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There’s a danger in reducing the UP budget

The Department of Budget and Management headed by Secretary Florencio Abad wants Congress to reduce the 2016 budget of the University of the Philippines.  Abad wants the UP budget cut by P2 billion—from the P13.701-B for 2015 to just P11.465-B for 2016.

Most certainly, UP officials, alumni, students, faculty, and administrative personnel will not welcome Abad’s proposal.  The current budget of the country’s premiere educational institution is hardly enough to make UP maintain its competitive edge over private universities in the country.  So far, the UP budget for 2015 has made it virtually impossible for the state university to catch up with its counterparts in Southeast Asia.

The UP charter, enacted by Congress in 2008 on the occasion of the centennial of the university, considers UP the national university.  If this is so, then a reduction in the annual budget of UP must be justified by the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

 For the record, UP has to maintain eight constituent university campuses all over the country.  It also operates the Philippine General Hospital in Manila.  By any standard, it will cost plenty of money to operate UP.

UP President Alfredo Pascual has repeatedly urged the government to invest in UP for good reasons.  By and large, UP produces selfless, nationalistic, critical, intellectual leaders in government service and private enterprise.   The usual excuse tendered by the government each time it wants to scrimp on the annual UP budget is that public funds are limited, and that government agencies should make the most of the limited funds allotted to them.  If that is so, then the government must explain why it spends money on useless agencies and needless expenditures.

PTV-4, the government television network, is an example.  It costs billions of pesos to operate and maintain this facility.  Broadcast operations consume so much electricity, and broadcast equipment cost just as much to import and maintain.  More than a thousand employees are in the payroll of this television network.  The government pays for all these expenses using public funds.

With the exception of the regular lotto draws which run for a few minutes, the programs on PTV-4 do not have audiences, and cannot even dream of competing with those broadcast on the private television networks.  The regular newscasts on PTV-4 suffer from a credibility problem because they are edited to put the government in good light.  For this reason, its newscasts are considered government propaganda.  One need only watch one episode of its newscasts to know that PTV-4 does not broadcast anything bad about the government.  In fact, nobody watches PTV-4 other than Malacañang personnel assigned to monitor its programs to make sure that nothing adverse to the government goes on the air through its facilities.

Operating and maintaining a television station that has no audience is an obvious waste of money.  To stop the wastage of public money, PTV-4 should be converted to an emergency broadcast facility of the government, which will go on the air only during national emergencies and similar events.  Its operations will have to be temporary and limited.  This way, it does not waste billions of taxpayers’ money better spent on educational institutions like UP.

If President Aquino knows what’s good for him, he should urge his political allies in Congress to increase the 2016 budget of UP to an amount even larger than its 2015 allotment because UP needs to upgrade its facilities, and construct more dormitories.   

 Over a decade ago, Senator John Osmeña threatened to reduce the budget of UP to a ghost of its previous self.  At that time, UP students were suspected to be financially well-off because of the heavy volume of vehicular traffic inside the UP campus in Diliman, and that parking space was becoming a problem in the campus.  The UP community did not take the threat sitting down.  When Osmeña ran for reelection, UP alumni all over the country organized an anti-Osmeña campaign.  UP students, faculty members, and administrative personnel, as well as their families and friends, did not vote for him.  Osmeña lost his reelection bid.

What happened to Osmeña can happen to Mar Roxas, Aquino’s Liberal Party bet for president in 2016.  It can also happen to LP senatorial candidates closely identified with Aquino.

Many UP alumni feel that UP has not been getting its rightful share of the national budget under President Aquino because he is not an alumnus of UP.  A sizeable percentage of them also feel that electing a non-UP alumnus to Malacañang will only prolong the fiscal agony of the state university.  That may be enough reason for UP alumni to get their act together in the coming national elections.  Non-UP alumni candidates may find that unsettling.

 When Senator Grace Poe was campaigning for the Senate in 2013, she promised the UP community during an interview broadcast live on the university radio station dzUP that she would oppose and prevent any reduction in the annual budget of UP.  The UP community expects her to keep her promise when the Senate deliberates on the proposed 2016 national budget by the end of this year.  

UP alumni in both the House of Representatives and the Senate are also expected by the UP community to prevent any reduction in the UP budget.  Senator Pia Cayetano and Rep. Roman Romulo, both of whom are UP alumni and members of the UP Board of Regents, are likewise expected to take the lead in defending the fiscal autonomy of the state university.

After speaking at a forum held at the UP School of Economics in September last year, Secretary Abad was confronted by protesters who hurled invectives at him and who pelted him with crumpled paper and coins.  The UP community denounced the incident.  Perhaps Abad’s proposed reduction in the UP budget is now his way of getting back at UP.

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