Marcos values friendship with Duterte over her competence

By rejecting calls for the resignation of Vice President Sara Duterte as Education secretary, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. tends to show that he is not serious about seeing meaningful reforms in the education sector.

It has been established that the Philippines is in a learning crisis. Based on the World Bank’s 2022 report on the State of Global Learning Poverty, the country’s learning poverty ranks among the highest in Asia at 90.9%. More specifically, that means almost 91 % of Filipino students at age 10 are not able to read and understand age-appropriate text.

The report also shows the Philippines at the bottom in core subjects like reading, math and science, based on international standardized assessments.

In crisis situations, the prudent thing to do is choose the best, competent and most experienced leader to manage and get out of the crisis.

In the case of the Department of Education (DepEd) — one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Cabinet agencies with more than one million employees nationwide — the vice president doubling as head of the agency is obviously not among the best suited for the position. And she’s aware of it.

At the launch of DepEd’s MATATAG curriculum in Pasay City on Aug. 10 last year, Duterte said: “I did not come from the education sector. I don’t have an education background, so I cannot review what they (experts) are doing. And I rely on their expertise and all the stakeholders who did the review.”

MATATAG is an acronym for the adjusted K to 10 curriculum which hopes to resolve basic education challenges, namely: MA – Make the curriculum relevant to produce job-ready, active and responsible citizens; TA – Take steps to accelerate delivery of basic education facilities and services; TA – Take good care of learners by promoting learner well-being, inclusive education and a positive learning environment; and G – Give support to teachers to teach better.

Duterte’s undergraduate course was Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy from the San Pedro College in Davao City. Then, she obtained a Juris Doctor degree from the San Sebastian College in Manila in 2005, two years before she was elected vice mayor of Davao City, and mayor in 2010.

Her qualifications pale in comparison to the past DepEd occupants: Leonor Briones, Armin Luistro, Mona Valisno, among others, who were educators and respected in the field.

Shortly after her appointment, Duterte vowed to “solve all the problems of basic education” in six years. But she said she needed an additional P100 billion on top of the P710 billion budget for DepEd in 2023.

Of course she didn’t get what she wanted. She also failed to convince Congress to give her P150 million confidential funds for 2024, in addition to the P500 million allotted under the Office of the Vice President. In fact, the Romualdez-led House succeeded is removing all the P650-million confidential funds and realigned those to other priority programs.

She could probably say later that she failed to solve the country’s basic education woes because she did not get the money she had asked for.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), the largest teachers’ union in the country, has long been protesting against Duterte’s appointment to the DepEd, questioning her competence for the position and highlighting her inexperience and poor performance in handling the government agency with the biggest annual budget, which is at P758.60 billion for 2024.

Recently, calls for Duterte’s resignation came up again. On April 23, Manila Rep. Joel Chua said Duterte should give up the DepEd post “out of decency or delicadeza,” adding that her continued hold on the Cabinet post “is detrimental to education as a matter of accountability, character, integrity and competence.”

Similar calls were aired in January by Bayan Muna Chairman Neri Colmenares, former senator Antonio Trillanes IV and Ibarra “Barry” Gutierrez, former spokesman for ex-vice president Leni Robredo, amid the widening rift between the Dutertes and President Marcos. Colmenares said it may no longer be tenable for Duterte to be part of the Cabinet as an alter ego of the President.

But Marcos again said he did not see any reason to replace Duterte at DepEd, even after First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos said in an interview, “[B]ad shot na sa akin ‘yan.

Well, it is not expected that Marcos would heed the prodding of critics and opposition personalities to remove Duterte from DepEd. Hopefully, he is only waiting for a more opportune time to boot her out. In the meantime, keeping her in such a critical position amid a learning crisis shows his weakness as a leader who puts a premium on personal and political considerations over competence.

He would rather favor having Duterte in DepEd not because she is doing the best job but because of a personal favor for having agreed to slide down to run as vice president in 2022 despite the polls showing her to be the more valued presidential candidate by the voters.

On the heels of a leadership shake-up in the House of Representatives in May 2023 that pitted Speaker Martin Romualdez and former president Gloria Arroyo, who was demoted from senior deputy speaker to deputy speaker, Marcos told Duterte, “Sorry na lang, sa ayaw at gusto mo (I’m sorry, whether you like it or not), I’m still your No. 1 fan.”

He recalled during a speech in Liloan, Cebu that during the 2022 campaign, he and Duterte usually laughed together. “And the reason I made her laugh [is] because I told her dito sa mga gulong nangyayari (in the chaos that’s happening), I’ve just officially designated myself as your self-appointed official BFF (best friend forever),” Marcos said.

So there, the President would rather keep the friendship and be Duterte’s No. 1 fan than see the fulfillment of his goal for meaningful reforms in the education sector.


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.