BY ALLIANCE OF CONCERNED TEACHERS
TEACHERS and education workers have been relentless in the pursuit to counter the declining quality of education by demanding from the government bigger budget allocation, decent salaries, and re-orientation of the curriculum towards the interest of national development.
Led by our union, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), we have initiated several dialogues with concerned agencies, lobbied in Congress, forged solidarities with other public and private sector workers, mounted bigger and bigger protests, and strengthened our collective and united resolve to better the state of education and other social services in the country. However, our just fight has alarmingly been met with hostility in the form of intensifying attacks and repressive measures against our rights and freedoms.
The year 2019 saw the gravest attacks and the most massive human rights violations perpetrated by the government against our sector. In January, the Philippine National Police (PNP) launched a nationwide profiling of ACT members and affiliates, which threatened the rights of and sowed fear among our over 200,000 membership. While our exposé of the profiling frustrated PNP’s efforts, the state has only grown more determined to stifle our strong voice and suppress our just fights.
In recent months, the government has launched targeted attacks against our leaders. Our Secretary General Raymond Basilio received several death threats — one of which was from a caller who identified himself as a military official from Davao.
The entire ACT Region III Union leadership also received similar death threats.
In Region V where Memorandum 32 is in place, our regional union President Oliver Lucenario reported of being under direct and active surveillance following four incidences of being handed an envelope containing extensive personal details about him, photos of him in the event he was in at the time, him in his union activities, photos of his wife and children, a copy of President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70, and a number to call with a ‘challenge’ and a password.
In CARAGA which has been under Martial Law for the past two years, ACT Region XIII Secretary Lai Consad have been subjected to sustained surveillance, tailing, and threats, with the most recent case involving a military intelligence agent who identified himself as an ‘agent of President Duterte.’
Two of our regional coordinators have recently been arrested on fabricated charges. ACT Bulacan Coordinator Digna Mateo was arrested in October 16, about a week after she reported and apprehended a riding-in-tandem who was tailing her as she conducted her school rounds to campaign for ACT Region III Union.
Then on Oct. 31, former ACT Provincial Coordinator Mermalyn Bito-on was included in the illegal mass arrest of a total of 57 individuals in Bacolod; she remains to be incarcerated despite the charges being dismissed for the majority of the Bacolod 57.
ACT Region X President Ophelia Tabacon, on the other hand, is being charged with a trumped-up case of arson and murder, topping the months of vilification and harassment she suffered from suspected state forces.
On Oct. 15, teacher-unionists from Bukidnon — Zhaydee and Ramil Cabañelez — were victims of frustrated extrajudicial killing by an unidentified masked assailant accompanied by three others. With the incident happening in their school, not only were the teachers’ lives put at risk but also the lives of their students who were inside the classroom wherein the shooting took place.
The same can be said about the intense military presence and operation in Samar — which is also included in Memorandum 32 — where school activities were disrupted as militaries bombed their communities last Oct. 26.
However, instead of urgently addressing these attacks and ensuring the rights and safety of teachers and students, both DepEd and CHED have allowed themselves to further be utilized by the state in its counterinsurgency program through its involvement in the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
In Region III, the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) intervened in the recently concluded certification election of public school teachers’ union by speaking to DepEd officials to redtag ACT and campaign against its election. The government further ensures that education is aligned with the objectives of the NTF-ELCAC through the launching of seminars, briefings, and other fora within school premises and attended by school officials, teachers, and students.
Police and military agents have been reported to be tagging as ‘communist fronts’ legitimate organizations such as ACT in its discussions. In some cases, such as in CAR and CARAGA, the names of our leaders were mentioned as alleged members of the CPP-NPA.
The further encroachment of military and police forces in our schools, sanctioned by no less than our education agencies, and the intensifying attacks against our rights and freedoms further impair the already poor state of our education. Not only are our schools in grim conditions, they have also been made unsafe by growing police and military presence and intervention. Not only are teachers and students destitute, they are also subjected to various forms of rights violations.
Hence, as we struggle to better the quality of education, so should we resist the growing fascist attacks on the entire education sector. The state must be held accountable for its violations against teachers, students, and the rest of the Filipino people. We demand that the government address the perennial problems of the Philippine education system and heed our just demands. The denial of decent pay, sufficient resources, and a nationalist education is an injustice not only to the youth but to the entire country.
On Dec. 10, education workers will join other sectors as we commemorate the International Day for Human Rights and register our resistance against the state’s fascist attacks on the people, and call for social justice./PN