[Opinion] An indispensable asset

“Short kwarta ko Toto pang-enroll sa bata ko so late kami” (I am short of funds for the enrollment fee of my daughter hence we are late for admission), said Nanay Willy who is already a senior citizen when I chanced upon her lining up at the accounting office in a state university.

How come school fees continue to increase each year, inquired Nanay Willy? I have to look for additional money in order to complete the required payment for enrollment. This is the reason why we need clearance for late admission. Nene, her daughter, is coming in as a third year college student.

Many parents call it the June month blues as they face the vicious cycle of tuition fee hike, book fees and other miscellaneous expenses upon the opening of classes. Indeed, there seems to be no end regarding these concerns. The struggle for adequate government budget allocation for education has a long history and every year the situation is far from improving.

Recently, the University of the Philippines’ Visayas – Partido sang Mainuswagon Bumulutho (PMB) hosted a forum to tackle the country’s education situation. A post-SONA (State of the Nation Address) activity, the discussion centered in finding explanations why all these years, the national government’s budget for education was moving downward instead of upward.

I instantly referred to the paper developed by James Matthew Miraflor entitled: “The Neglected Generation”. James who then handled the debt and public finance campaign of the Freedom from Debt Coalition was instrumental in finding out how much is the required government budget in order to uplift the quality of education in the country.

In his research initiative in 2008, James found out that way back 1996 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has formed the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century and established the Delors Commission.

The Commission was headed by Jacques Delors hence the byname. Delors recognized that investing adequate financial resources to education is a significant undertaking for every nation. “Education is a human right and an essential tool for achieving the goals of equality, development and peace,” said Delors, and he emphasized that “in confronting the many challenges that the future holds in store, humankind sees in education an indispensable asset in its attempt to attain the ideals of freedom and social justice”.

The Delors Commission had set real education expenditure at six percent of the Gross National Product (GNP) for developing nations such as the Philippines. The six percent gross of GNP was then adopted by Unesco and established as an international benchmark for education spending or the Delors benchmark. This will pave the way for the necessary skills and knowledge preparation of would be labor sector of a nation.

Undeniably, the education sector in the Philippines has been suffering from lack of budget. A closer scrutiny on government’s budget pattern for education has shown that it has not been complying with Unesco’s established Delors benchmark. Since 1996, government’s GNP has been steadily increasing, education spending however did not follow the upward trend and instead suffered from decreasing allocation.

Since the administration of former president Fidel Ramos until the regime of Mrs. Arroyo, Philippines have accumulated a Delors gap amounting to a total of P1.66-trillion. We can just imagine what improvement has been achieved in the last 14 years in terms of bringing down tuition fees and upgrading school facilities if the amount has been properly spent for education. The trillion pesos gap covers the budget requirement of the government for the entire year. If the amount can operate the entire government bureaucracy for a year how much more to education?

The problem however lies in the government’s blanket prioritization of debt payments. A big chunk of government revenues goes to servicing debt and are not plowed back to spending for human development programs like education.

One of the students in the forum was surprised to learn that such a benchmark has been established yet asked why the Philippine government has not complied and instead siphons the necessary budget to debt servicing. Unfortunately, the Philippines is the only country with an automatic appropriations on debt servicing law mandated under Sec. 26(b) of the Revised Administrative Code of 1987.

This is the law which can help explain why post-1986 EDSA administrations have been investing much less in social services in terms of percentage. If the government recognizes that education is an indispensible asset of the nation then it needs to comply with the Delors benchmark by gradually allocating one to two percent of its annual GNP for education. In a six-year period of PNoy’s administration, for instance, the six percent of GNP for education can be established and it can kick-off modernizing the education sector.

More importantly, we can only elevate the quality of education in the country if government will free much of its resources from paying debts. Only then that many of our aging citizens like Nanay Willy would be able to enjoy their hard-earned money for personal needs and not only for the education of their children. (Misreadings, The News Today, 4 August 2011) 

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