Yearender 2016 | Privatization of education continues under Duterte

BULATLAT FILE PHOTO. Feb. 22. Students, professors and parents urged the Supreme Court to act on their petitions against K to 12. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat)
BULATLAT FILE PHOTO. Feb. 22. Students, professors and parents urged the Supreme Court to act on their petitions against K to 12. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat)

Progressive youth and teachers groups welcomed the budgetary increase that will make tuition in state universities and colleges free, but criticized the expansion of the voucher system, which, they said, privatizes the public education system.

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte’s various progressive pronouncements in his first six months in office had raised hopes for change in education, particularly among youth groups and advocates of free and quality education.

One such change was the increased budget for education this year, which will make college free in state universities. At the same time, the budget for the implementation of the voucher system in the much-criticized K to 12 program, which prolongs high school by two years, was also increased.

Progressive youth and teachers groups welcomed the budgetary increase that will make tuition in state universities and colleges free, but criticized the expansion of the voucher system, which, they said, privatizes the public education system.

Duterte backtracked on his position on K to 12

Before he assumed the presidency, Duterte once expressed doubt about the implementation of the K to 12 program. He said senior high school and vocational courses should be optional for students.

“Huwag mong i-burden lahat (Don’t burden everybody) just because you want to train technical people,” Duterte was quoted as saying in the report.

His statement was a sign of hope for critics of K to 12. But shortly after Duterte assumed office, the wind changed swiftly when he said “some bright guys” at the Department of Education (DepEd) convinced him to support the program.

The K to 12 program, which started under President Benigno Aquino III, was strongly opposed by different groups because of several reasons: it would result in mass layoffs of college professors; there is a sore lack of infrastructure to accommodate senior high school students; lack of preparations in terms of curriculum, teaching aids, lesson plans, books, among others.

Those who oppose the program filed a petition for a temporary restraining order before the Supreme Court, but these were all dismissed in March 2016.

With the 2017 budget of the Duterte administration, critics of the K to 12 program said, government is further privatizing education as it expands the coverage of the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (Gastpe) or the voucher program.

The voucher value for senior high school — Grades 11 and 12 – have three tiers. For National Capital Region (NCR) grantees, these are the following:

P22,500 or $455 per year (for students from the public schools)
P18,500 or $374 per year (for students from the private schools)
P11,250 or $227 per year (for non-DepEd schools that will implement senior high school).

Meanwhile, grantees from the Non-NCR Highly Urbanized Cities (HUCs) and Non-HUCs also have three tiers.

’Sure profits’ for private schools

The Gastpe, which falls under the Major Final Outputs 3 (MFO 3) of DepEd’s budget has increased more than two-fold, from P8.3 billion ($170 million) in 2015 to P21 billion ($423 million) in 2016. This was due to the inclusion of the senior high school voucher program worth P12 billion ($240 million) — P P11 billion ($220 million) for private senior high schools and P1 billion ($20 million) for non-DepEd senior high schools or state universities and colleges catering senior high school.

Data from the Kabataan Partylist
Data from the Kabataan Partylist

The MFO 3 in 2017 was further increased to P35.7 billion ($720 million), which includes P25.3 billion ($506 million) comprised of P24 billion ($480 million) for senior high school voucher program for private senior high schools and P1.3 billion ($26 million) for non-DepEd senior high schools.

In the budget deliberation in September 2016, ACT Teachers’ Party Rep. Antonio Tinio said this provision only means that K to 12’s implementation of senior high school will rely on the private sector.

He specifically questioned DepEd’s memorandum of agreement with the Ayala Corporation that exempts the corporation’s Affordable Private Education Centers (Apec) schools from the DepEd’s manual of regulations for private schools. For one, Tinio cited how Apec schools do not have to own the land on which to build their schools, which is in the DepEd’s manual of regulations.

The Apec is among the senior high schools that accept the government’s voucher payments.

“This raises a question for us. You have a manual of regulation for private schools, which supposedly covers all private schools, but there is a MOA and the DepEd agreed to exempt Apec from the regulations in your manual,” Tinio addressed Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones during the budget deliberations.

Tinio said the budget has guaranteed income for corporations like Ayala. Briones, in response, said that this will be reviewed.

A research paper by Curtis Riep, a Canadian doctoral student of the University of Alberta, has revealed other cost-cutting measures of Apec schools. This includes hiring unlicensed teachers who receive only P12,500 ($252) a month.

“A household income of P12,500 per month puts Apec teachers in the second lowest socio-economic classification (class D) in the entire country,” said the research, entitled “Corporatised Education in the Philippine: Pearson, Ayala Corporation and the emergence of Affordable Private Education Centers (Apec).” The research was supported by the Education International, an international federation of education unions.

The study said Apec schools operate in 29 sites in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. It intends to establish 500 schools in 10 years, enrolling up to 250,000 students.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) has called on DepEd to repeal the MOA and divert the funds for the voucher program to the public education system. Raymond Basilio, ACT national secretary-general said the P11 billion ($220 million) allocation for the voucher program “could have built around 30,000 classrooms and could have catered to more than one million students.”

(BULATALT FILE PHOTO) The petitioners of the K to 12 program urged the Supreme Court to act on petitions against K to 12. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat)
(BULATALT FILE PHOTO) The petitioners of the K to 12 program urged the Supreme Court to act on petitions against K to 12. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat)

“Solving the problems of public education is not through privatization schemes. The voucher system is designed to shift money away from public schools and to private schools, including for-profit schools such as Apec, making education highly profitable in the Philippines,” Basilio said.

Rep. Sarah Elago of Kabataan partylist, which has consistently opposed K to 12, said the government budget gives “sure profits” for private schools. She said this confirms fears “that DepEd might have actually designed the full implementation of the K to 12 Program in a manner that will guarantee greater profit for school owners.”

But Briones in a statement said, “The senior high school voucher program is one of the venues by which the DepEd collaborates with the private sector in the effective and inclusive delivery of education.”

“In the next six years, I intend to enhance the complementarity of public and private institutions. This is in recognition of the private sector’s vital contribution in achieving education for all in the country,” Briones said.

Unobligated allotment

Briones said in the DepEd’s Declaration of Vision and Agenda there are still unobligated funds – or funds allotted but unspent — for the education sector.

For 2016, P47 billion ($950 million) was unobligated as of June 30, 2016. Of these, P21 billion ($420 million) was allotted for Gastpe, read the DepEd Declaration.

Briones said there are unobligated funds not only for the year 2016 but also 2015, which, she said, could be allocated to: textbooks, learning materials, Science and Math equipment, computers, repair of school furniture and rehabilitation of classrooms, training for teachers and non-teaching personnel, and testing and evaluation.

Briones has committed to utilize all the budget of the DepEd to deliver services to Filipino students.

“We are introducing greater leadership supervision and oversight over Finance and Administration transactions to efficiently utilize the government’s biggest personnel and operationalize the Department’s huge financial resources,” Briones said.

Good news? Tuition will be free in SUCs

Before 2016 ended, the General Appropriations Act of 2017 was approved with a budget allocation for free tuition.

This was after the Senate realigned P8.3 billion ($170 million) for the 2017 budget of the Commission on Higher Education (Ched). The budget was sourced from the budget for infrastructure projects for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which was, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said, a form of pork barrel. Th realigned budget will benefit 1.6 million students in 114 SUCs.

Duterte, meanwhile, said in his message to Congress that there is a need to ensure proper implementation of the free tuition provision and to give priority to “financially disadvantaged but academically able students.”

The Kabataan Partylist (KPL) called this a “game-changer.”

“It has shattered the illusion cast by naysayers and conservatives who have long sought division and spread cowardice by saying that this is not possible,” said the KPL statement.

Meanwhile, research group Ibon Foundation said that the free tuition for higher education needs to be institutionalized to ensure funds and for all students of SUCs to avail of free tuition. The group said that the realigned funds is not enough to cover the tuition of all SUC enrollees and may not last beyond 2017.

“By institutionalizing free tuition in tertiary education, government would be compelled to ensure that enough funds meet the needs of all public higher education students,” the group said.

Progressive youth groups said this is an initial victory in the struggle for free and quality education for all Filipino youth. They stressed that this “development did not spring from the benevolence of government.”

“This is a recognition of the long-standing clamor of the Philippine student movement for the government to veer away from letting state schools charge and profit from public higher education,” the group said.

However, the group still views the 2017 national budget as “pro-big business and corruption-prone, and framed to implement and further exacerbate neoliberal attacks against the Filipino people.” The group called on students and youths to conduct mass actions to “reclaim the public character of SUCs and institutionalize free public education in all levels.” (http://bulatlat.com)

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