MANILA, Philippines - Thousands of students and teachers joined street demonstrations in different parts of Metro Manila Wednesday to protest alleged cuts in the budgets of more than 100 state universities and colleges (SUCs) all over the country.
In Quezon City, protesters booed and blocked the convoy of President Benigno Aquino III from entering the University of the Philippines-Ayala Technohub on Commonwealth Avenue before 1 p.m. Anti-riot police clashed with the demonstrators who were forced to fall back.
Aquino used a different route to attend the inauguration of 3 new service delivery facilities of IBM Philippines in the UP Ayala Technohub. He made no mention of the protests being held by the students.
The demonstrators then proceeded to the Senate where they found allies to their cause.
Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. said the budget for SUCs should be steadily increased, noting that government should not force SUCs to generate their own income.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, meanwhile, asked Senate finance committee chairman Franklin Drilon to augment the budget of the University of the Philippines by P170 million.
For his part, Drilon maintained there were no cuts in the budget of SUCs. "Mahirap gisingin 'yong gising eh," he said, referring to those who continue to hold protests despite his clarification that only congressional initiatives in the budget were slashed.
Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Abigail Valte appealed to the protesters to keep an open mind about the changes in the education budget. "Babalik po yan sa kabukasan ng ating pag-iisip at pag-iintindi. Mahirap din kasi kahit mag-explain tayo nang mahaba, kung hindi naman po bukas na makinig, mahihirapan din tayo," Valte told reporters in Malacanang.
Budget Secretary Butch Abad earlier said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) allocated P23.4 billion for SUCs in 2011, which is P2.4 billion more than the P21 billion allocation for 2010.
He said the bulk of the P2.4 billion is for the higher allocation of personal services because of increased teachers' pay mandated by the Salary Standardization Law.
What was cut from the 2011 SUC budget, Abad said, were congressional insertions worth P1 billion for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and P1.8 billion for capital outlay including construction of new buildings and facilities.
Abad said the insertions were vetoed by former President Arroyo in the last Congress due to lack of new revenue streams.
5,000 join protest
Terry Ridon, national chairman of the League of Filipino Students, said students will continue to hold protests until Aquino puts his final signature on the national budget.
"May pag-asa pang pakinggan niya kami. Hindi daang matuwid ang pagkaltas niya sa budget ng state universities at colleges," he said.
Pasay police said an estimated 5,000 people participated in the rally outside the Senate. Among those who attended the rally were students and faculty from the UP Diliman, UP Manila, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Bicol University, Alliance of Concerned Teachers of the Philippines, National Union of Students of the Philippines, and many others.
Judy Taguiwalo, UP Diliman faculty regent, said the call to maintain SUC budgets is supported not just by a few students but the entire education sector.
The Kilos Na Laban Sa Budget Cuts alliance also questioned why Malacañang decided to cut SUC budgets while increasing the pork barrel of lawmakers, and the budget for debt servicing. With reports from ANC and Jing Castañeda, Willard Cheng, Ryan Chua, Alex Santos, ABS-CBN News