(previous Blogger post, October 27, 2006, Friday)

Two recent news items about my college alma mater caught my attention and got my goat. One was a small article nestled in the middle pages of the main section of the Inquirer, and one was all over the news programs on TV.

The small article was about the Philippine Collegian (UP’s official student publication) – its disputed funds, resulting in its temporary (we all hope!) non-printing. The government and the university officials say that the Collegian funds are considered public (UP being a state university), therefore the choice of its printer must be through a bidding process. The editors say that it is not, therefore the funds should be under their control. They are now deadlocked, therefore printing has halted.

I do not know the more specific details of this issue, and frankly, I do not care about whether the funds are considered public or not. The important matter here is that publication must not stop. Why not just maintain the status quo while they are resolving the issue? It is the status of the fund that is in issue anyway, and not the current printer. No one is claiming that the current printing deal is fraudulent, after all. If it is indeed decided that the funds are public, then by all means bid out the printing. In the meantime, make sure that the publication continues to run.

In that article, the editors implied that the issue seems to be a subtle way of silencing the Collegian, which the government perceives to be strongly dissident. I could not help but agree with them. The timing leaves seeds for speculation. It came after the Justice Secretary branded UP as a breeding ground of infidels, and after the Armed Forces Chief of Staff was pelted with eggs upon his visit to the campus. Again, I may be faulted for paranoia, but if little things like these are ignored…

It was indeed a sad day for UP – and campus journalism – when the presses stopped all because of a trivial matter.

The other disturbing news about UP is the proposed tuition fee increase. Now, I am not opposed to tuition fee increases in general – reasonable ones, that is. What is being proposed is just over the top. From P300 per unit to P1,000! Holy kamoly! That’s more than 100%, more than 300%! Add to that an also big increase in miscellaneous fees. Whatever happened to being an ‘Iskolar ng Bayan‘?

Proponents of this tuition fee increase can argue until they’re blue in the face that UP funds can no longer sustain the cost of education, but the fact remains that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that the country’s premier state university has enough funds without passing the cost of education to its students. That defeats the purpose of UP.

I can never understand why the budget allocation for UP continues to decline every year. Since I entered UP thirteen years ago, I have never heard of a UP budget increase. A government that is serious and sincere would prioritize education. All of us bemoan the declining quality of public school education. That includes government officials. What are they doing about it then?

UP is primarily for intelligent but financially incapable students. Over the years, the balance has shifted. There are now more well-to-do students who come from private schools, mainly because of the sad state of our public school system. Also, UP needs these students who can afford to pay the full tuition. If not, UP cannot keep up with its costs.

Some are proposing for UP to commercialize to augment its income. I am partly in favor of that, provided the commercial area is confined to one place only, and well outside the academic centers. The vacant area near Commonwealth Ave. would be a good place. However, this commercialization should only be Plan B. Plan A should still be full government support.

I don’t think that’s forthcoming, though. I now see why government officials do not prioritize education. They are all into instant gratification, and thinking of the next election already. Since most students are well below the voting age – and are not in a position to directly influence the economic and political landscape – these officials do not see enough reason to cater to them. Instead, they pander to the bidding of those who can help them stay in power.

A lot of people say that UP students will always protest no matter who is in power. Maybe, but I say they will protest less if only there will be an administration that will seriously and sincerely give priority to the education system, especially public schools and state universities. These are kids. Kids need attention. Nourish them, nurture them, and they will grow to be outstanding individuals. These are the ones who will be running the country in the future. Or maybe the government officials just do not care, since they’ll probably be dead or too old already – and they will have already groomed their own children to take their sorry place – by the time these kids grow up.

If all else fails and the tuition fee increase is implemented, I hope that the UP administration would also reform STFAP, the socialized tuition program. They should widen the income brackets so that more students could qualify for the program, since the increase is significant enough to affect those who barely made it past bracket 9 (the highest income bracket).

I am totally sick of our government system and the people who run it, but I still refuse to give up. Maybe someday, a more ideal scenario would emerge. I would just continue to write about it. There’s no such thing as too small an effort. Every single action could make a difference. If you won’t do or say something because you think that there will always be others who will, just imagine, what if everybody else is thinking that way too? Then nothing will ever happen. Look at the brighter side instead. What if someone who has the power and the influence stumbles upon what you’ve done or said and it strikes a chord in that person? And that person acts on it? Just think about it.

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(edit): Please see the postscript to this post. Thanks.

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