State universities

Two issues have hounded two state universities lately. The first was why, according to Malacanang, the Cavite State University required its students to watch Vice President Jejomar Binay’s True State of the Nation Address.

The other is the lack of dormitories in my university, UP Diliman.

I have previously written that the Vice-President’s TSONA was simply terrific since it outlined the not- so-good state of the nation. Predictably, Malacanang dismissed it as “charot”, or gay lingo for non-sense (I think).

Strangely though, while the palace belittled the message of the Vice-President, it engaged in witch-hunt against the officials of the state university where the address was made. This was reminiscent of Malacanang’s attempts to infringe on freedom of speech and academic freedom in UP Diliman.

I remember that at one point during the Ramos administration, then President Ramos attempted to scuttle the talk of freedom fighter and Nobel prize awardee Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor. This was to placate Indonesia’s protest since it was then in military occupation of East Timor. But pursuant to the tradition of UP Diliman, the University resisted the Malacanang intervention and even went to court to question the palace intervention. While the University won the litigation, the ruling came a bit late since meanwhile, the Horta talk had been cancelled. Years later, Horta would make a heroes welcome to the University as the founder of the newly independent state of East Timor. UP, on the other hand, also celebrated the return of Horta as its way of asserting both freedoms of speech and academic freedom.

One thing that despots in Malacanang seem to have forgotten is that freedom of though is the bedrock of universities. Ergo, not only is freedom of thought cherished in universities, it the freedom that enables freedom of thought and freedom to engage in the search for the truth. Infringe on these rights and you make a mockery of the concept of a university as a community engaged in the search for both truth and excellence.

 Cleary, Malacanang’s witch-hunt of the university officials who allowed the VP to speak at the Cavite State University is because they were adverse to the truth. Fearing that the people would believe that economic development has so far benefitted only the rich, they now seek to sow fear in the hearts of academicians with the message that the truth must not be allowed to be articulated in hallowed university grounds. But did they succeed? Well, I would say no if only because the studentry has taken the cudgels for the university- highlighting the right of the studentry to information and the truth.

 The other controversy that hounded another state university was a television news report that showed freshman students of UP Diliman sleeping on the sunken garden of the university. I’m happy at the condemnation that arose form the news report. It only shows that despite government’s policy of “bahala kayo sa mga buhay nyo at buhay naman kayo.” Many citizens are still of the conviction that education is a right particularly at the premier state university. While University officials were quick to dismiss the story as featuring radical students out to make a story, the truth though is there are nonetheless real students currently sleeping at the UP Union office for lack of dormitory space.

I did hear Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan admitting in a radio interview that it was lack of foresight that led to the current dormitory crisis at the state university. While the student population has grown tremendously in the past years, the University has built only two semi-private dormitories and a new dormitory for law students where monthly fees cost 3 thousand per month. Contrast this with the 400 pesos that the regular dormitories charge the lucky students who have qualified to stay at the existing dormitories.

The bigger problem is the P oy’s administration’s apparent propensity to cut the budget requests made by state universities such as UP.

My personal suspicion is this is because many in this administration are not from UP, either because they were not smart enough to pass the entrance test or because they were born with silver spoons that studying in a school like UP would be extended “slumming”. The data would speak for themselves. In 2015, UP’s budget request was slashed by P2 billion. UP has since been given a budget of P13 billion, almost P2 billion of which is earmarked for the Philippine General Hospital, the biggest teaching hospital in the country that caters to indigent patients.

Of the remaining P11 billion, P6 billion went to salaries, P3 billion went to programs, and P4 billion went to capital outlays such as new academic buildings. There was no money allotted for new dormitories. The end result of course is while the University continues to attract the brightest amongst the poor students, lack of affordable housing would mean they couldn’t afford the cost living in Diliman.

Fortunately, the end is near for this administration. I could only hope that the people would elect a new President who had the experience of being a true iskolar ng bayan: meaning bright but poor. A cacique or a princess would mean more of the bad thing: bad news for the iskolar ng bayan.

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