Faced with an education crisis that threatens to spin further out of control, the Philippines’ Department of Education (DepEd) proposed solution is tightened state surveillance in schools using confidential funds.
At a Senate budget hearing, Vice President and DepEd Secretary Sara Duterte, daughter of former president and strongman Rodrigo Duterte, justified
her bloated Php 150-million (US$2,646,928.50) confidential fund proposal by suggesting that her Department needed to ramp up its monitoring of schools to ensure the success of its campaigns.
“The success of a project, of [an] activity or program really depends upon very good intelligence and surveillance because you want to target specific issues and challenges,” Duterte said, citing, for example, “sexual grooming of learners, recruitment in terrorism and violent extremism,” as well as drug use among students.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, one of the few opposition members in Congress, blasted
this plan and called it state spying on schoolchildren. She also pointed out that the DepEd’s proposed confidential fund exceeds even that of the country’s national defense department.
Instead, Hontiveros proposed to channel the proposed confidential sum away from surveillance operations and into other educational programs.
Non-profit group Alliance of Concerned Teachers agreed with Hontiveros and in a public demonstration last month challenged Duterte – and the Marcos administration more broadly – to address crucial personnel and infrastructure shortages that bog down the country’s education system.
“We need a higher education budget, more classrooms, teachers, education support personnel, functional facilities and sufficient instructional and learning materials,” group chairman Vladimer Quetua said. “We do not need confidential and intelligence funds at all.”
According to the 2023 State of Philippine Education Report, published by the Philippine Business for Education, an education non-profit, the country is currently undergoing a significant learning crisis. Some 90 percent of school children aged 10 years and above are unable to read simple texts, and the majority of students fall short of proficiency levels set by the Program for International Student Assessment.
Quality education also remains largely inaccessible, with only less than a quarter of adults aged 25 and over finishing college.