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.

Social Debt

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."

Crucial steps

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.