‘Vaccinated against budget cuts’: Lawmakers reject Duterte threat to defund UP
MANILA, Philippines — A threat by President Rodrigo Duterte to defund the country’s premier state university that later on turned out to be misplaced is not sitting well with some members of Congress.
The president in his address late Tuesday night was fuming mad about many things — false allegations against Vice President Leni Robredo on typhoon response, and that students of the University of the Philippines initiated an academic strike.
The said strike, however, was not called by UP students, but instead by those from Ateneo de Manila, who are seeking to hold the administration accountable for its response to recent typhoons that had left millions affected and scores dead.
Speaking to CNN Philippines the following day, Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque admitted that the president may have confused this.
“I explained [that] it was the Ateneo students advocating for the academic strike,” he said. “But somehow, I think someone in that meeting said no, UP Manila also called for an academic strike.”
But Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto stood firm that such calls should not be met with a “funding brake,” signaling that should Duterte’s threat materializes, it will not go unopposed in the upper chamber.
“The correct response is not to defund any, but to increase the funds of as many as possible,” he said in a statement. “In so far as the Senate is concerned, the unanimous consensus is that SUCs are no-cut zones…they have been vaccinated against budget cuts.”
Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan in ANC’s Headstart also said that cutting UP’s funding would be “legally infirm.”
“It’s only natural for the youth and students to have these critical positions,” he said in Filipino. “The youth will always be a source or a catalyst of change..more than anything else, if you try to stop that, you’re going against how history unfolds.”
In another television interview, another member of the chamber, Sen. Richard Gordon, said the president should not discredit the contributions to society of UP graduates, such as doctors battling the coronavirus crisis and those serving in his Cabinet.
While UP has long maintained an activist reputation, it is already established that there is nothing wrong with activism, neither is it equal to communism. And since the 1990s, being a communist has not been illegal after the country’s anti-subversion law was repealed.
Despite this, activists and human rights advocates are continuously tagged as members of the armed movement, ironically by those in government and in the military, yet failing to substantiate claims. Often, those red-tagged are killed or exposed to threats and intimidation.
Members of the Makabayan bloc in Congress made the same rebuke of Duterte’s latest threat, with Rep. Ferdinand Gaite (Bayan Muna) saying it only proved how the president is “detached from the people.”
“That’s what happens when your actions are limited to aerial inspections and media gimmicks instead of working on the ground,” he said in mixed English and Filipino. “He should go down from his helicopter and listen to the cry of the people and maybe that would make him understand where the youth is coming from.”
Rep. Sarah Elago (Kabataan) also said Duterte should not hold hostage the funding for the state university.
“Focus po tayo sa issue, Mr. President,” she said. “Hindi komunismo ang isyu rito kung ‘di ang tunay na kalagayan ng mamamayan. Ang panawagan ng mga kabataan at kaguruan ngayon ay national academic break bilang national policy.”
(Let’s focus on the issue, Mr. President. Communism is not the issue here but the real situation of our people. The call of students and teachers is for a national academic break as national policy.)
UP has since reacted to the president’s remarks, outrightly denying that it is recruiting students to join the communist movement.
“One of the university’s core mission is knowledge and innovation creation, production, dissemination and using various approaches of knowledge transfer. The University does not recruit for the communists, that is not our mission,” said Dr. Elena Pernia, UP’s vice president for public affairs.
Government has supported the move of education-related agencies to shun student-led petitions calling for an academic break or an immediate end to the semester due to the effects of the recent calamities.
Figures from disaster officials by noon of November 18 showed that over 3.4 million individuals have been affected by Typhoon Ulysses alone, apart from Super Typhoon Rolly and Typhoon Quinta that also hit the country recently. — with reports from Bella Perez-Rubio and Xave Gregorio