Teachers’ group to VP Duterte: Use DepEd funds for shortages, not red hunt

By: Jane Baustista, Marlon Ramos, Melvin Gascon - Philippine Daily Inquirer | September 07,2023 - 08:00 PM

Vice President Sara Duterte for story: Teachers’ group to VP Duterte: Use DepEd funds for shortages, not red hunt

Vice President Sara Duterte, who also heads the Department of Education (File photo from the Senate Public Relations and Information Bureau)

MANILA, Philippines — The funds of the Department of Education (DepEd) are better used for addressing shortages in classrooms and armchairs than for spying on students and educators with supposed communist links, The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said on Wednesday in a message addressed to Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte.

The ACT described DepEd’s rationale for seeking P150 million in confidential funds for next year as “feeble and questionable” considering the perennial lack of facilities and resources.

“The shortages are enormous and these are the real issues plaguing our education system,” said Vladimer Quetua, the ACT chair.

Two senators also expressed reservations about DepEd’s request for secret funds, which came under heightened scrutiny following Duterte’s admission that her department had been monitoring its own personnel and students in connection with purported recruitment activities of the New People’s Army (NPA) in public schools.

“I support DepEd’s goal of making our places of learning safe. However, government efforts should not trample on the rights of our innocent and vulnerable students, teachers, parents and school personnel,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in a statement.

Students, she stressed, should be protected from clandestine operations against criminals.

Not targets for spying

“Children are never legitimate targets for spying,” the senator said, adding: “Keeping our children safe includes keeping them away from the potential abuse associated with state surveillance.”

Sen. Francis Escudero pressed DepEd to provide Congress a breakdown of how it intended to spend its secret funds next year.

“There are specific rules as to where confidential and intelligence funds can be spent, how this can be spent, and to disabuse the mind of people that this is like a secret fund, it is not. What is considered secret is the submission of expenditures but [there] are only specific items that you can spend it on,” Escudero added.

Confidential funds are lump sum items primarily used for an agency’s surveillance activities. Like intelligence funds used for gathering information related to national security, confidential funds are difficult to examine because they are not subject to regular audit procedures.

Besides DepEd’s proposed secret expenditures, Duterte’s other agency, the Office of the Vice President (OVP), is seeking P500 million in confidential funds. (See related story on Page A4.)

The two offices were given similar amounts in this year’s budget, but it was recently revealed that the OVP in 2022 received P221 million in confidential funds after making a request to the Office of the President.

Reached by the Inquirer on Wednesday, Education Undersecretary Michael Poa declined to give further comment, saying the matters raised were already addressed by DepEd during the budget hearing at the Senate.

On Tuesday, Poa reiterated DepEd’s claim that 16 public high schools in Metro Manila were involved in NPA’s recruitment activities.

But he refused to identify the schools, citing the “sensitive nature of the issue” while insisting that the information had been vetted by the country’s intelligence agency.

“We have no specific information at the moment as to when these activities started. As mentioned, this is an ongoing operation and we are getting as much info as we can,” Poa said in a Viber message to reporters.

“We are addressing the issue with the relevant law enforcement agencies and crafting awareness programs for our learners,” he added.

But Quetua of ACT said DepEd’s request for the hard-to-audit surveillance funds went beyond DepEd’s primary mandate and undermined the education sector’s more pressing needs.

Classrooms, armchairs

Based on his group’s computation, there is a shortfall of over 150,000 classrooms nationwide while around 13 million armchairs are needed for the number of enrolled students this school year.

“If DepEd truly cares about the safety of students, it should provide adequate classrooms and learning materials… Confidential funds cannot solve the breadth and depth of the learning crisis,” Quetua said.

“It is absurd that [Duterte] asserts that education is intertwined with national security while she fails to see that poor learners’ performance is directly interrelated with the classroom and other education shortages,” he said.

The chair of Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC), Benjo Basas, also urged DepEd to qualify what it meant by NPA recruitment in schools.

“Because if it is true that there is recruitment in schools, the teachers could easily address that. I don’t think our teachers would allow that,” he said.

The TDC has not monitored such activities in schools, Basas said, adding that DepEd should be able to “positively identify” students who went underground and became combatants.

“We understand that the information is confidential because it concerns security but all high schools in [the National Capital Region] can be a suspected NPA recruitment school because of that statement,” he said.

According to Hontiveros, DepEd’s monitoring of teachers and students “raises a lot of alarming questions” regarding the persons involved in carrying out undercover operations.

“Are there teachers or principals taking part in surveillance activities?” the senator asked.

“I wish to remind the DepEd that the government has the primordial duty of fostering an environment of freedom and dignity for our young students, based on both local and international laws,” she said.

She pointed out that DepEd’s proposed allocation for confidential funds was bigger than the Department of National Defense’s request of about P101 million for the same purpose.

“I reiterate my call to reallocate the DepEd’s proposed confidential budget… and for DepEd to focus on fulfilling its basic mandate of providing accessible, equitable and quality basic education,” Hontiveros said.

“Let’s set our priorities straight and ensure that not a single peso in public funds is wasted on vague and/or counterproductive measures,” she said.


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