First of all, I would like to extend my personal apologies to each and everyone in media who requested an interview with me when my selection as incoming Secretary of Education was announced. I could not immediately answer your queries because I had to undergo discernment process first.
In our culture, decisions are not made by one’s lonesome self. I had to consult my husband, my two sons, one daughter-in-law and one grandchild. In turn, my husband convened the families of my brother and sisters in Dumaguete. My eldest sister consulted her children in Bicol. I also consulted my eldest brother and his family here in Manila.
I sought the advice of the Convenors of Social Watch Philippines since the latter will be greatly affected by my expected “cross-over” to the Department of Education.
I sought the advice of the President of Silliman University, whose Board of Trustees I chair, and President-Mayor Estrada of Manila who heads the Board of Regents of Universidad de Manila, with me as Chairman Designate.
Finally, I sought discernment and guidance through prayer with members of different faith groups.
Why did I accept the offer of President-elect Duterte?
All my life, I never applied for the various positions I have held; I was invited. I have been Secretary to the Commission on Audit, Vice-President for Finance and Administration of the University of the Philippines, Treasurer of the Philippines and Concurrent Presidential Adviser on Social Development.
The same was true when I was chosen as President of Freedom from Debt Coalition and Lead Convenor of Social Watch Philippines.
I did not apply for the position as Secretary of Education. President-elect Duterte and I had not even met each other when the offer was made. I am therefore grateful to President-elect Duterte for selecting me for this post.
I have repeatedly stated that Bro. Armin Luistro, our present Secretary of Education, should be retained so he can shepherd the ongoing implementation of K-12 to its successful conclusion. The process has been going on for the past four years.
1. All my life I have been exposed to the challenges of education in the Philippines. I come from a family of teachers. My parents, aunts and uncles, brother and sisters, nephews, nieces and even grandchildren are teachers. During the war years my mother taught me how to write, using banana leaves as paper and sharpened bamboo sticks as pencils.
I have lived through the travails of teachers–low pay, long hours, huge debts and physical difficulties. As an elementary school pupil, I have experienced walking long distances to and from school, sat in stifling, overcrowded class rooms, and endured hunger and thirst even as I struggled to learn.
2. I have been involved in decades-long campaigns to advance the cause of education. As President of Freedom from Debt Coalition I led in the campaign to reduce the crushing debt burden of the country to free more resources for education and social development.
Since its creation in 2006, the Alternative Budget Initiative led by Social Watch Philippines has always advocated for higher budget allocations for education. Every year, SWP has successfully convinced the legislature to increase budget allocations for education.
Education For All is a major Millennium Development Goal. It is an equally urgent goal among our 17 Social Development Goals, of which our government is one of the signatories. Social Watch Philippines has always insisted that Education is severely underfunded even as it has the largest budget allocation. International standards require at least 6% of GDP to be allocated for education. Present calculations are at 3%.
I therefore accepted the nomination not for my own sake, because I don’t need another cabinet position, but because it is an opportunity and a tremendous challenge for all who believe in education to contribute to reforms and put into practice our lifetime advocacies.
Concerns about K-12
The position of Social Watch Philippines on education, specifically on K-12 are all a matter of record. There are two major concerns: the desperate need for more funding for Senior High School and the displacement of students from poor families and remote rural areas. In addition, teachers of First Year and Second Year in universities will be displaced because there will be no college students for the next two years.
Many schools have been preparing for these challenges for four years.
We are aware that contingency measures are being adopted by both CHED and DepEd. These have to be closely monitored to ensure that identified challenges are met.
K-12 and the incoming administration
It must be emphasized that implementation of the laws on K-12 started four years ago. The curriculum contents of Grades 1-5 and 7-10 are already changed.
The opening of the current school year is on June 13 under the aegis of the present Secretary of Education. The new curriculum for Grade 5 will be implemented and Grade 11 will be launched.
Institutional and curricular changes are already being implemented in response to the requirements of the two laws mandating K-12.
The new administration will come in on July 1; by then Grade 11 of K-12 will be in place.
What can be done by the incoming administration at this time is to monitor closely the implementation of Grade 11 starting June 13. We have been receiving feedback on K-12 which we will pass on to the present leadership of the Department of Education.
In the meantime, a transition team is being organized to ensure orderly and seamless transfer of duties. The DepEd, under the leadership of Sec. Armin Luistro is giving full cooperation and support to the incoming Team.
Special interests of the incoming Secretary
Social Watch has always maintained that the funding allocation for Alternative Learning Systems is inadequate. Without doubt, not all pupils will be absorbed into the K-12 program. Provision has to be made for alternative learning systems which will ensure that “no one will be left behind”.
As incoming Secretary, I have a special interest in Philippine culture and the arts. These should spring from our historical experiences as a people.
The media and reforms in DepEd
There is heightened expectation for change, not only in education but in all aspects of our national life. To achieve these changes, particularly in DEPED the support of media is crucial and indispensable.
In all my years as a social activist, media has supported our campaigns. With their help and consistent coverage, the problem of our foreign debt became a national issue. The campaigns of Social Watch Philippines on the national budget, the economy, lump sums, pork barrel and the infamous development acceleration program would not have caught the attention of the public without massive media coverage.
I look forward to working once more with media on basic education reforms. No one person can achieve these difficult goals without everyone’s support, particularly media. Education is not only for educators. It is for all. (June 6, 2016)