Editorial: Of dunces and terrorists

Editorial Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan
Editorial Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan

Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte hogged news headlines and social media memes for her request of confidential funds amounting to P650 million to carry out in 2024 the Department of Education’s (DepEd) programs to counter what she claims to be the active recruitment of Filipino youth for extremism and terrorism.

Last Sept. 27, the House of Representatives approved the 2024 national budget but realigned the confidential funds requested by the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the DepEd to agencies directly mandated for national security.

According to a 2015 joint circular, confidential and intelligence funds are lump sums allocated to civilian government and uniformed and military personnel and intelligence practitioners, respectively, to carry out their functions, particularly in surveillance and national security.

For decades, the secrecy surrounding its actual use; the absence of checks and balances; and potential for misuse and abuse are reasons cited by critics calling for the scrapping of confidential and intelligence funds.

Yet, in ways she may not have envisioned, Duterte has done an essential service of reminding citizens that their stake in making democracy work demands careful and sustained scrutiny of and demand for authorities’ transparency and accountability, particularly in public spending.

As head of the agency mandated to provide quality education, Duterte must appreciate the significant opportunities for civic literacy when she was grilled by opposition lawmakers to defend what she claims to be the intimate connection between education and intelligence.

In a Sept. 11 article posted by the Philippine News Agency, Duterte explained her belief that basic education and national security are “intertwined.”

Saying that the DepEd has proof of aggressive recruitment of the youth by individuals and groups for “illegal drugs, criminality, violent extremism, and terrorism,” Duterte asserted that her request for confidential funds is legal and justifiable.

While the vice president said that she is waiting for the ACT Teachers Party List, a persistent critic, to show “documented proof” that the OVP is guilty of “wrongdoing” in the use of confidential funds, citizens are chafing for Duterte to explain the abrasive difference between citizens’ daily realities of struggling with budgets whittled down by the rising prices of basic goods and services and the OVP’s reality of P125 million in confidential funds received from the Office of the President in December 2022 and spent within 11 days (or 19 days, as Duterte insisted), which translates to P6.5 million per day from Dec. 13 to Dec. 31, 2022.

In contrast, the OVP under Leni Robredo’s administration did not request for and received zero confidential funds during her last full term in 2021. Under Republic Act 11639 or the 2022 General Appropriations Act, the OVP is not entitled to confidential or intelligence funds.

Duterte’s preoccupation with confidential funds may be a hangover of access from her stint as mayor of Davao City. In a Sept. 29 report, PhilStar.com cited COA’s annual audit reports that showed how Davao City Government’s confidential funds increased after Duterte succeeded her father Rodrigo as the local chief executive: from P144 million in 2016 to P293 million in 2017, P420 million in 2018, and P460 million yearly in 2019-2022.

As head of the primary education sector, Duterte should realign DepEd’s budget with priorities aimed at providing quality education to the Filipino youth. Generations of non-readers, inadequate digital learners and teachers, undercompensated faculty, perennial lack of school buildings and classrooms—responding to these stark realities merits the expenditure of taxes and public funds more than the red-tagging of campus activists and infiltration of the “peace zones” of schools with police agents and informers.


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