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‘We honor what we offer’; VPFA responds to SUFA’s urges for better benefits

by Ranjie Nocete and Karylle Panorel | November 21, 2021

On the issue of the Silliman University Faculty Association’s (SUFA) wishes to benefit more from the school’s revenue, Vice President of Finance and Administration Dr. Jenny L. Chiu said, “We honor what we offer during the last two years of negotiation despite the significant reduction of enrollment.” 

SUFA urged the administration to utilize other revenues it generates, such as the renting of commercial spaces which they labeled as auxiliary income. Chiu, however, clarified that the commercial spaces of the university are not considered auxiliary income. 

Chiu informed, “We have seven auxiliary units in the university. All [of which have] registered losses for fiscal year ending May 31, 2021.” The seven auxiliary units in the university include the cafeteria, farm, press, dormitories, Marina Clinic, Luce Auditorium, and IMTC [Instructional Media and Technology Center]. Chiu added that these units rendered a total loss of P30.9 million.

According to Chiu, the commercial spaces of the university include the Portal East and West buildings, SUMC [Silliman University Medical Center] building, 7-Eleven, Jollibee, and BDO. Regarding the revenues from these commercial spaces, Chiu reported,  “The total rental revenue for the year ended May 31, 2021, was P26.5 million. It is used to support the education and general operations of the university since the tuition and fees cannot fully cover the personnel costs, meaning the salaries and wages and benefits of our employees and general operations.”

Chiu also shared that the net revenue from tuition and fees amounted to P558.2 million. He explained that after subtracting the personnel costs and other education and general expenses, they were left with a deficiency of P38 million which is higher than the P26.5 million revenue from the commercial spaces.

He elaborated that, “the university continues to pay their obligation to their employees, suppliers, contractors, [and] all other expenses even before the cash is received from the leases and students.” He also emphasized that not a single staff member or regular personnel of the auxiliaries had been terminated during the pandemic even if the auxiliaries registered losses. 

For the school year 2019-2020 [sic], the number of units [sic] in the undergrad and graduate programs declined by 21%,” Chiu stated, “There was also a big decline in the enrollment of the basic education from early childhood, elementary, junior high school, and senior high school.” He further said that despite the large reduction in enrollment, the administration still honored its commitment to SUFA and the Silliman University Staff Association (SUSA).

“We would also like to share that on top of the 14th-month pay, our university personnel are enjoying other benefits like hospital plan for our dependents; group life insurance program for all employees; healthcare or HMO; retirement which is noncontributory; and many other benefits and compensation especially for our faculty,” Chiu added.

Ongoing deadlock in CBA negotiations and benefits

With the ongoing deadlock in the 2019 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations, the remaining issues are the overload pay and retirement benefits. Atty. Karissa Tolentino-Maxino, 2019 CBA administration chief negotiator, informed that the administration has already submitted their respective position papers to the Secretary of Labor and Employment (SOLE). “I think within this month or next month, the Secretary of Labor will render its decision,” she stated.

When asked why the administration countered SUFA’s proposal of better overload pay and retirement benefits, Tolentino-Maxino said, “Basically, it’s not affordable and it’s not sustainable for the university.”

Tolentino-Maxino further emphasized that the basis of the CBA negotiations should only be 70% of tuition fee increments and carryover. She explained, “We only consider the 70% increment because that’s the most reliable and predictable source of revenue. Aside from that, it is also provided by law that we have to use the 70% for payment of salaries, wages, and allowances.”

“That’s the final offer that Silliman can give without compromising the operations of the institution and its ability to sustain the salaries and benefits that it grants to all its employees,” Tolentino-Maxino stated. She also informed that the given offers went through a series of computations against enrollment projections and different cost scenarios in the next two and succeeding years. 

“Silliman shouldn’t be forced to choose between the institution’s survival and SUFA’s demands because, in reality, SUFA’s position places the university in a very difficult situation,” she said.

Chiu also emphasized that the university did not increase tuition fee rates in the last several years.  “Despite the absence of any tuition increase, we provided them a 70% share based on the incremental increase in revenue yearly,” Chiu said.

Tolentino-Maxino also stated that if the administration grants all the demands of SUFA, they have calculated that the students will pay about P17,000 more per semester. “We don’t want to increase the tuition fees. Our offer to SUFA is the most we can give to them,” she remarked. 

Regarding the deadlock in CBA for the current negotiations, Atty. Marie Chielo H. Ybio, 2021 CBA administration chief negotiator, revealed that SUFA rejected the administration’s current offer of an across-the-board (ATB) salary increase which is at P500 for the first year, P1,100 for the second year, and P900 for the third year.

Ybio said that SUFA demanded P1,700 for the first year, the same figure as the second year, and P2,000 for the third year, but the administration stands that the proposal they presented to SUFA is already the best they can offer, given the revenues on hand. “We are willing to communicate with SUFA again if the offer is mutually beneficial to both parties,” Ybio clarified.

When asked about the administration’s plans and intentions to give employees more benefits as SUFA requested, Ybio said that the administration believes the present benefits are already quite generous. “If this is translated to monetary figures this will imply much more of a benefit to them compared to what is being offered of other schools or universities. It is already very generous to the faculty union,” Ybio added. 

On faculty opting to transfer

Ybio also shared the administration’s counterpart to SUFA’s statement about teachers opting to transfer to public universities and said, “We are not blind neither we are deaf to their pleas that they are the primary generator of the wealth of the university, but as for the administration, we also have the obligation to keep SU afloat and be running in the next 100 or 200 years or so.”

Administration’s transparency and sentiments towards SUFA

In response to claims that the administration is not transparent, Chiu emphasized that the administration provides SUFA with audited financial accounts and independent auditor reports on an annual basis. He also mentioned that anyone can access or request a copy of the financial statements at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) including its notes. 

“A person who knows to read, analyze, and understand financial statements could grasp or understand the nature of work quality, or significance of the items in each transaction as shown in the financial statements. It offers him or her the opportunity to see through the financial transaction and major objectives and activities of any institution or organization. However, the essence of transparency depends on the knowledge and the ability to interpret the real meaning of figures or numbers shown in the report,” Chiu remarked. 

Chiu also shared his sentiment on the issues with SUFA; “We are encouraging everyone to work together instead of creating internal problems and chaos that will disrupt us in seizing opportunities and strengthening our weaknesses.”

“With our limited resources, we have to determine the best way to allocate [these resources] in order to compete and coexist with the best universities in Asia and the rest of the world. Otherwise, we are destined for oblivion,” Chiu added.

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