Beyond “peace and discipline”: Media highlight concerns over Sara as DepEd chief amidst education crisis

CHEERS TO media for highlighting the grave concerns over the  appointment of Sara Duterte, presumptive vice president-elect, as the head of the Department of Education (DepEd). 

Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.’s choice of Duterte for that post was announced  during a press conference on Wednesday evening, May 11 by the presumptive president-elect Marcos Jr. himself. On May 13, Bulatlat, Rappler and CNN Philippines reported the reactions of teachers’ groups, human rights organizations, and the business sector. 

Before the official campaign period in January this year, Marcos Jr. at a press briefing had made known Duterte’s preference for the Department of National Defense (DND). 

Apparently, since their presumed election, there has been little talk about the issue within the UniTeam. On same day that Marcos’ choice was announced, Duterte’s spokesperson, Christina Garcia Frasco, reiterated Duterte’s preference for the DND position in interviews with Stanley Palisada on ANC’s Headstart and Pinky Webb on CNN Philippines’ The Source

The next day, May 12 Duterte thanked Marcos Jr. for her possible designation as DepEd head and explained that while she and Marcos had discussed her taking the DND portfolio, he changed his mind, and she was accepting the decision to avoid “intrigue” and halt any talk of a “rift” in the UniTeam. In the same statement, Duterte also outlined her vision as education chief as the making of “…a future generation of patriotic Filipinos that advocate peace and discipline in their respective communities.”

A range of reactions 

Bulatlat’s report focused on two statements: one from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), a group of progressive education workers, and another from Karapatan, an alliance of human rights organizations.

Raymond Basilio, ACT Secretary General, said the education sector needs a leader that recognizes its problems: the declining quality of education, the low salaries of teachers, and “the degeneration of the country’s sense of history and grasp of truth.” Basilio questioned Duterte’s ability to address these, given that she “has no track record” in education, pointing out that the learning crisis had worsened under her father’s administration. Basilio pointed to the red-tagging of teachers, the shutdowns of Lumad schools and the violent war on drugs that persisted under Sara Duterte’s time as Davao City Mayor.  He also scored her proposal for mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) as an example of her “militaristic” approach to education. 

Cristina Palabay, secretary of Karapatan, warned against a “tsunami” of fake news and disinformation as well as censorship. Palabay stressed that with Duterte at the helm of the education department, the public should do all it can to counter the “miseducation of young Filipinos.” Palabay noted that government officials have already red-tagged publisher Adarna House, which recently put on sale its children’s books on  the Martial Law regime.

ACT was cited again in Rappler’s report, which also referred to statements by two other groups, the Teachers Dignity Coalition (TDC), an NGO working on teachers rights and welfare, and Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), a non-profit advocacy group of the business sector. 

TDC shared the same conviction that the Education Secretary should be someone with experience in education. PBEd called on the next administration to take “decisive actions to end the learning crisis,” and to involve the private sector as an “education governance” instrument. 

In its online report, CNN Philippines shared insights  Edilberto De Jesus, former DepEd Secretary, who was interviewed by Rico Hizon on CNN Philippines’ The Final Word , and Senator-elect Risa Hontiveros, who was interviewed by Mike Navallo on ANC’s Rundown

De Jesus stressed that the education department is one of the largest in the government and comes with an equally complex bureaucracy. De Jesus added that Duterte’s association with Marcos Jr. is one of the problems she would have to face as DepEd chief. CNN Philippines’ report recalled that in 2020, Marcos called for a revision of history books that he claimed were propagating lies and “political propaganda” against the Marcoses. 

CMFR notes how presenting history to please the President would place Duterte in direct conflict with historians and those who reject all attempts to change the facts of  Martial Law. 

For her part, Hontiveros pointed out that DepEd consistently receives the highest budget allocation from Congress and must contend with the “education crisis”. As such, she expects its leader to be  from the education sector, and an expert with an established track record who would understand the many problems of the country’s education system.

These reports gathered various perspectives that are concerned with the  DepEd appointment as a critical choice. The promptly provided such a critical evaluation of Marcos Jr.’s first presumptive Cabinet appointment. 

Media should continue to focus their attention on these early decisions as these indicate the quality of judgment of Marcos Jr. Journalists must so inform the public to enable it to  judge how well it is being served by those it has elevated to high office.