Teachers and education in the Philippines are under siege. The Duterte government’s worsening attacks on all forms of dissent, disguised as a ‘whole-of-nation approach’ purportedly to end local communist insurgency, is taking its toll on the sector that is universally mandated to espouse and uphold social justice, human rights and democracy.
For persistently campaigning the educators’ rights and welfare, asserting the people’s right to education, and being critical of policies that harm the people’s interests, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers – Philippines (ACT) and its member unions have been the subject to Duterte government persecution, as with many other legal and progressive organizations in the country. From the malicious statements of top State officials to spurious banners and leaflets distributed in schools and communities, ACT and other legal groups are vilified and accused of being ‘communist fronts’ to justify the State attacks.
Since late 2018, ACT Philippines has recorded thirty-six cases of illegal police profiling against its members nationwide, as evidenced by leaked police correspondence and secret memoranda. The attacks intensified in the second half of 2019, with thirteen of our national and regional leaders being subject to direct surveillance, harassment and threats through phone calls, mails and unwanted visits from state security agents. The intelligence agency actively interfered with the conduct of union certification elections in one region, making rounds to vilify and red-tag ACT among teachers and school officials. ACT Teachers Party list Representative France Castro, ACT Region X President Ophelia Tabacon, Bulacan provincial coordinator Digna Mateo and former Region VI coordinator Mermalyn Bito- were victims of trumped-up charges, with the last two detained. Two union members, teacher-couple Ramil and Zhaydee Cabañelez survived an attempted, but not carried out extra-judicial killing against them. ACT Philippines’ national office is under the continuing threat of raids by State forces, as has happened to the offices of several organizations where search warrants are used to barge in on private offices to plant guns and explosives, and charge and detain everyone present at the time of the raids.
The Duterte government even uses education agencies as tools for its repression. The Department of Education (DepEd) ordered the closure of 55 IP community schools on account of military allegations that the schools were used as training grounds for insurrection. The DepEd, for the public basic education schools, and the Commission of Higher Education, for state colleges and universities, facilitate the military’s conduct of orientation-seminars for teachers and students about the Duterte government’s ‘whole-of-nation approach on counter-insurgency’ that attaches the terrorist tag to ACT and other legal organizations. The DepEd actively supports efforts to form and install a counter-union of teachers, and deliberately side-lines ACT in consultations despite ACT unions’ status as the sole and exclusive negotiating agent for the teaching personnel in public schools. Various education programs are now conducted in partnership with the military and police agencies. After conducting an investigation on purported recruitment of rebels in schools, the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Order, headed by Senator Rolando dela Rosa, the former police chief who directed the bloody war on drugs, passed dangerous recommendations that infringe on academic freedom. While the police and military insist on gaining access to schools, the Congress is pushing for the revival of the Reserved Officers Training Course, rejected by the people in 2002 due to rampant corruption and human rights violations. They are trying to revive the program for senior high school students who are very young (minors or nearly minors). Historical revisionism is being employed to create a generation of learners who will see Ferdinand Marcos as a hero and not as a dictator.
Teacher-unionists under the banner of ACT Philippines courageously stand their ground to defend their rights and contribute to the Filipino people’s broader fight against the creeping dictatorship and tyranny in the country. Vital to the struggle is the strong support and solidarity of fellow educators from around the globe through the inspiring leadership of Education International.
10 December, Human Rights Day, is a global day of action in support of human and trade union rights defenders in the Philippines. Find out more and get involved!