Students and faculty members opposing budget cuts for state universities and colleges (SUCs) took their protests from the streets to the Senate grounds Wednesday.
An estimated 5,000 dissenters rallied for higher subsidies for the 112 SUCs in the 2011 budget, slated for final deliberation in the upper house that day.
Senators called for a closed-door caucus at 4:30 p.m. The P1,000,387,764,000 budget was passed more than two hours later, with only half the Senate present. The approved budget is scheduled for final bicameral reading on December 6.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III maintained that the supposed budget slash for SUCs was a misunderstanding. He claimed that the overall allocation for SUCs was actually increased, save for the P146-million cut from the budget for Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE).
However, Sotto said that the 146-million was already reinstated during the caucus. He added that the upper house was also lobbying for an additional 110-million for MOOEs, subject to the approval of the bicameral assembly.
This 110-million supplement is expected to come from the inflated 800-million budget for “leveraging services and logistics” of the Department of Health’s proposed 2011 family health service program.
Sotto also appealed to students not to pin all the blame on the government. He called on the administrations of SUCs to appropriate their funds efficiently and to safeguard against misinformation.
Meanwhile, Minority Leader Allan Peter Cayetano lauded students for calling the attention of lawmakers. “I don’t think that this solution, kahit first step pa lang ito, would have happened if the students weren’t active,” he said.
“I felt it very much, na nung nag-uusap kami dito naririnig yung boses ng mga estudyante sa labas. Napapanood sa telebisyon, naririnig sa radyo, over the past few weeks. Maraming ibang sektor sa lipunan na nabawasan ng budget. Pero hindi sila nagreklamo,” Cayetano added.
Aquino and the self-sufficiency of SUCs
Earlier, some 150 students from the University of the Philippines Diliman rallied outside the UP AyalaLand Technohub along Commonwealth Avenue, where President Benigno Aquino III had a speaking engagement.
Aquino drew flak from the public higher education sector for his budget message to Congress last August, when he announced the gradual reduction of subsidy for SUCs “to push them toward becoming self-sufficient and financially independent, given their ability to raise their [own] income.”
The allocation for SUCs was set to decrease by 1.7 percent, from P23.8-billion in 2010 to P23.4-billion in 2011. Aquino justified the cut by citing alternative income-generating measures, such as partnerships with private corporations, as in the UP AyalaLand Technohub, and tuition fee increases.