Corporate fiefdoms

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By Arnold Alamon

Wrapped in Grey

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


IT MUST sound cliché and tired to many of us schooled and stuck in public educational institutions as faculty, staff, and students. That the state has abandoned its responsibility as provider of accessible and quality education to its young has already become a theoretical given. But now, it has morphed into a violent material truth.

We are the generation that went in UP, for instance, after the 300 percent increase in tuition under the Socialized Tuition Fee Assistance Program or STFAP was implemented since 1989. And many similar schemes have been imposed by school administrators in other State Universities and Colleges to increase income as the budgetary allocation from the state has dried up over time to be funneled to more state investments with higher political returns like the pork barrel perhaps.

What has been a technocratic measure to augment income has resulted to the erosion of the public character of our state educational institutions. The budgetary imperative has been the fodder for the continued rationalization of state-funded tertiary schools. Teaching items are kept under tight reign by the DBM, contractualization is the norm, and programs are closed by CHED on the grounds that these are unmarketable courses.

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It did not take long for these fiscal constraints to bleed into the practices and mind-set of the leadership of these state universities and colleges. From a place where scholarship and teaching were, at least ideally, undertaken in the service of the public, schools funded by tax payers’ money have now assumed a more corporate character wherein the primary consideration is their fiscal viability.

For SUCs with land grants, emphasis is now being placed on making these endowments profitable. Even if these lands are under dispute or have hundreds of peasant families depending on these for their daily survival.

This is the context wherein the recent incident in Central Mindanao University in Bukidnon involving 121 peasant families formed under the banner of PLATICMU or the Poor Agricultural Tillers of CMU and the university’s armed private guards must be seen.

In a bid to drive out the hundreds of peasants from the land, 17 armed guards fired shots at the farmers’ picket injuring one. A hand grenade was reportedly lobbed as well, good thing it did not explode. Women and children were also hurt in the melee in what has become a lamentable incident perpetrated by a state university whose primary mandate is supposedly to serve the interest of the agricultural sector.

And this is where the heart of the matter lies. Which agricultural sector are these SUCs serving and how do they appreciate the degree of landlessness and agrarian strife in their midst? The technocratic view is to privilege other considerations of course and the peasants whose daily meals depend on the land are far from the State University’s considerations.

Apparently, the plan is to lease the 100 ha. of agricultural land to PhilRice –a government-owned and controlled corporation with multinational funding from the likes of the Bill Gates Foundation and the Arab Gulf Programme for Development. It so happened that the current president of the CMU sits at the board of the said GOCC.

Good intensions aside, even if Philrice is dabbling into GMO rice breeds, what we have here is a dilemma – should we privilege scientific research over an agrarian issue that is reflective of the national condition? Should violence be employed as a recourse wherein a State University deploys armed guards against peasants in the midst of these contradictions? Shouldn’t it be the case that an agrarian State University and a GOCC in the same agrarian sector be the first to defend peasant rights?

This is not the first time that CMU has resorted to the same tactics of violence and harassment in facing land issues within its domain.

In 2011, they did the same thing to the picket of the Buffalo-Tamaraw-Litmus farmers contesting their eviction on the vast land endowments of the university using the same private security agency as their goons. Four farmers were hurt when armed guards fired upon farmers at their picket line.

It has now come to the lamentable point that, as the CMU incidents have revealed, SUCs now function and act as cruel absentee landlords in the midst of so much landlessness and agrarian strife.

Instead of being the last bastions of the powerless and disadvantaged in our society, state universities are now converted into violent corporate fiefdoms serving other masters. The state abandonment of education is the silent culprit behind all these.

***

(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on June 10, 2014.

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