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When Sara militarized the DepEd

No past secretary of education had ever done it. Simply, it is not done. Militarism in the education bureaucracy is not within its mandate.

Jun 24, 2024

Antonio J. Montalvan II


5-minute read

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No past secretary of education had ever done it. Simply, it is not done. Militarism in the education bureaucracy is not within its mandate.

One year after assuming the education post, Sara Duterte appointed two retired military generals to sub-cabinet posts in her department in June 2023. There are two implications to this move. One, she was casually detached from the real mission of DepEd, notwithstanding the education crisis it was supposed to address (i.e., low quality of our basic education, a severe classroom shortage, learning resources deficit, etc.). Sara never understood the nature of her job at DepEd.

And two, Sara can only apply to government work what her little mind only knows: a regime of fear and tyranny that strikes subservience, the template that the Duterte family had long used in Davao city to perpetuate themselves in power forever and ever.

In June 2023 when the appointments took place, Sara was certainly looking forward to her prized bonanza – an aggregate of P650 million confidential funds not subject to audit. Again, this was something she was long accustomed to be entitled with. As Davao city mayor from 2016 to 2022, she was allocated a staggering P2.607 billion in confidential funds, or P460 million per year, surpassing highly urbanized cities such as Manila (P120 million), Cebu (P7.38 million), Makati (P240 million) and Quezon City (P100 million).

She had probably thought that she could continue to play the spoiled child syndrome as vice president and DepEd secretary. It was a predilection that was completely frivolous.

While she did not get her dream role in the Marcos Jr. cabinet as secretary of national defense, it appears that she had plans of turning the DepEd into a mini national defense portfolio funded by funds meant for surveillance work. That seemed to be her game plan when she appointed the two retired military generals. As we know by now, that game plan was thwarted when she received a powerful public backlash in November 2023 over her enormous confidential funds. She was forced to abandon her candy.

What did she do with her two military generals? She appointed Major General Nicolas Mempin as undersecretary, and Brigadier General Noel Baluyan as assistant secretary. She gave them charge of the DepEd’s administration strand. Like a true Duterte who trusts only the people they have worked with in Davao city, Mempin was once the commander of Task Force Davao, and had also commanded the army’s 10th Infantry Division that had jurisdiction over the Davao region.

But there’s a catch. Prior to such appointments, she had previously appointed Mempin as “technical consultant” in DepEd with a monthly salary of P80,000. His job function was questionable. It was to provide high-level policy on “topics that are confidential in nature.” Notice that keyword again – confidential – an essential password for Sara.

Mempin’s and Baluyan’s appointments naturally bypassed career education officials who had the expertise to administer DepEd. It was also suspicious as to why they were given charge of administration. In administration, one has access to all the files of the entire DepEd bureaucracy.

What exactly was their marching order from Sara? That was soon revealed to time with the two generals’ appointment.

That same month, DepEd issued an internal memo directing all its regional directors to submit a complete list to the central office of all teachers who are members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). The order was fast; issued on June 14, it required a deadline on June 21. In fact, it wanted a complete dossier: the division, school, name and position of teachers deemed as “ACT Union-affiliated.” The memo did not state the purpose of the order, but it was plain to see that it was profiling.

Of course, it was already red tagging even at that point. DepEd teachers belong to other unions aside from ACT, such as the Teachers Dignity Coalition and the DepEd Teachers’ Union. Why single out ACT? Earlier in March 2023, she had called out ACT as a “lover of the useless ideologies.” There you have it.

With her very limited militarist mind, Sara naturally was not able to address the pressing issues in the DepEd that had more important bearings on nation building. Classroom shortage intensified under watch. Beginning with a 91,000-classroom deficit when she assumed office in 2022, it rose tremendously to 159,000 a year later.

This January 2024, Sara promised that the DepEd would implement policies that will increase the benefits and net pay of all teachers nationwide. She never got to show word of honor for that promise six months later.

The day she resigned last week was also the day the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment 2022 Creative Thinking came out – the Philippines was at the bottom with three other countries: Albania, Uzbekistan and Morocco. The miserable result was a reflection of the quality of our basic education.

Her resignation is one of the happiest news in the current administration. The Filipino populace can tell who the real public servants are by their deeds.

Sara Duterte is no crisis manager. Let us refine that – she knows nothing about public servanthood.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.

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