoliberal desire to further align it to the market logic of profit accumulation in the context of the financial and economic crisis plaguing global capitalism.
These are a continuation of the neoliberal formulas imposed on backward countries like the Philippines beginning in the 1980s through structural adjustment programs and unequal agreements with the IMF-WB and the World Trade Organization, such as the General Agreement on Trade in Services.
The ultimate aim is the unfettered profitmaking by private business in education, the further alignment of schools to supply the labor needs of transnational capital, and the purging of all nationalist and critical thinking in the academe.
While packaged as reforms, these basically aim for nothing less than the taking back of whatever rights were won by the people through collective action: from public services like education to the rights to organize, protest, and form unions.
It is imperative that we oppose the insidious designs to further deny our right to education and literally extinguish all hope for the flowering of the Filipino nation.
Note: I wrote this commentary for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.