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Youth Against Debt claims government neglected the youth by not spending P1.66 trillion on education

MANILA, Philippines – For failing to comply with an international benchmark on education spending, the government, for almost twelve years, has “robbed” the youth and students around P1.66 trillion, according to an anti-debt youth group.

The Youth Against Debt (YAD) said that from 1996 to 2008, the administrations of Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and most especially Gloria Macapagal Arroyo “unashamedly disregarded a widely accepted and recognized international benchmark on education spending as provided by the 1996 International Commission on Education for the 21st Century of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headed by Jacques Delors.”

In a press conference, the group stressed that with the formal opening of classes one week from now, new and old students will again be subjected to the same old list of problems besetting the ever-dismal state of Philippine education.

“Amid the political rhetoric and empty populism of our national leaders, little if none is said about the blatant non-compliance to international standards on education spending by the government,” the group said in a statement.

The standard, popularly known as the UNESCO Delors Benchmark set the education expenditure of developing countries at six percent (6%) of the Gross National Product (GNP). More than a hundred countries recognize this as the accepted standard on education financing, setting the demarcating contour by establishing the minimum level below which government subsidy on education cannot be neglected without causing serious consequences to our education’s quality, accessibility and sustainability.

Nowhere near the target

For its part, the Freedom from Debt Coalition stressed that for almost twelve years, the Philippines is nowhere near achieving the 6 percent of GNP target.

“Education spending in our country as percentage of the GNP hovered no more than 3.8 percent. This wouldn’t be much of a dilemma if the trend of our government’s spending on education is nearing towards the fulfillment of the standard like that of other developing countries. But sad to say, the trend is anything but positive,” said James Miraflor, FDC public finance campaigner.

In their joint analysis, FDC and YAD revealed that the country’s education spending as proportion of the GNP never reached 4 percent. From 3.8 percent in 1998 under Mr. Estrada, education expenditure as proportion of the total national income drastically dipped to 2.26 percent in 2007 under Mrs. Arroyo.

“In actual terms, as of 2007, the total loss or deficit in our education spending is a shocking P1.66 trillion! This is enough money to wipe out classroom shortages, augment diminishing state subsidy to public higher education institutions, and hire more teachers. The amount lost is so big that it can fund more than 100 Comelec-supervised national and local elections and yes, run the operation of the entire government for a year,” explained Miraflor.

Least spender on education

While succeeding governments are equally accountable for this mess, Mrs. Arroyo’s term is the “most horrible” for education, according to the two groups.

“Not even her newfound penchant for freezing tuition hikes of state colleges and universities or her flimsy appeal to private schools to have a heart will hide the fact that education suffered worst under her rule,” the youth group said.

“Of the total P1.66 trillion losses from education, the Arroyo Administration contributed a deficit of P1.3 trillion in education spending making her the least spender on education!” exclaimed Miraflor, adding: “Not satisfied in being the biggest borrower and largest payer of debt, Mrs. Arroyo broke another record this time in being the most indifferent in not only complying with the international standard but also in increasing education expenditure.”

Debt service

“With these findings, people again would ask: where did the money go? Again, we say, finding light to this question can be seen by comparing the total debt interest payments from 1996 to 2007 and the deficit on education financing earned by the Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo governments,” said the FDC campaigner.

FDC explained that from 1996 to 2007, total interest payments amounted to P2.2 trillion compared to the total gap or losses our education suffered through the years which totaled to P1.66 trillion.

“We believe this is institutional robbery. Resources supposedly for increased social spending are being siphoned away by automatic debt servicing,” stressed Miraflor.

Scarcity of democracy

The youth group disagreed with the argument that there is a scarcity of resources.

“That is a fat lie. What we actually have is a scarcity of democracy concerning our budget planning brought about by institutional mechanisms that not only undermine international benchmarks on specific social services but also gives utmost priority to the religious payment of debts,” YAD said.

FDC and YAD reiterated their call on the legislative branch to repeal Sec. 31 (B) of Presidential Decree 1177 in Sec. 26 (B), Book 6 of the Revised Administrative Code of 1987, which ensures the automatic appropriation of payments for principal and interest on public debt.

“Six Will Fix”

The youth stressed that complying with the UNESCO Delors Benchmark may be the key to perennial problems besetting the education sector and to “give back what was lost from education.”

“Today, we also launch our Six Will Fix campaign to demand the government to immediately implement the international benchmark by pegging our education budget 6 percent of the GNP. We will lobby our legislators to institutionalize the standard by passing a law giving automatic appropriations on education, not debt servicing,” YAD said.

“We want Mrs. Arroyo to put money where her mouth is. Her moratorium on tuition hikes is too little and too late. Instead, we demand a moratorium in the payments of all illegitimate debts,” said the youth group.