Not enough or too much: Rappler challenges Duterte’s claim to end education woes

CHEERS TO Rappler for its in-depth report on the claim by Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte that she is asking for an additional PHP100 billion so she could end the problems of public education. 

Last month, the House of Representatives (HOR), with hardly any questions had approved for Duterte’s two offices, the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Office of the Vice President (OVP), a total of PHP712.3B appropriation in the national budget, Duterte’s additional PHP100B request is still pending approval.

Most news organizations relied solely on statements from the HOR budget meetings. But Rappler’s Bonz Magsambol consulted other sources who provided the necessary context on the problems hounding the public education system, since it is only with some background that the public can judge whether Duterte is making sense or just boasting. 

Rappler’s report cited the point made by the Deputy Minority House Leader and ACT Teachers representative Rep. France Castro who said that the additional 100 billion is too small. DepEd should have asked for six per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or PHP1.4 trillion. The Duterte request for 100B is hardly a credible amount to address the educational system’s problems.

The Philippine Business for Education (PBED) echoed the same concern. Lovelaine Basillote, PBED’s executive director, said that the amount would not help Duterte solve the problems of basic education. Basillote emphasized that learning losses will continue to thrive unless the government gives teachers proper student-centric training—which requires a substantial amount to do..  

The experts’ assessments thus raise doubts about what purpose the money would really be for.

Educational psychologist Lizamarie Olegario also questioned the accuracy of Duterte’s claim. The report emphasized that Duterte has yet to present plans for the education sector other than the adaptation of the previous administration’s Basic Education Development Plan 2030; and the possible return of  mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

The article also noted criticisms against the inclusion of confidential funds in Duterte’s requested budget: PHP150 million for DepEd and PHP500 million for the OVP. Critics said that the combined amount could have been allocated “to build classrooms, address shortage of textbooks, and hire more personnel.” 

Rappler pressed further, explaining that infrastructure was only part of the bigger problem— the dreary state of Filipino learners as reflected in the country’s low rating in global assessments. (See: World Bank and the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment)

Other experts interviewed discussed the reasons that may have contributed to this embarrassment.

Dr. Ed Fermin of the National Teachers College (NTC) stressed the need to reduce the administrative duties of teachers so they can focus only on teaching as part of the solution. Olegario said that as long as the country’s malnutrition levels remain high, the intelligence quotient of students will continue to drop.

The Vice President’s promise is as ambitious as it is arrogant. It should be noted that her father, former President Rodrigo Duterte, also promised to end the drug problem during his term but failed. Obviously, without any actual plan, the younger Duterte will just repeat her father’s mistake.

Duterte’s empty claim was clearly made only to get additional funds. The lack of resources for any national problem has been a permanent challenge. There is every reason to check what purpose additional funds will serve. Unfortunately, it is not enough for just one report to do this. 

Without an expanded media chorus raising such questions, elected officials will be further emboldened to do as they please.