In last night’s address by President Duterte, we didn’t hear urgent, strategic plans towards pressing issues, but instead got an idea of what a pronouncement from the country’s highest official shouldn’t be: hammered with misogynistic remarks, false claims and unnecessary threats.
One of them, of course, had to be about students. “Sige. ‘Yung mga eskwelahan. UP? Fine. Maghinto kayo ng aral. I will stop the funding… Wala nang ginawa itong mga ano kundi mag-recruit ng komunista diyan. Tapos nag-aaral kayo ang gusto ninyo, binibira ang gobyerno. Masyado naman kaswerte kayo. Wag talaga kayong manakot rather kasi I will oblige you.”
(Sure. University of the Philippines? Fine. Stop studying. I will stop the funding. All you do is recruit communists. Then you study and criticize the government. You are so lucky. Don’t threaten me, because I will oblige you.)
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Prior to this, Ateneo de Manila University students launched a mass strike to call attention to “government negligence” especially amid the pandemic and recent typhoons. After pleading with officials to take immediate action on calamity aid and pandemic response—or else they would stop submitting school requirements, the students got a response from presidential spokesperson Harry Roque: “Loko-loko,” he called them.
Aside from red-tagging the UP System for allegedly being a hotbed of communist rebels, the President’s statement was problematic for assuming too much. In the words of Twitterverse since last night: “Is it your money?”
“Iskolar ng Bayan,” not “Iskolar ng Presidente”
In case anyone has forgotten, funding for SUCs (state universities and colleges) comes from taxpayer money, as verified by the National Tax Center of the Department of Finance. “Keep in mind that the subsidy you receive came from Filipino taxpayers,” then Department of Budget and Management secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said in 2018, in a speech about funding SUCs for global education competitiveness.
Even Duterte himself, according to Roque, said this in 2018. “Ang sinasabi lang ng Presidente [ay] ‘wag naman nating sayangin ‘yung mga pera ng sambayanan na ginugol natin para sa free tuition ng lahat ng state universities and colleges,” (“The President just wants to say that students shouldn’t waste taxpayer money used on free tuition in all state universities and colleges,” Roque said. This was in response to the UP walkout against the “US-Duterte regime.”
Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto recently reminded students that they shouldn’t feel indebted to politicians. After confessing that he feel embarrassed by the gratitude extended him by scholars in the city, Sotto clarified, “Laging tandaan na wala kayong utang na loob kahit kanino (lalo na sa politiko), dahil pera ito ng taumbayan.”
Laging tandaan na wala kayong utang na loob kahit kanino (lalo na sa politiko) dahil pera ito ng taumbayan. Na-a-appreciate ko naman kapag may nagpapasalamat sa kin pero naiilang ako dahil di ko pera to.
Mag-aral lang kayo nang mabuti, sulit na ang investment ng Pasig sa inyo.
— Vico Sotto (@VicoSotto) November 6, 2020
Threat to defund UP
In an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel, Senator Francis Pangilinan was asked if the President can defund UP. His answer: “No, that would be legally infirm.”
Froilan Cariaga of the UP Diliman University Student also said that this ultimately ignores the university’s call to end the semester.
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In the middle of calamities and a pandemic, students should be heard, not threatened. This is what Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago stressed. “Focus po tayo sa issue. Mr. President,” she said.
In September this year, Elago called out the “unacceptable” budget cuts in the SUCs as seen in the Commission on Higher Education’s 2021 allocation, and demanded that Congress restore these cuts.
The President’s threat to defund SUCs because students have spoken up against government incompetence through a mass strike belies what he once said that people are free to criticize. They’re doing just that, but is he even listening?
Art by Jan Cardasto