Education linked to national security, VP says of DepEd budget
“Education is intertwined with national security,” Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte told reporters on Monday who asked her about the Department of Education’s (DepEd) request for the second year in a row for P150 million in confidential funds under its proposed 2024 budget of P758.59 billion.
“It’s very important that we mold children who are patriotic; children who will love our country and who will defend our country,” Duterte said on the sidelines of Brigada Eskwela’s national kickoff held in Tarlac province.
She added that her department would leave it to Congress to decide whether to grant her request, saying, “We just [submitted] our proposal and we leave the decision to them.”
To a question about what the confidential funds would be spent on, Duterte cited a joint circular issued in 2015 that indicated how the allocation should be used and liquidated.
“By its nature, it’s confidential funds so we cannot discuss how it will be used in the operations,” she said.
Last year, Duterte justified her request for confidential funds by citing some of the problems faced by DepEd and students such as illegal drugs, recruitment by insurgency groups as well as terrorism and violent extremism.
According to her, “very good surveillance and intelligence” were necessary to come up with solutions and ensure the success of the department’s projects and programs.
More recently, DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa said that confidential funds would be used to collect information on illegal recruitment in schools and stop such activities.
But for a teachers’ group and Makabayan lawmakers, the money would be better spent on building more classrooms, raising the salaries of teachers or on other problems plaguing the education sector.
‘Department of Surveillance’
House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro asked if DepEd had become a “police or military agency that was conducting surveillance on students and teachers,” saying it should change its name to the “Department of Surveillance.”
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party-list representative added that the three-member Makabayan bloc would push for the scrapping of the agency’s P150-million confidential funds. She also suggested that the allocation be realigned instead to the early child care development program which has a budget of only P221 million.
For House Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas, confidential funds have no place in DepEd which should prioritize funding for adequate facilities, learning materials, and teachers’ incentives.
“There are still so many funding gaps in the DepEd for facilities, equipment and benefits for its teachers, and the lack of funds is always used as an excuse. We need classrooms, not barracks,” she said.
The agency, Brosas stressed, should focus on repairing classrooms damaged by recent typhoons, saying that children would be “more patriotic if the government [would] provide sufficient support for schools and basic social services.”
“We cannot address the learning crisis in the country if the government refuses to provide sufficient budget allocations for school infrastructure, technology and teacher training. The welfare of learners should be our priority,” she said.
ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio echoed the lawmakers’ sentiments, saying that public schools were still hounded by problems like shortage of classrooms and learning resources which could not be solved by confidential funds.
“DepEd’s mandate is to make sure that the constitutional right of all Filipino youth to quality education is fulfilled. The DepEd is not in any way part of the security cluster of the government,” he said in a text message. “Books and classrooms should be funded, not surveillance operations.”
An ecumenical youth group also opposed the “gargantuan” request for confidential funds in basic education, noting how the government was also pushing for the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program for students.
“With the railroading of mandatory ROTC, as well as the desperate linking of education to counterinsurgency, it’s as if Sara Duterte wants to make child soldiers out of elementary and high school students,” said Kej Andres, spokesperson for the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines.
Instead of addressing the deficiencies in in-person classes, Andres lamented how taxes from their families were being channeled to counterinsurgency programs in schools, which were “zones of peace.”
“Students are uncomfortable with the presence of the [military] inside schools because soldiers are the number one human rights violators, have been culpable of crimes done within the ROTC program, and have continuously stifled academic freedom in schools,” he said.
Confidential and intelligence funds are used for surveillance and information gathering activities related to national security and peace and order.
The proposed 2024 National Expenditure Program includes P4.864 billion in confidential funds and P5.277 billion in intelligence expenses, or a total of P10.141 billion.
In past years, lawmakers had criticized the confidential and classified nature of these allocations and moved that they be scrapped.