Youth group says education dole-outs pure gimmickry, shallow, not enough

MANILA, Philippines – Two days before the formal opening of classes, members of Youth Against Debt (YAD) lambasted Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s additional P1-billion fund for students saying it is a cheap trick to use students and their accessibility problem to education as basis for the justification of the widely hated value-added tax (VAT).

In a statement, the youth group described Mrs. Arroyo’s VAT-powered Students Assistance Fund for Education for a Strong Republic, or “Safe for SR” as pure gimmickry, shallow and not enough to be of any ambulatory measure to help the students compensate for the rising cost of education.

“Mrs. Arroyo is adding insult to injury. In a desperate attempt to defend VAT amid strong calls to lift the regressive tax measure on oil and power, she is using the students and their parents’ annual school woes as grounds for VAT’s stay,” the anti-debt youth group said.

YAD asserted that VAT is a debt tax more than anything else. “Contrary to what President Arroyo wants us to believe, VAT is causing more harm than benefit,” the youth group said.

YAD said the Department of Finance (DoF) itself admitted that 70% of the revenues generated from the 2% increase in VAT would go to debt payments in the first six months of implementation, with only 30% going to social services and infrastructure programs.

The youth group also derided Arroyo’s SAFE for SR as blind to the real issues of education.

“We challenge the government’s sincerity in introducing education reforms. If Mrs. Arroyo is truly sincere in helping the students, then her government must immediately peg education spending six percent (6%) of the Gross National Product (GNP) as provided by the 1996 International Commission on Education for the 21st Century of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headed by Jacques Delors,” YAD asserted.

The standard, popularly known as the UNESCO Delors Benchmark sets the education expenditure of developing countries at six percent (6%) of the Gross National Product (GNP). More than a hundred countries including the Philippines recognize this as the accepted standard on education financing.

However, according to the joint analysis of YAD and the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), education spending in the Philippines as percentage of the GNP hovered no more than 3.8 percent. According to the groups, from 3.8 percent in 1998 under Mr. Estrada, education expenditure as proportion of the total national income drastically dipped to 2.26 percent in 2007 under Arroyo term.

The joint analysis also asserted that education misspending is a form of “institutional robbery” as increased social spending is being siphoned away by automatic debt servicing.

According to FDC, from 1996 to 2007, total interest payments amounted to P2.2 trillion compared to the total gap or losses our education suffered through the years which totaled to P1.66 trillion.

The groups also maintained that due to our failure to comply with the international benchmark on education spending, the government, for almost twelve years, from the time of Fidel V. Ramos up to Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has “robbed” the youth and students of a shocking P1.66 trillion worth of total loss or deficit in education spending with President Arroyo contributing a whooping P1.3 trillion deficit.

“This is enough money to wipe out classroom shortages, augment diminishing state subsidy to public higher education institutions, and hire more teachers. The amount lost is so big that it can fund more than 100 Comelec-supervised national and local elections and yes, run the operation of the entire government for a year,” YAD said.

Aside from the need for the government to comply with the UNESCO Delors Benchmark FDC and YAD also reiterated their call on the legislative branch to repeal Sec. 31 (B) of Presidential Decree 1177 in Sec. 26 (B), Book 6 of the Revised Administrative Code of 1987, which ensures the automatic appropriation of payments for principal and interest on public debt.

“Instead of resulting to theatrics and empty populism, Mrs. Arroyo should address the issue of debt and its relationship with education spending. These are the real keys in breaking the perennial problems besetting the education sector and to give back what was lost from education,” FDC and YAD said.

YAD is composed of the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), Nagkakaisang Iskolar para sa Pamantasan at Sambayanan (UP KAISA), ISKOLAR Student Alliance- UP Manila, UP Alyansa ng Mag-aaral para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (UP ALYANSA), Movement for the Advancement of Student Power (MASP), Bukluran – Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM), LINGAP – Adamson University, Alyansa ng Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Kabataan (ALYANSA),UP Manila Paralegal Society. Alab Kabataan, Sanlakas Youth. Akbayan Youth. Youth for Nationalism and Democracy (YND). Filipino Democratic Student Union (FDSU). Malayang Kabataang Pilipino (MKP), Piglas Kabataan (PK). Liga ng Sosyalistang Kabataan (LSK), Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK). Padayon Youth. Youth for Change (Y4C), Kalayaan Youth. Pandayan youth and United Antipolo (UA). -30-

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