During the budget deliberations for next year, Michael Poa, spokesperson for the Philippine Department of Education, announced on September 4, 2023, that 16 high schools in Metro Manila are allegedly involved into activities for the recruitment of members for the communist rebel group the New People’s Army (NPA). The Department of Education, however, could neither specifically name the accused schools nor verify the information accurately. Secretary of Education and Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio added that “learners and teachers” are the target of the Department of Education’s surveillance activities regarding possible NPA recruitment as well as drug-related activities in schools.
The Department of Education needs about 150 million Philippine Pesos (PHP) in confidential funds for these measures. The amount requested by the Department of Education even exceeds the PHP 101 million in confidential funds proposed by the Department of Defense. The Office of the Vice President has also requested a budget of PHP 500 million in confidential funds for 2024. Duterte-Carpio’s handling of confidential funds has already been highly controversial: During her time as Davao City mayor, confidential funds doubled in 2017 and continued to increase in the following years; as of 2019, these funds amount to about PHP460 million annually.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros, who is also chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality, called with respect to the Department of Education’s proposals to monitor schools to respect the rights of students for a learning environment of “freedom and in dignity”. Such surveillance operations, according to Hontiveros, should also consider the safety of children from potential abuses by the government.
Moreover, on September 12, 2023, Hontiveros criticized Vice President Duterte-Carpio’s memorandum to change school curricula content regarding the naming of the dictatorship under Ferdinand Marcos Sr. as a revision of history. The said memorandum of the Department of Education, dated September 6, called for the deletion of the name “Marcos” from the 6th grade curriculum when referring to “dictatorship” at the time of martial law (1972-1986). In this context, the chairperson of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ATC) network, Vladimir Quetua, also expressed great concern: this is “a disservice to the countless victims of his dictatorship and an affront to the pursuit of historical accuracy and truth”. ATC party representative, France Castro, also called for an official audit of the use of confidential funds during Duterte-Carpio’s time as Davao City mayor.
Ex-President Rodrigo Duterte and father of Vice-President Duterte-Carpio stressed in the debate on the use of confidential funds that his daughter should use them against “communists in Congress”. Duterte-Carpio described critics of the use of confidential funds as “enemies of the nation” who would block peace-building measures.
Photo © Raffy Lerma