THE INTENSE ECONOMIC CRISIS that the Philippines is currently undergoing has certainly buried the sanguine and unreasonable hopes that the government had projected for the near future. The triumphalism of Philippines 2000 has been shaken to the core and reduced to a laughable joke for the history books. This crisis only confirms that the Philippines has yet to liberate itself from the age-old problems, which have plagued it in the economic and political spheres.
The much-trumpeted new epoch of free competition and borderless economies has not resulted in any real development but only in a more intense form of economic domination and exploitation of the poorer countries by the advanced capitalist countries. The seemingly neutral facade of Globalization has turned out to be more of the same old Imperialism that just cannot be wished away.
Nevertheless, it would be too much of a simplification to arrive at the conclusion that the present global order has not resulted in any significant changes. It would certainly be correct to say that for the educational system, as in Philippine society as a whole, that "nothing of the essence has changed." However, even if it is true that the essential traits and defining characteristics of Philippine education has remained the same all throughout this so-called period of "Globalization," it is also equally unavoidably true that certain changes have occurred and are still occurring that may not have actually touched the "essence" of things as they are but still have important implications for the understanding of the current situation and the various effective political responses that can lead to genuine social transformation. One of the main tasks is to attempt to identify what these "changes" are without losing sight of the "meaning" of these phenomena in relation to an essentially unchanged exploitative global economic and political system which must be identified as "imperialism."
The changes in question can be identified by analyzing the so-called "three major areas of concern" in education which have been underlined in the Medium Term Education Development Plan (MTEDP). These are: "(1) increasing access to and improving of the quality of basic education; (2) liberalizing the regulation of private schools, and; (3) rationalizing the programs of State Universities and Colleges (SUCs)."
The question of "increasing access to" and "improving the quality of" education have been constant themes since even before the intricate and obfuscatory jargon of "globalization" entered the scene. It cannot even be asserted that these ideas have changed in the sense that they previously had an altruistic meaning which has currently been lost in this period of technocratic appeals to "efficiency" rather than "morality."
When, for example, the Department of Education Culture and Sports (DECS) declares that "one of the bottlenecks to economic growth that the NICs of East and Southeast Asia are experiencing is the shortage of skilled labor" and that the educational system simply needs to become more responsive both in terms of quantity and quality, to the "manpower requirements for global competition." It is manifest that there is no longer any obvious reference to the highly deplorable insufficiency of educational resources that can service the needs of all children of school-age as a "moral issue" and as a question of "universal rights" for which the state is responsible. Rather, that highly suspect discourse which used to prop up the legitimacy of the state as a benevolent provider of social goods and defender of human rights within its sphere of jurisdiction, has been replaced by the seemingly scientific and value-free discourse of supply and demand.
The fact that so many youth and children should have no access to adequate educational resources is no longer just offensive to "social morality" but simply offensive to the "ideal maximization of resources for greater competitiveness." However, it is important to realize that even if the jargon of efficiency has supplanted the sermons of morality in order of importance or that even if the concept of the universal rights of humanity has likewise been edged out by the concept of "universal competition," it is only the primary mode of "ideological legitimation" that has changed and not the interests which continue to dictate the absolute measure of just how many skilled mental and manual laborers are needed or just what things need to be studied in school and to what degree of competence these skills must be practiced. It would be wrong to take the ideological smokescreen for reality itself, which in this case, could lead to a "harking back to the good ol' days" where the heart rather than the market reigned supreme and which never existed anyway.
In any case, for the majority of Filipinos perennially living in neglect and poverty, all these apologetics whether clothed in the guise of the Ramos regime's Social Reform Agenda (SRA) in its "war against poverty" and its "movement for people empowerment" or couched in more abstruse pseudo-scientific regurgitations simply do not amount to anything concrete that could change their lives. The third "area of concern" mentioned above regarding the "rationalization" of the SUCs means nothing other than a decrease in budget for this sector relative to the part, which goes to basic education. Perhaps the reason for this juggling of funds is the double bind, which the government now finds itself trapped in.
One hand, it is undeniable that the educational system as a whole cannot even fulfill both the requirements regarding quantity and quality which government technocrats themselves have considered indispensable for the attainment of that ever-elusive state of NIChood.
On the other hand, the government has committed itself to the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) geared towards the reduction of social spending and privatization in order to ensure the payment of the massive foreign debt. The phrase "limited budget for education" so often bandied about by government technocrats does not mean that this is all that could conceivably be allotted for education, but instead means that this is all that could be allotted given the degree of priority, or lack thereof, which the state assigns to education. The government budget reports are consistent with one another that education "is the single biggest recipient of public funds excluding debt service." While the government boasts that the "anti-poverty thrust" of the 1997 budget has resulted in the increase of the education budget (DECS and SUCs) from 11.7 percent to 14.0 percent, debt service payment in 1997 ate up to around forty percent of the national budget. All this in flagrant violation of the constitutional provision requiring that education is given the highest priority. This fact, of course, is extremely familiar by now. Indeed, rather too familiar in that it does not seem to excite as much as public indignation as it used to in the 70s and 80s.
The easiest way out of the above-mentioned dilemma is making the most of what little there is left after allocating debt payments. "Making the most of something" is how "rationalization" is defined. This means that after the secondary priority of education after debt payments has been settled, then the matter of distributing what little there is left within that particular sector in order to maximize results must be determined. In accord with the logic of supply and demand, the government has opted to "reallocate resources from the SUCs, which have high costs and absorb 16 percent of the total GoP expenditures" and pour a greater proportion of the limited budget for education to "basic education" which covers primary and secondary levels. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank have consistently (from their moral high horse) bewailed the "misprioritization" of scarce resources by the government in the direction of tertiary education which they say should have been used for basic education in the interests of equity and poverty alleviation. It is unbelievable how banks, engaged in a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog business, can put on dour faces and shake their heads over children dying of diarrhea and starvation, even when no one believes them.
Certainly, behind all this cheap sentimentalizing, is a seemingly accidental accordance with the current demands in the world market for cheap skilled labor in the Third World and for the immediate gratification of "faster returns on investment." Incidentally, this emphasis on the production of skilled labor as a commodity in the world market does not mean that the more expensive mental laborers produced by higher education is not also consumed by the same gigantic transnational corporations. Although the former is in greater demand than the latter, both share the same fate as mere items of consumption by transnational corporations.
The relegation of SUCs to a marginal status within this scheme of things is definitely not surprising given the aggressive emphasis on selling Philippine skilled labor to foreign capital. There may, and in fact, has been absolute increases in amounts allocated to education overall and to SUCs in recent years, however, deceptive figures do not disprove the progressive marginalization of SUCs since any absolute increase in the budget of SUCS is mean to be accompanied by a decrease relative to that part allotted to basic education. This is outrightly admitted with a disarming frankness and lack of double-talk in the 1997 Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing, where it is stated that: "In the last three years, the educational system has been restructured into three main levels, namely: basic, higher and technical-vocational education and therefore allow the greater participation of the private sector in these areas." This means that the restructuration of the education sector into three institutions: DECS for primary and secondary education, Commission on Higher Education (CHED) for tertiary level education, and Technical Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for technical-vocational education is primarily directed towards facilitating the reduction of "government intervention" (read as "financial support) in tertiary and voc-tech education so that more can be allotted to basic education.
The "deliberate" nature of this "state abandonment" of an area, which was previously considered its province, must be underscored to differentiate the situation in SUCs from an earlier analysis of "mere government neglect." The political implication of this openly avowed withdrawal is that the state can no longer be called to task for not fulfilling its promises in tertiary education because it, in fact, no longer promises anything. For all that it's worth (which isn't much), this directly violates the Constitutional provision stating that the government shall "protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make education accessible to all."
The "Rationalization" of SUCs entails that the very nature and classification of these institutions shall undergo certain significant changes, so that they shall "move away from their treatment as national agencies but as income earning entities performing socially oriented activities and hence entitled to government subsidy contributions." Rationalization, therefore means that SUCs must from now on learn to earn their keep to justify their continued existence. They must "increase their self-financing capacity through income generation and cost-recovery programs." And shall accordingly receive "incentives of entrepreneurial activities." This means that those institutions, which are already making money, shall receive incentives on top of this, while poorer institutions cannot expect any additional incentive thereby proving the thesis that "money attracts money." "Rationalization" translates into the "commercialization" of SUCs in three important aspects:
1) That the previously non-profit public institution shall now be turned into a profit-generating public agency. The "Higher Education Modernization Act of 1997" (RA 8292) permits the SUCs to "enter into joint ventures with business and industry for the profitable development and management of the college or institution, the proceeds from which are to be used for the development and strengthening of the college and the university..." This has been called the corporatization of SUCs.
No stone shall be left unturned in the search for juicy business prospects and big profits. The ways that a public educational agency engages in entrepreneurial activities can take many forms: from regular tuition fee increases combined with the removal or reduction of automatic subsidies for the "iskolar ng bayan" to the commercialization" of the so-called "idle assets." The "idle assets" referred to simply consist of lands and other properties allocated for educational use but which have not been developed for such a use despite the crying need for facilities because of the chronic lack of funds. "Commercialization" means the leasing out of the lands and other properties of SUCs meant for educational use to private commercial interests. The most notorious case of "commercialization of idle assets" is occurring in the University of the Philippines at Diliman with the joint ventures being entered into by the UP Development Corporation with the private sector. The UP administration is intent upon leasing one hundred hectares of its land for as long as a hundred years (or three generations of Filipinos) in order to gain the maximum possible profits.
2) That food and dormitory and other services within the University or College, which used to receive subsidies, shall now be run by private concessionaires. This, on a narrower scale, is usually termed the "privatization" of services within the public institution. RA 8292 states that the governing board shall have the power to "privatize, where most advantageous to the institution, management and non-academic services such as health, food, building or grounds or property maintenance and similar such services..."
3) That the educational institution previously insulated from market forces due to relatively stronger state support in the past must from now on bow to the "harsh discipline of the market." Ironically, it is the state propaganda machinery itself and its hordes of technocrats which propagates the idea that any state-run institution is bound to be inefficient and "undisciplined" as compared to a privately run, profit-driven enterprise even as they assert that the state itself and its various functions must submit to the logic of the marketplace. The state takes up this chorus in order to create an ideological basis for reneging on what the public previously perceived to be its responsibilities, and also, in order to justify selling off public assets redounding to the benefit of both the buyer and the corrupt bureaucrat capitalist. By means of "privatizing" institutions of higher learning, the state must now "clamp down on the proliferation of non-viable campuses and course offerings." Presumably, the ideal of "non-viability" is not connected to any other concept than that of a "profitability" which harmonizes with the needs of foreign monopoly capital.