EARIST students walk out of classes vs ‘construction fee’

Students of the Eulogio Amang Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology are protesting the collection of additional fees for the construction of a new school building.

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Five thousand students of Eulogio Amang Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology (EARIST) walked out from their classes on Tuesday, Nov. 26 to protest the “illegal collection” of the P1,500 ($34.18) Construction Fee.

It has been over a year since students opposed the collection of the said fee, which was then called as Development Fee. For this semester, the Development Fee was changed to Construction Fee. The said fee is being collected for the construction of a new school building, which is now in progress.

“Our mobilization today shows the anger and massive discontent of the students because of the illegal collection of the P1,500 ($34.18) Development Fee. We also protest the inaction of the national government over our demand for greater state subsidy to education,” Institute Student Government President Philip Bautista said in a statement.

Photo courtesy of EARIST/Bulatlat.com
Photo courtesy of EARIST/Bulatlat.com

Bautista blamed the budget cut on state universities and colleges as the main reason why the school administration is collecting so many fees from students. “It is the government’s fault why we carry such burden.”

Baustista said they arranged a dialogue with EARIST President Dr. Eduardo Caillo on Nov. 26 but members of the administration were not present. The students is hoping to pressure the EARIST administration to sign an agreement to end the collection of the Development Fee, which has been changed to Construction Fee this semester.

EARIST is a state college and majority of the students come from the poor. The tuition has been increased from P4,492 ($102.60) to P5,600 ($127.90) per semester. “Poor students are really affected by this increase,” Bautista said.

Collection of fees illegal

According to the school administration, the construction of the new building is meant to accommodate more enrollees. “The construction of the building was approved by the Board of Trustees, but the collection of the said fee is illegal,” said Bautista.

Bautista said students and school administrators, in a consultation held last school year, failed to arrive at an agreement regarding the collection of additional fees. Also in Nov. 2012, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) ruled that the collection of the said fee should not be implemented in Academic Year 2013-2014. “But the administration still pursued it and collected the fees from us students,” Bautista told Bulatlat.com.

According to Bautista, the Development Fee was collected from students without an official Board of Trustees resolution. “For several semesters, we have asked for the legal basis for their collection but the EARIST administration failed to provide us any legal document. Now, they changed the Development Fee to Construction Fee, which is very wrong because funds for the construction of buildings should come from the budget for Capital Outlay, which should be subsidized by the state.”

However in the national budget, state universities and colleges have no budget allocations for capital outlay. For this year, the budget of EARIST is P153,958,000 ($3,516,383.34) and has no allocation for Capital Outlay.

The students are also demanding for a stop to the threats and harassment of student leaders. Bautista said the dean of the College of Education announced that all students who joined the mobilization last Tuesday were suspended.

He also said students have continuously been threatened by security guards and “goons” of the school president. “One student was man-handled when tensions rose because the guards padlocked the whole school. They took pictures of us and occupied the Office of the President even if they’re not official employees of the school,” Bautista added.

“Last Saturday, Nov. 23 until morning of Tuesday, Nov. 26, the security guards forcibly entered the College of Business Administration Student Government office to disrupt its operations and preparations for the mobilization.”

The harassment of student leaders and those who participated in the protest action was condemned by progressive youth group Anakbayan.

“We condemn the EARIST administration for its threat to suspend the students who participated in the protest action. The administrators should immediately scrap the much hated fee hike and instead join hands with the students in fighting for a greater education budget,” the group said in a statement.

Commercialization of education and social services

Anakbayan praised the protest action and walk out of students. In a statement, Anakbayan said the collection of additional fees is in line with the government policy of commercialization of education and social services.

“The policy to abandon education further illustrates the Aquino government’s anti-youth and anti-people character as also shown by its porky exploitation of public funds for personal and political ends and the criminal neglect and incompetence it has shown in its failure to provide relief for the victims of Yolanda in the Visayas region.”

“We stand with the EARIST community and urge them to hold bigger and bolder protests against fee hikes, commercialization and the anti-people Aquino regime. We call on students of SUCs nationwide who are being confronted with rising fees to likewise rise in protest.”

Bautista said the students are gearing up for bigger protest actions until the school administration heeds their demands.

They are also asking the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino to re-channel sufficient funds to education and social services. “We all know that he holds the largest pork barrel worth P1.3 trillion ($29.691 billion); we hold him accountable for our dismal situation,” said Bautista. ()

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