MANILA, Philippines – There are two perilous trends in the Philippine education sector that are missed out in the barrage of conflicting claims and the raging debates on its current state, the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) said Monday.
Ricardo B. Reyes, FDC president, said these trends are the mounting social debt incurred by the Philippine Government to education and the increasing relinquishment by the Philippine Government of its basic duty in providing education for our people to private or corporate business.
FDC came out with the concept of a Social Debt in recognition of the historical fact that the country's historical debt burdens and continuing debt dependence have stood in the way of the Filipino people's development and well-being. The Philippine Government continues to uphold a law on automatic appropriations for debt service which prioritized debt payments over other public expenditures, including such vital public services as education, health and housing.
FDC defines Social Debt as "the State's unfulfilled obligations to its citizens, which can be approximated from the State's commitments in its Constitution and its laws, the socio-economic targets set by all previous development programs and plans, and the international standards set by the United Nations and other international covenants."
To measure the Social Debt to education, FDC uses the UNESCO recommendation of at least six percent of gross national product (GNP) public spending on education which government expenditure cannot sink without serious consequences for fulfilling, protecting and realizing the human right to education and the universally shared aspiration of quality education for all.
In addition, FDC includes all the unfulfilled commitments the Philippine Government made to education in its series of Medium-Term Philippine Development Plans since 1986, other national policies and the promise of the 1987 constitution of universal secondary education for all Filipinos.
"Since 1996, when the Delors Commission submitted its recommendations to UNESCO pegging its benchmark for public expenditure to education at 6% of GNP, the Philippine government's Social Debt to education accumulated to roughly around P3.763 trillion," said FDC researcher Marc Batac.
Gross domestic product (GDP) is an estimated value of the total worth of a country's production and services, on its land, by its nationals and foreigners, calculated over the course on one year. GNP, meanwhile, is an estimate of GDP plus total worth of production and services of its citizens on foreign land.
"While we note the Aquino administration's efforts to increase the education budget, we lament that these are not enough. The public education expenditure of 2.2% of GNP in 2012 is a far cry from the international benchmark," said Batac.
FDC added that despite the declaration in the Constitution that education shall be the budgetary priority of the State, from 1986-1996 and 2000-2012, interest payments exceeded education spending. In 2012, budget for principal and interest payments (P739 billion) was three-fold compared to that for education (P224.9 billion). For 2013, earmarked education spending is even lower than 15.03% post-EDSA administrations' average (1986-2012), a meager 14.97% of the national budget.
Citing data from UNESCO and the World Bank, FDC said that the Philippines has the lowest education spending in proportion to the total budget (except Singapore), as percent of GDP, and per student. Further, the country's spending level is below the East Asian regional average of 3.6% of GDP and South Asia's average of 3.8%.
Annual school blues
Given the (lack of) priority that government accords to education, it is not surprising, therefore, that the right to quality education in the country effectively remains to be beyond the reach of millions of poor Filipinos.
Benjo Basas of Teachers' Dignity Coalition (TDC) said that the perennial problem of the country's school system again surfaced on the first day of school year – the lack of necessary resources such as teachers, books and other learning materials, chairs, classrooms, toilets and others.
"It only shows that the government's fund for education is not even enough to operate the existing program, yet we are talking about the more expensive K-12 program. First things first!" stressed Basas.
Erika Erro, chairperson of Youth Against Debt (YAD), said that another important manifestation of the increasing Social Debt to education is the high number of out-of-school youth.
Citing data from the National Statistics Office (NSO), Erro said that one (1) out of eight (8) Filipinos, or around 6.24 million Filipinos, aged between six 6 and 24 is an out-of-school youth. She added that six percent of the estimated 29 million children 5 to 17 years old are working children.
"Two main reasons why these youths are not in school are the high cost of education and the need to earn a living," Erro lamented.
Relinquishment of duty
Fidel Fababier, secretary-general of Action and Solidarity for the Empowerment of Teachers (ASSERT) said that the increasing relinquishment by the Philippine Government of its basic duty in providing education for the people, especially the youth, to private business or big corporate interests in the country, can be seen in some glaring examples. These include Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE), private-public partnerships (PPP), weak regulation over private schools as manifested by brazen tuition and other fee increases through the years, decentralization of public school management which encourages the entry of private business, and continuing tax privileges to some private schools.
FDC's Reyes said: "Increasing private or corporate business incursions into Philippine education has been consistently justified by the Philippine government on grounds that it lacks the money or the fiscal capacity to respond to the expanding needs of Philippine education. But public budgeting is basically a question of priority. Philippine budgets over the decades do not show education as a central priority of the government."
Reyes stressed that the biggest challenge of Philippine education is to bring education at the center of State priorities and to assert the central role of the State in providing education to the people.
The first step is to increase to 6% of GNP its annual budget for education. This can be done by repealing the automatic appropriation for debt service law and by a set of progressive taxation to raise, more revenues for education.
The other important step is to stop the trend of allowing more and more private corporate incursions into our education which can only turn it into money-making machines exploiting Filipino labor.
The Freedom from Debt Coalition asserts that the unchanging poverty incidence is a result of persistently high inequality in the country. It should not come as a surprise.
On April 23, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) revealed that poverty incidence, or the proportion of people below the poverty line to the total population, during the first semester of 2012 was estimated at 27.9 percent. In 2006 and 2009, first semester figures were estimated at 28.8 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively. This means that poverty incidence in the Philippines has remained unchanged as the computed differences are not statistically significant, according to NSCB.
As expected, President Benigno S. Aquino III is in a state of denial. Newspaper reports quoted him as saying: "I have a bit of a doubt since they used the wrong population data, which is the basis for computing per capita income." He also admitted never having the chance to study poverty incidence thoroughly, but questioned the 2009 figures which could not be compared to the 2012 figures.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda attributed the latest poverty incidence to the poor development of agriculture as the main culprit, while the Asian Development Bank, through its senior country economist, Norio Usui, attributed to lack of jobs the main cause of this economic malignancy.
While both reactions contain a piece if the truth, they missed the most essential point. While unemployment leads to poverty, unemployment itself is a result of a long-standing and deeply rooted condition of high inequality of access to, ownership and control of capital, technology, knowledge and land. This is the same with the sluggish agriculture.
The lack of a strong industrial base which ADB's Usui pointed out is the outcome of our colonial past when American colonizers refused to allow us to industrialize, and of our continuing past of highly unequal competition between multinationals and local industries forced upon the country by a regime of liberalization which began in the middle 80s structural adjustment program (SAP) and which culminated in the Philippine entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Most industries are highly monopolized or under the thumb of oligopolies which are combinations of big regional or global investors and big local partners or dummies. They crushed medium and small scale firms where most Filipino entrepreneurs are involved.
The failure of Philippine agriculture to develop and create more employment and livelihoods is the failure to carry out thoroughgoing land reform and modernization of agriculture and fishery, including the promotion of many small and medium scale agribusinesses. Until now, despite a second extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) since 1988, most of the big prime agricultural lands held by powerful oligarchs are not yet covered by the reform. Credit is highly scarce for small farmers and fishers, even for medium scale agricultural entrepreneurs.
Moreover, access to quality education (or the lack thereof) further exacerbates gap between the rich and the poor. One (1) out of eight (8) Filipinos, or around 6.24 million Filipinos, aged between six (6) and 24 is an out-of-school youth (National Statistics Office-Annual Poverty Indicators Survey, 2010). Even for the "luckier" ones who get to go to school, only seven (7) out of ten (10) finish elementary while only five (5) of this ten (10) will graduate from high school (Basic Education Information System, 2008-2009). Only two (2) out of ten (10) high school graduates proceed to college (CHED, 2010).
While on the one hand the costs of private education continue to rise beyond the means of a minimum wage-earning family, on the other, the capacity of public education institutions to absorb the brightest and promising young minds continues to be strained by the withdrawal of State support. In both sides of the fence, the poor is the one left out, stuck in poverty trap for generations. Despite all the lofty promises of leaders and the ubiquitous acknowledgment of the right to education by all sectors of society, in praxis, education is not a right but has become a commodity – access to which is dictated by one's capacity to pay. Education, in fact, is not the perceived equalizer, but has become a means promote the same chronic inequalities in society it supposedly promises to correct.
Thus, it should not come as a surprise that inequality remains rampant and embedded in the country. Among ASEAN countries, excluding Brunei Darussalam and Myanmar, the Philippines recorded the highest income inequality in 2009 (0.448), followed by Singapore (0.425), Thailand (0.425), Cambodia (0.407), Indonesia (0.394), Malaysia (0.379), Vietnam (0.378) and Lao PDR (0.326), according to the Human Development Report 2009.
RICARDO B. REYES
Freedom from Debt Coalition
Over the years, International Women's Day has taken on a festive character, a contrast to its beginnings more than 100 years ago when women workers, facing terrible labor conditions took to the streets demanding better treatment.
Many of the rights we enjoy today are the fruits of those early years of difficult struggles, and yearly, on March 8, we pay tribute to our sisters who were detained, beaten, deprived of their basic freedoms, in their determination and belief that women can enjoy a better quality of life, free from violence and discrimination.
MANILA, Philippines – The reported looming P0.39 per kilowatt-hour increase in power rates is meant to hit two birds with one stone, and is against the interest of consumers, the Freedom from Debt Coalition said Wednesday.
Ricardo B. Reyes, FDC president, said that it is meant to pass on to consumers "the government's incompetence, mismanagement and wrong policies that continue to aggravate the lingering problems of our power industry," and to provide "a convenient excuse to extend the life of an incompetent and patently, pro-power oligarchies agency."
"The Philippines now has the highest residential electricity rates and the second highest industrial electricity rates in Asia. The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) must protect ordinary consumers from this kind of burden. It must reject the rate application of Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM) Corp.," said Reyes.
FDC issued the statement in light of news reports that the ERC might release by January 2013 the decision regarding an application of PSALM Corp. to collect the P140 billion worth of universal charges (UC) for stranded debts and stranded contract costs from the customers of the Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao grids. PSALM Corp. likewise issued a statement expecting to collect said additional charges early next year.
There is also a current move in Senate to extend the corporate life of PSALM Corp. for another 10 years. Sen. Serge Osmeña, chairperson of Senate Committee on Energy, has filed Senate Bill 3250. Under Republic Act No. 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), PSALM Corp. shall exist for a period of twenty five (25) years, meaning until 2026.
The group asserted that PSALM Corp.'s rate application before the ERC, and Senator Osmeña's proposal to extend the agency's life are related.
Manjette Lopez, FDC vice president, explained that in their petition, PSALM and National Power Corporation (Napocor) are seeking the approval of stranded contract costs portion of UC in the amount of P74.298 billion to be imposed at the rate of P0.3666 per kilowatt-hour over the next four years, and stranded debts portion of UC in the amount of P65.019 billion at the rate of P0.0313/kWh over a 15-year period. PSALM Corp. aims to collect about P25 billion annually from the P0.39/kWh universal charges to help settle its outstanding obligations.
"EPIRA states that the liquidation of Napocor debts and stranded contract costs be completed within the term of existence of the PSALM Corp. or until 2026. However, its rate application, if approved, would be collected until 2028," said Lopez.
PSALM Corp. is mandated, under EPIRA, to calculate the amount of stranded debt and stranded contract costs of Napocor which shall form the basis for ERC in the determination of the universal charge. EPIRA defines stranded debts as any unpaid financial obligation of Napocor that has not been liquidated by the proceeds from the privatization of its assets. On the other hand, stranded contract costs are those excess contracted cost of electricity under eligible contracts over the actual selling price of the contracted energy output of these contracts in the market.
"The problem with PSALM's debts is that it is getting bigger and bigger despite the privatization of more than 80 percent of the Napocor generation assets and independent power producer (IPP) supply contracts," said Lopez.
"Again we ask: where are the proceeds of the sale of these assets?" Lopez added.
According to the group, PSALM Corp. has failed to drastically reduce Napocor's debt and electricity rates in past 11 years. Prior to the enactment of EPIRA and creation of PSALM Corp., the total debt and IPP obligations of Napocor/PSALM Corp. was US$16.39 billion. As of September 2011, it has an outstanding debt of US$16.73 billion. The pre-EPIRA average electricity rate was around P5/kWh. Today, the average rate is around P11/kWh.
"The additional universal charges and the extension of PSALM Corp.'s lifespan, clearly adds insult to the consumers' long-suffering and must be vigorously opposed. PSALM Corp. is a clear testament to the failure of EPIRA as a regime that would resolve the country's power crisis and the Napocor debts. Its life, therefore, must be cut short, not extended," Reyes said.
QUEZON CITY – Thousands of electricity consumers from 55 cities and municipalities from 15 provinces and 10 regions are expected to stage a multi-form protest on November 22, dubbed as "National Day of Action against Epira, high electricity rates and privatization of the power industry."