A danger to life and limb

By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Bulatlat.com

I never knew that it would come to this point: that the budget cuts on state colleges and universities such as the University of the Philippines would result in loss of lives. Last Sunday, Rey Bernard Penaranda, a 19-year old BS Agriculture student of the UP Los Baños was killed in a robbery attempt just outside the gates of UPLB.

This, according to reports, is the third slaying near the campus in five months: 14-year old Rochel Geronda, a high school student and sampaguita vendor, was found dead barely a week ago less than a kilometer away from the campus, and in October 2011, 19-year old BS Computer Science student Given Grace Cebanico was found dead just outside the UPLB campus, a victim of a robbery-rape-slay.

Closer to home, last February 1, Lordei Camille Anjuli Hina, a 20-year old Political Science student of UP Diliman was stabbed with an icepick just above the left temple in a robbery attempt near the UP student council office at the Vinzon’s Hall. Luckily, she survived but is still in critical condition. There was also a report of a killing inside the campus last December, claiming the lives of a mother and son.

What has the budget cut got to do with this?

Last year, upon his installation as the 20th UP president, I was interviewing UP President Alfredo Pascual during a dinner he held with journalists. We were talking about his plans for the university and how he would cope with the meager, reduced budget allotted to the country’s premier state university and only national university. He said he would continue trying to convince the government that the budget for UP is an “investment” and not an expense. He was firmly resolved not to increase the tuition. (He delivered on this promise although the default bracket for those who need not file documents detailing their family’s income was raised one level higher, from P1,000 to P1,500 per unit per semester. ) In the meantime, the UP administration would have to earn from its existing assets and cut costs. I remember that he mentioned reducing the number of security guards and installing CCTV cameras instead, as an example.

The reduction in the number of security guards patrolling the campus is noticeable. If you jog around the campus at night, you would notice that rarely would you encounter a guard. I did see one patrolling on a motorcycle one night. Before, there used to be at least one guard on each side of the academic oval. However, I never expected that it would reach this point when brutal crimes would happen inside the campuses of UP one after another.

It is a pity. The UP campus used to be a very safe place. When I was a student, I was a member of the UP Repertory Company so during the theater season, we rehearsed till late at night, often walking up to Philcoa because there was no public transport plying the UP route late at night. I also hear of the same stories of how safe the campus is from friends and relatives who studied at UPLB. Of course, it is different now with the worsening crisis and increasing desperation of people who are not able to cope with the unemployment, high prices and almost nil social services.

But still, the campus was a relatively safe place. We always reminded our daughter who took up medicine at UP Manila to be careful and mindful, but not the two who studied at UP Diliman.

I am not blaming the UP administration. Working with a very limited and still decreasing budget while trying to maintain the high academic standards UP is known for is a very challenging job. I do not envy the position UP President Alfredo Pascual is in.

I am blaming the two officials in government who are crucial in deciding how much state colleges and universities would get: the President and the Budget Secretary. These two government officials, who were products of the most expensive private, exclusive school in the country, never experienced how hard it is to cope with the rising tuition and other costs of education. That is why it is so easy for them to let state universities and colleges raise their own funds even if it would mean raising the tuition.

“Tertiary education is a privilege,” said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad. A privilege available for only a few who could afford tuition as high as that of Ateneo’s? It is easy for them to let state universities and colleges cut costs because they never experienced doing so or being affected by it. Ateneo never did cut costs, it just raised its tuition, and they were hardly affected by it.

Budget cuts in education and other social services do make the lives of majority of the Filipino people harder. But now it has become a danger to life and limb. ()

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