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Duterte’s ‘defund’ threat on UP clarified

/ 05:40 AM November 19, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to defund the University of the Philippines (UP) System as state scholars criticized the government for its response to the recent calamities, but presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said the Chief Executive might have been a little confused.

Roque, in an interview with CNN Philippines, said he clarified to the President that students of the private Ateneo de Manila University were the ones calling for a student strike and not those of the state-funded UP System.

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“He also, I think, somehow confused the proponents of this academic strike. I explained it was the Ateneo students advocating the academic strike,” Roque said after Mr. Duterte threatened to defund UP over the mistakenly attributed calls.

No stranger to threats

The UP community, nonetheless, pressed their call for an early end to the semester because of the recent disasters and said they were no stranger to defunding threats which would only spur more serious protests.

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But Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said there was a “unanimous consensus” among senators to consider state universities and colleges as part of “no-cut zones” when it comes to the 2021 spending program.

“Calls for academic freeze will be not be met with a funding break. The correct response is not to defund any, but to increase the funds of as many as possible,” Recto said without referring to the remarks of the President.

“The amount in the proposed budget should be retained and will be benchmarked as the floor. Meaning, it can still be increased,” he added.

Listen to students’ pleas

Kabataan Rep. Sara Elago, who backed the UP Community’s call for an early end to the semester, said the President ought to stop threatening the students and instead listen to their pleas.

“The appeals of the students nationwide are legitimate amid the disasters and the pandemic. We need to listen to them, not threaten. Let’s focus on the issue, Mr. President,” Elago said in a statement.

Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said the President “has proven once again how detached he is from the people” and lamented that critics of the administration “are threatened with defunding while peddlers of lies and disinformation,” like the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and the Philippine Army, get millions.

‘Legitimate, just’ calls

ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro described the students’ calls as “legitimate and just” and the Duterte administration should take them seriously and not brush them off with threats of defunding and further red-tagging.

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“This administration should know that it is the state’s responsibility to provide the youth access to their right to quality education. Threats of defunding the premier public university violates the youth’s right to education,” she added.

But Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera Dy opposed the proposed academic break and said it would be healthier for students to keep on studying instead of not doing anything at all.

“I don’t want our children idle. That’s why if there is an opportunity to make them learn continuously, I’d rather do that because there are already academic breaks in their curriculum,” she said.

“But to stop education altogether because there is a pandemic, I’d rather that our children are studying because, like I said time and again, I don’t like our children idle because idleness will lead to a lot more dangerous things for our country,” she added.

Former Speaker and Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano instead urged academic communities to have a dialogue with the government.

“Rather than having a nationwide or Luzonwide protest, and rather than the government saying stop protesting, may I humbly propose a dialogue between the students and the government?” he told reporters.

Take a step back

He said “we should all take a step back” and suggested that Mr. Duterte appoint two or three secretaries to lead the dialogue with students and youth groups, adding that it could be done through a virtual meeting.

Cayetano surmised that Duterte was only “speaking as a parent, as a father” in asserting that state scholars just continue studying “with all that is happening.”

“But if some of the protests of the youths are legitimate, they should not just return to their classrooms. We should hear the reasons for their protests and the government should have a good response,” he added.

—With reports from Nestor Corrales and Melvin Gascon

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TAGS: defund UP call, Harry Roque, proposed students' strike, Rodrigo Duterte
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