SUCs: Divert secret funds to raise our budgets, too
Faculty and student leaders of state universities and colleges (SUCs) are urging the government to realign the billions of pesos in confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) budgeted for next year to improving higher education in the country.
On Sept. 27, the House of Representatives approved the P5.768-trillion 2024 national budget, which includes a P100.882-billion appropriation for SUCs. The amount given to the SUCs was P6.155 billion, or 5.75 percent, lower than this year’s P107.0297-billion allocation.
In a joint statement on Thursday, student, faculty and staff regents, student councils and publications, and faculty and employees’ unions of four SUCs called on the House and the Senate to restore the budget cut and even increase the higher education spending for next year.
It noted that the maintenance and other operating expenses dipped while the capital outlay, which covers long-term development of facilities, equipment and other institutional investments, had the largest cut.
“Excessive and unnecessary confidential and intelligence funds should be redirected to revamp our educational institutions in the sustaining efforts to recalibrate and provide long-term holistic learning to Filipino youth from all walks of life,” the statement said.
The statement was signed by 11 teachers, school staff and students representing the University of the Philippines (UP), Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), Philippine Normal University (PNU) and Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology (Earist).
At a press briefing, UP faculty regent Carl Marc Remota cited the “alarming trend” of budget cuts in the education sector while CIFs had been allocated to “questionable” projects and programs of the Marcos administration.
He said many SUC teachers have no job security due to the lack of plantilla positions in the government.
The lack of permanent teaching positions results in heavier workload for instructors, professors, including teaching assistants and fellows, he added.
“We are one with the calls of the education sector: oppose the budget cut and ensure that the questionable funds in the form of CIFs are rechanneled to programs that need it the most,” Remota said.
Trying to put some humor on the dire situation, he said the intelligence fund was still useful. “I hope this fund is really for the intelligence of the current and next generation of teachers, students and staff to further improve the condition of SUCs,” he said.
At Earist in Manila, the approved budget for maintenance and operating expenses and personnel services amounted to around P414 million, said Richard Jamero, president of the school’s faculty and employees union.
With its 21,000 student population, he said the approved budget allocated only P20,000 for each student, which is P5,000 less than the P25,000 per grade school and high school student appropriated by the Department of Education (DepEd) for 2024.
The school’s campus in Manila has a total of 255 regular faculty members, according to Jamero, and its faculty-student ratio is one to 82.
In some instances, the classes exceed 100 students in a small classroom, he said.
In such cases, Jamero said some professors divided their classes in two, meeting one group on the first scheduled class of the week and the other on the next.
“They only meet once a week so it affects the quality of education that we give to our Earist students,” he said.
PUP student council president Kim Modelo lamented the looming P3.9-billion budget cut from the P6.9-billion proposal of the university.
Among the challenges at her university, she said, were the shortages in classrooms and laboratories, the lack of spaces for learning and organizations, and frequent power outages.
PNU student regent Elisha Atayde said the university was projected to receive a 5.8-percent increase in its total budget, 6.73-percent increase for personnel services and 1.8-percent increase for maintenance and operating expenses.
These increases, however, are still not enough to address the lack of classrooms and facilities in the school that trains future teachers, she said.
In a speech at the Education Summit in Victorias City, Negros Occidental, on Oct. 5, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said he would work to divert some of the intelligence funds allocated in the 2024 budget for several national government offices to cover the P4.1-billion shortfall in the free higher education program of SUCs.
The House initially approved P4.864 billion in confidential funds and P5.277 billion in intelligence funds.
CIFs became controversial this year following demands for transparency on how these monies had been spent and questions on why agencies with no national defense and security mandates had been given such funds.
Lawmakers and critics pressed for the elimination of confidential funds, particularly for Vice President Sara Duterte’s offices—the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and DepEd.
As a result, the P650 million allocated to the OVP and DepEd were realigned by the House’s “small committee” last week.
That was over half of the P1.23 billion in confidential funds removed from the OVP, DepEd, and the departments of agriculture, foreign affairs, and information and communications technology to be reallocated to agencies involved in watching over the West Philippine Sea.
This triggered criticisms and threats, including a death threat against one lawmaker, from the Vice President’s father, former President Rodrigo Duterte. His threats, however, were denounced by the main political parties comprising the majority in the House and several individual lawmakers.
House move backed
On Thursday, three more House members—Davao del Sur Rep. John Tracy Cagas, Misamis Oriental Rep. Christian Unabia and Rep. Richard Gomez of Leyte—defended the chamber.Cagas said the House’s action stood on “solid constitutional ground.”
“The Congress, particularly the House, where the national budget bill originates, possesses that power,” he said.Unabia echoed his statement adding that “boosting the budget of national security agencies is a responsible way of spending public funds.” he added.
Gomez said he fully supported Romualdez “because he is our Speaker. (He is the) head of our institution. We cannot back out on our Speaker.”
Reacting to rumors and the former president’s allegations that Romualdez was planning to run for president against the Vice President in the 2028 elections, the former actor said the next general elections were “still far away.”
“I don’t think it (realigning confidential funds) is due to political reasons,” Gomez said.