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UPLB students, staff call for higher provisions amid infrastructure drive in proposed additional budget

UPLB students and staff emphasized that the lack of budget for their sectors would not have been an issue if the government appropriated more funding for education.

Words by Kyn Aguirre

With 73.4% of UPLB’s proposed additional budget set for Capital Outlay, and over a third of UP System’s proposed budget set to fund infrastructure projects, student, faculty, and staff representatives call for higher provisions in their respective sectors, especially with the recent announcement of UP’s adoption of blended learning.

In an exclusive interview with the Perspective, All UP Academic Employees Union Los Baños (AUPAEU – LB) President Prof. Cris Lanzaderas said that infrastructure projects are important in retrofitting facilities, noting that it will benefit the University’s sectors. He made it clear, however, that infrastructure budgeting must not come at the expense of the budget allocation for other sectors inside the University.

Syempre, malaking tulong sa pagre-retrofit at pagsasaayos ng ating mga pasilidad at infra ang mas malaking budget […] Wine-welcome ng Unyon ang mga ito basta’t nakatuon sa pagpapadali at pagpapaunlad ng serbisyong kayang maibigay ng mga ito sa ating mga REPS [Research, Extension, and Professional Staff], kawani, guro, mag-aaral, at sa iba pang bahagi ng university community – mapa-academic pursuit man iyan o public service,” he said.

(“A larger budget allocation would be a great help in the retrofitting and improvement of our facilities and infrastructures. The Union welcomes these projects as long as they are for the ease and development of the services given to our REPS, staff, faculty, students, and other members of the University community – be it for academic pursuit or public service.”)

He added that such projects that will benefit the said sectors include improvement of research facilities, faster Internet services, more academic resources, and safer workspaces.

However, Lanzaderas emphasized that constituents should be vigilant of what infrastructure programs are being developed, and who will benefit from such projects. He raised issues on the UP-Ayala Technohub and UP Town Center in Diliman, saying how the services of the University are being privatized.

It is noteworthy that in UPLB, issues were raised on the creation of a special economic zone (SEZ) called UPLB Agro-Industrial Park – Information Technology Park (UPLB AIP-ITP). In the Perspective’s previous interview with former UPLB University Student Council (USC) Chairperson Siegfred Severino, he said that AIP-ITP is supposed to be a center for research and development for agriculture, food security, and information technology. It will also be a private-public partnership-funded project.

However, he added, “The USC raised some concerns regarding what types of companies or research groups would occupy the park’s spaces, and we recommended that a significant portion of the park be given to local companies or research groups.”

He explained that the park is not listed in the budget structures because it is under a private-public partnership and is an SEZ, and its funding will come from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

But even if infrastructure budgeting benefits constituents, Lanzaderas added that it must not come at the expense of the allocation for other sectors.

Halimbawa, sa kaso ng PGH [Philippine General Hospital] sa Diliman, nakikita nating beneficial ito sa community pero kaakibat nito, maitatanong natin kung sino ang tatao sa ospital na ito gayong ang PGH sa Maynila ay kulang na kulang sa manpower. Ibig sabihin, mas mainam na palakasin din ang maibibigay na serbisyo sa mga kawani – dagdag na suweldo at benepisyo, dagdag na items. Matitiyak din nito ang pananatili ng best na kawani sa University dahil napapangalagaan natin ang kanilang economic rights at needs,” he added.

(“For example, we see the improvement of PGH in Diliman as beneficial to the community, but we also question who will be hired in the hospital given that PGH is already short in manpower. This means that it is also important to strengthen the services provided for staff – increased pay and benefits, additional items. This will also ensure that the best staff in the University will stay because their economic rights and needs are being safeguarded.”)

The Hospital Services Program budget, which includes the allocation for PGH, suffered a cut of above P566 million in the 2022 national budget. It was met with backlash by healthcare workers, who have been calling for justifiable compensation and benefits, including the COVID-19 Special Risk Allowance (SRA) and Actual Hazard Duty Pay (AHDP) (READ: UP budget increased by P2.89 billion, but Hospital Services Program suffers cut in 2022 national budget).

For the UP System’s proposed additional budget in 2023 for PGH, P200 million is proposed for Capital Outlay, while P917 million is proposed for Personnel Services (PS). PS includes lumpsum for non-permanent positions; lumpsum for compensation common to all; lumpsum for compensation for specific group; and terminal leave/retirement gratuity benefits.

Lanzaderas added that the calls of hospital staff come in alignment with the calls of the workers’ union, who appeal for sufficient salary and benefits.

Balanse at sabay dapat pinauunlad ng Unibersidad ang lahat ng bahagi nito – mula sa pisikal na imprastraktura hanggang sa lakas-paggawa […] Tiyakin din ang kanilang kaligtasan sa kani-kanilang mga opisina – hindi lang sa physical health, kundi ang mental at emotional wellness,” he added.

(“The University should balance and develop all its sectors simultaneously – from infrastructure to labor force […] Their safety in the offices should also be assured – not only in terms of physical health, but their mental and emotional wellness as well.”)

In relation to this, Lanzaderas added that the University’s budgeting must not end only within its sectors, but should also fund projects that would extend help to its immediate community. He said that the country must benefit from UP’s “honor and excellence” – traits that should not stay only within University grounds.

In a separate interview with the Perspective, UPLB USC Vice Chairperson Gio Olivar added that infrastructure growth is a welcome development, since students will benefit from it in the long run. However, he also emphasized that more subsidies should be provided for the student sector.

“While we welcome the retrofitting and renovation of our buildings, such as the SU [Student Union Building] renovation, we still call for more budget on student services. It is our opinion that it should be the utmost priority considering that most of our students will now be back on campus. In our worsening economic conditions, more subsidies should be provided to help students settle as we transition to face-to-face classes,” he said.

Students’ call for higher budget

In the 2022 budget for the UP System, about P31.7 million has been allocated to the “operationalization of face-to-face classes”, while P500,000 is set for the Student Assistance Program.

However, two years into remote learning, most UPLB students and faculty said that they still confront challenges that include poor Internet connection, lack of devices, and limited forms of communication, which were matched by heavy academic requirements. These were worsened by calamities and the health situation (READ: UPLB students, faculty confront persisting challenges 2 years into remote learning).

Meanwhile, in a memorandum dated June 20, 2022, the UP Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA) announced that the University will be implementing blended learning delivery modes for AY 2022-2023. The mode includes face-to-face sessions.

In an earlier interview, Severino expressed the same sentiments as Olivar.

Sa napipintong pag-expand ng limited face-to-face classes at gradual reopening ng campus, dapat mas bigyan ng dagdag budget ang basic student services and assistance kagaya ng financial aids, scholarships, and pag-cover sa health insurance ng mga approved for limited F2F,Severino said.

(“With the upcoming limited face-to-face classes and the gradual reopening of the campus, we should provide an additional budget for basic student services and assistance such as financial aid, scholarships, and health insurance coverage for constituents approved for limited F2F.”)

In a [P] Live interview with UPLB USC Chairperson Gean Celestial, she said that among the concerns of students under the new learning setup are financial struggles, given the rising dormitory, food, and transportation fees, among other rising prices.

In an earlier [P] Live interview, Office of International Linkages (OIL) Director Anna Firmalino also noted that students who are hesitant to stay in the campus due to financial struggles may avail the Student Learning Assistance System (SLAS). SLAS aims “to expand the support to financially-challenged students and expedite the processing support for academic activities”.

Moreover, Celestial said that they are exploring the possibility of requesting financial assistance from the UPLB administration for students who will have difficulty returning to the campus. However, she noted the limitation of such services.

“‘Pag usapin ng financial services, lahat kasi ‘yon kinakailangang dumadaan sa application. […] Hindi talaga lahat ng students na nangangailangan ay kayang i-accommodate ng services natin, given na limited din naman ‘yung mga available na slots doon,” she said.

(“All financial services go through an applicatication process. […] Not all students who are in need of the services can be accommodated, given the limitation of slots.”)

Olivar emphasized that the lack of budget for the student sector would not have been an issue if the government appropriated more funding for the education sector, so that students can have a more conducive learning environment.

Inadequate budget for Professional Services

Besides the lack of budgeting for student services, Lanzaderas also noted that there is a clear lack of budgeting for faculty, staff, and REPS. This leads to lack of response to urgent benefits such as health benefits and hazard pay, especially amid the pandemic.

In the case of REPS, despite being included in the Collective Negotiation Agreement (CNA) of the academic union and workers’ union, Lanzaderas emphasized that there are benefits that they still have to assert for.

Pinakamalaking challenge nitong huling CNA ang paglalabas ng fringe benefits dito. Sa fringe benefits kasama ang rice allowance, year-end grocery allowance at iba pa. Dati kasi ay included na ito sa negotiation para sa CNA. Ngayon, magkakaroon pa ng hiwalay na nego at alam natin na hindi ito madali,” he added.

(“The biggest challenge for the last CNA is the exclusion of fringe benefits. These benefits include rice allowance, year-end grocery allowance, and more. Before, these were included in the CNA negotiations; now, separate negotiations are set to take place and we know that these will not be easy.”)

Last February, Lanzaderas disclosed that one of the reasons for the delay of the ratification of the CNA in December 2021 was the exclusion of fringe benefits from the negotiations. This was due to the UP administration’s insistence to exclude fringe benefits as they believed that these benefits are not supposed to be in the CNA.

Despite initially disagreeing, the union panel finally agreed because of numerous delays, on the condition that separate negotiations should be conducted for fringe benefits.

Lanzaderas added that one of the reasons why the system administration refused to include fringe benefits in the agreement is that the union demands for higher fringe benefits (READ: UP acad union discloses details on delayed benefits, unsettled demands of faculty, REPS).

Ang pagpapanawagan ng Unyon sa UP admin ay parang laban na hindi matapos-tapos. Taon-taon, palagi nating kinakalampag ang UP admin para sa dagdag na benepisyo at pati ang nasa oras na pagbibigay ng mga ito. Naniniwala ang Unyon na nariyan ang pera, ang budget. At kung ilalaan ito sa mga tamang bagay, mababawasan ang mga problemang hinaharap natin ngayon,” Lanzaderas said.

(“The calls of the Union to the UP admin is like a never-ending battle. Every year, we demand the UP admin for increased benefits and timely release of benefits. The Union believes that the budget exists; and the problems we face today will be lessened if there is proper allocation of the budget.”)

Lanzaderas said that initially, in the proposed additional budget, there were no additional plantilla items for Professional Services, which include faculty, staff, and REPS, meaning that there will be no new hirings. Staff Regent Victoria Belegal also stated then that their priority concern is the lack of new plantilla items in their list. 

“Aking hinimok ang dalawang sektor na ito [academic employees and REPS] upang kausapin ang UPLB administration upang maihabol ang request ng additional plantilla items sa budget proposal. Kasabay din po nito ang aking paghiling sa Office of the Vice President for Planning and Finance na pahintulutan ang UPLB Admin na maihabol ang rebisyon ng kanilang budget proposal,” Belegal said.

(“I urged the two sectors to talk to the UPLB administration to add the request for additional plantilla items in the budget proposal. Along with this, I also requested the Office of the Vice President for Planning and Finance to accept the UPLB administration’s request for revision in the budget proposal.”)

Belegal stated that during the special Board of Regents (BOR) meeting last April 20, the Board finally approved the request of UPLB to add additional plantilla items for REPS. In the proposed additional budget for 2023, P402 million is proposed for PS in UPLB, which would budget the creation of 675 new positions. 492 of these are REPS while 183 are administrative staff.

Belegal added that the UPLB requested additional allotment for salaries of contract of services (COS), which is under Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE).

In relation to the lack of budget allocation and benefits for REPS and administrative staff, Lanzaderas expressed his sentiments on the lack of budgeting from the national government. Lanzaderas emphasized that even if UP requests an adequate budget allocation, the final decision is still with the national government.

Masasabi ko ngang sa UP na ‘it will be never enough’. Sa madaling salita, isang napakalaking challenge pa rin para sa mga REPS at staff na madagdagan ang kanilang bilang o items dahil pa rin sa kakulangan ng budget na nagmumula sa national government. Maliban dito, ang pagre-request ng mga units para sa mga items na ito ay dumaraan sa butas ng karayom. Burukratiko at napakatagal itong proseso,” he said.

(“I can say that in UP, ‘it will never be enough’. In other words, it remains to be a huge challenge for REPS and staff to have their items increased because of the lack of budget from the national government. Aside from this, the request of the units for the said items go through an arduous process. It is a bureaucratic and long process.”)

Lanzaderas emphasized that the administration must ensure that the sectors of faculty, staff, and REPS all progress in their work through enough budget allocation. [P]

Photos by Sonya Castillo and Glen Christian Tacasa

Layout by Ja Fuentes

3 comments on “UPLB students, staff call for higher provisions amid infrastructure drive in proposed additional budget

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