Meager spending for social services show that the 2012 budget is anti-people and far from being a ‘reform budget’.” – Vencer Crisostomo, national chairman of Anakbayan.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Regina Decangchon, 18, failed to enroll for the second semester in the University of the Philippines-Manila because of previous unpaid tuition. Sadly, she may no longer go back to studying. “My parents can no longer afford to send me to school,” Decangchon told Bulatlat.com.
There are more than 8,000 out-of-school youths like Decangchon who expressed fears that more and more students will be forced to abandon their studies due to high tuition. “State universities and colleges are increasing tuition fees to survive because the government is continually reducing the budget for social services like education.”
On Nov. 29, Decangchon and other students, teachers, health workers and health professionals, migrants and women linked up to show their rage at the swiftly approved 2012 national budget. Calling the said budget as “anti-people,” peoples’ organizations under Kilos na Laban sa Budget Cut and Coalition for Health Budget Increase marched from España avenue to Chino Roces Bridge (former Mendiola Bridge) carrying banners condemning the “anti-people national budget.”
“It is sad that teachers and students have to take a leave from work and be absent from their classes; that they have to march under the scorching sun all because the President is not listening to the call of the Filipino people,” said Prof. Ferdinand Bondami of Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP).
On Nov. 22, the Philippine Senate approved the P1.816 trillion ($41 billion) proposed national budget for next year. It was greeted by “Days of Rage” protest actions held Nov. 24 to 25 reportedly to show disgust over the railroading of 2012 budget in the Senate.
But a week later, on Nov. 29, the national budget for 2012 was ratified by the Bicameral Committee. It is now expected to be signed two weeks later, or by Dec. 15, by President Benigno S. Aquino III. If that happens, it would be just the second time in 11 years that the succeeding year’s national budget was approved before the current year ended.
In the approved 2012 budget, P30 million ($687 thousand) was heaped additionally to the budget of the Department of National Defense (DND), as payment for a property of the Philippine Navy in Puerto Princesa and another P25 million ($572,715) for reconstructing and renovating the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and buildings of the Philippine Military Academy.
On the other hand, the budget for the Department of Health (DOH) was slashed by P224 million ($5.1 million). The budget of the Department of Labor and Employment was slashed by P91 million ($2 million). The budget reduced from that of DOLE was earmarked for operations of Filipino centers abroad. Sen. Franklin Drilon said the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration funds can be used for this instead.
Social services got P575.8 billion ($13 billion) or 31.7 percent of the entire General Appropriations Act (GAA) chiefly for implementing dole-out programs, according to protesters. Economic services got nearly as much, P438.9 billion ($11 billion) or 24.2 percent of GAA; debt servicing got P356.1 ($8 billion) billion, while defense got P113.1 billion ($2.5 billion).
“Despite widespread protests, the budget remains in favor of debt servicing, profits, dole-outs and the military. Meager spending for social services show that the 2012 budget is anti-people and far from being a ‘reform budget’,” said Vencer Crisostomo, national chairman of progressive youth organization Anakbayan.
Students complained about the impoverished education system in the country. “Every year, the government is reducing the budget for social services and the budget for state universities and colleges. And every year, the system of education is becoming more rotten,” a student said.
The health sector accused the government of President Benigno S. Aquino III of being heartless and callous when it slashed the already paltry budget of public hospitals. Robert Mendoza, convenor of Coalition for Health Budget Increase and secretary-general of the Alliance of Health Workers, said budget cuts actually “push for privatization amidst increasing incidence of illnesses and inaccessibility of medicines, supplies, public health services among poor patients.”
The Department of Health (DOH) budget for 2012 was slashed by P200 million ($4.5 million). There are six hospitals in the National Capital Region (NCR) that got budget cuts for 2012. These include Dr. Fabella Memorial Hospitals, National Center for Mental Health, Philippine Orthopedic Center, San Lazaro Hospital, Tala Leprosarium and Las Piñas General Hospital. There are also five other hospitals in NCR and 18 more in the provinces that got no increase at all in the allotment for Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE).
“If this is Aquino’s straight path, then we should block this because it only leads to more illnesses, suffering and untimely death among Filipino patients,” Mendoza said.
“When a mother budgets for her family’s expenses, she instinctively knows the main priorities – these are education, food, house rent and utilities. Mothers know their priorities,” said Joms Salvador, deputy secretary-general of Gabriela. In the Aquino government’s 2012 budget, this common sense listing of priorities seemed reversed, Salvador noted. Instead of putting social services on top, the Aquino government has done the opposite.
Gabriela denounced the approved 2012 national budget as essentially “a reflection of the Aquino government’s neo-liberal policies of privatization.”
“The budget is anti-poor and pro-business,” said Salvador. She explained that even as this budget “deprives the poor of their right to social services, the Aquino government is giving the private sector much leeway to expand businesses in sectors defined under social services.”
The approved national budget for next year also does not have a clear allotment for housing services for the urban and rural poor, noted Gabriela. A minimal budget of P7-billion ($160 million) was reflected in the budget of agencies on housing, purportedly for MOOE. But how this MOOE translates in real life is hardly a cause for celebration. As “currently practiced, the private sector is contracted by the government to provide so-called low cost housing for relocated urban informal settlers,” Salvador said. And then it “requires the relocatees to pay for housing far beyond their means especially since livelihood or job opportunities are scarce in the vicinity of relocation sites.”
The woman leader finds it “ironic” that urban poor settlers are being violently shooed away to far-flung relocation sites while in the place of their demolished communities a housing purportedly for the poor is being constructed.
“The recent demolition of urban poor communities at the BIR Road illustrates how the government hoodwinks the public into swallowing the line that it is alright to destroy the roof over the poor people’s heads if they are not paying up, and then to squeeze out more money from them by re-selling housing units to them for a much steeper price.”
Gabriela rejected the Aquino government’s emphasis on Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Programs (4Ps) coupled with budget cuts on social services, saying it will only worsen the plight of poor families. “The increase of Filipinos suffering hunger in the previous quarter should have forewarned the Aquino government of the failure of such programs, but it even increased the budget for Conditional Cash Transfer Program,” Salvador said.
“The government is not giving us what we need. Who will not fight for the people’s welfare?” Salvador asked.
Camp-out on Dec. 6
Groups under Kilos na Laban sa Budget Cut vowed to continue protesting the budget cuts. They announced plans to camp-out at Chino Roces Bridge on Dec. 6. Crisostomo of Anakbayan said similar actions are set to take place across other regions. “Inspired by upheavals from the Arab Spring to the European Strikes to the Occupy Movements, students, workers, teachers will strike and walk-out from campuses, communities, workplaces and camp-out at Mendiola to rock the nation with days of outrage and protests.”