Friday, November 19, 2004

Open Letter of the UP Student Regent on UP Presidency

Carry on the Fight for Our Right to Education!
Defeat Malacañang Intervention in the Selection of the Next UP President!

An Open Letter from Student Regent Marco Dominic delos Reyes
19 November 2004


To the iskolars ng bayan and members of the UP Community,

Last 17 November, the Board of Regents met to elect the next UP President. For four rounds of voting through secret balloting, a stalemate persisted; six votes went to former Finance Secretary Edgardo Espiritu, six votes to UP Diliman Chancellor Emerlinda Roman. The BOR decided to hold another meeting on 22 November with the hope of breaking the tie. For the meantime, UP has yet to elect a new president.

The results, I think, reflect the division in the BOR between those who voted for Chancellor Roman for various reasons on the one hand, and those who wanted to impose upon UP a Malacañang puppet in the person of former Finance Secretary Espiritu on the other. Given Malacañang’s strength of will and numbers in the BOR, I believe the stalemate is a victory – albeit a tactical one – for the UP Community.

The criteria I used for voting was formed through consultations with the iskolars ng bayan and other sectors of the UP Community. The Congress of the Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP provided a most important help in creating a students’ agenda for the selection of the next UP President. I also consulted other student formations, the All-UP Worker’s Union and the All-UP Academic Union.

In the end, I voted for Chancellor Roman. In the past, we iskolars ng bayan have either united with or struggled against her on particular issues. We have united with her most notably in fighting for greater state subsidy for UP and education and against US wars of aggression. On the other hand, we have struggled against her on the issue of commercialization, RGEP, Senate Bill 2587 and UP Charter Change.

What clinched my vote, however, were reliable information from different quarters that President Macapagal-Arroyo is hell-bent on intervening in the selection of the next UP President in order to impose someone who will be rabid in defending and implementing her policies for UP and education, and in supporting her national policies and stands. In short, she wants a Malacañang puppet as UP President.

Of course, I expected Malacañang intervention, given the high stakes UP has for the government. The government is beset with a fiscal crisis it plans to solve by, among other measures, reducing the budget for UP, education and social services. Large-scale commercialization measures are in the offing for UP: tuition fee increase through STFAP Rebracketting and commercialization of lands.

The violent dispersal of striking farmers in Hacienda Luisita comes to mind: With the fiscal crisis, the government is desperate to quell dissent, uphold the interests of a few and attack the democratic interests of the youth and people. One way for the government to do that in UP is to install a puppet president whose loyalty and service will not go to the UP Community but to Pres. Macapagal-Arroyo herself.

From this analysis, it became clear to me that my responsibility and task to the iskolars ng bayan and the UP Community is not just to choose a UP President but more importantly to expose and oppose Malacañang intervention in this process. The BOR meeting held yesterday merely validated the correctness of this analysis.

Who is Espiritu? He served as Finance Secretary in the cabinet of former President Estrada and held key Philippine posts of the ADB, World Bank and the IMF. He did not attend any of the public fora held in the UP campuses. On June 2005, he will be 70 years old, past the age limit for a UP president set by the University Code. This merely underscores the brazenness of Malacañang in trying to elect him.

In his vision paper, Espiritu attacks our fight for greater state subsidy, and says that UP does not need to “beg for subsidies from the national government.” While UP has been commercializing for years, Espiritu asserts that UP has not done enough. He proposes to further commercialize UP and reduce student admission. This vision for UP could only endear him, and others like him, to Malacañang.

In the same way that President Arroyo dwarfs her predecessors in wreaking havoc to the country and economy and serving the US, a Malacañang puppet – if not defeated in its quest for power – is headed to surpass other UP presidents in commercializing UP and attacking our right as iskolars ng bayan to education. He or she is a clear and present danger to the UP Community that must be opposed.

History teaches us a lesson. The last time there was an impasse in the selection of a UP President was in the late 1950s. It was widely believed that the Archbishop of Manila of that time, through President Ramon Magsaysay and the Education Secretary, was maneuvering for the selection of a UP President sympathetic to the Catholic Church. Because of this, UP had an acting president from 1956 to 1958.

The deadlock was ended after the students launched a strike and defiantly absented themselves from classes. The Board of Regents was forced to take action in electing Vicente Sinco, who is now known for “clashing with conservatism” in his term.* With the persisting undemocratic structure of governance that is the BOR, Malacañang can make the battle long and arduous for us iskolars ng bayan. But our weapons of vigilance, unity and collective action can be decisive.
Our fight is correct and just. Our opposition to Malacañang intervention is principled and not opportunistic. It is based on our democratic rights and interests. The proposed P67.9 M UP budget cut for 2005 is proof of the thrust of the Arroyo administration – that is, to pass on the youth and people the burdens of the fiscal crisis. Malacañang having its way on the UP presidency means more budget cuts, more attacks on the right to education of the iskolars ng bayan.

I therefore call on the iskolars ng bayan: It is our militant and collective action that can tilt the balance in the BOR. Let us carry on the fight for our right to education and defeat Malacañang intervention in the selection of the next UP President. Let us oppose the proposed P67.9 M budget cut, as well as other anti-student and anti-youth policies of the Arroyo administration. Let us also push for the democratization of structures of governance in the University.
Even if we succeed in defeating Malacañang intervention, we must and will continue to act and fight for our rights and interests. We will remain vigilant with every actions and policies of the UP President. What is pressing right now, however, is for us to come together, dialogue, and act as one to defeat Malacañang intervention.

I call on fellow iskolars ng bayan to join the mobilization at the Quezon Hall on 22 November, so we can assert our call directly to the BOR. Most important of all, let us walk-out of our classes and join the mobilization on 23 November to oppose the proposed P67.9 M UP budget cut. History is in our hands. I trust that the iskolars ng bayan will not default in acting to change it for the better.

Seize the day!

Mabuhay ang mga iskolar ng bayan!


*Milagros Guerrero, “Sinco’s Clash with Conservatism” in Oscar M. Alfonso, ed. University of the Philippines: The First 75 Years (1908-1983). Quezon City: UP Press, 1985.

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