MANILA, Philippines — Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco yesterday apologized to senators over the inappropriate behavior of an official who texted the senators to ask for VIP treatment for the Department of Tourism (DOT) in the budget deliberations.

Frasco personally apologized during the Senate plenary deliberations at past midnight yesterday after Cynthia Lagdameo Carrion, general manager of the DOT-attached agency Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA), drew senators’ ire for her barrage of text messages demanding that the DOT be fielded first in the interpellation.

The final stretch of the government budget deliberations started last Monday morning and ended before dawn yesterday, apparently getting on the nerves of Carrion, who is more known in the sports sector as president of the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines.

Carrion is also a close friend of former president and incumbent Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, serving as the latter’s tourism undersecretary and also commissioner of the Philippine Sports Commission.

“We’ve been working here waiting for all departments to be deliberated upon. We are doing our job. No one has the right to tell us to stop talking here. Who are you to tell us to stop asking questions?” Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said, addressing Carrion, who was made to sit on the plenary floor.

“It was very surprising that this person, who was a family friend of mine, has been texting insulting messages, like to Sen. Risa Hontiveros, to stop asking questions, because you want the DOT to be next in line,” Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said, referring to Hontiveros’ interpellation of another agency before the DOT.

“That is not proper. That is inappropriate,” Zubiri added.

A fuming Hontiveros also took the floor to manifest her disappointment at Carrion’s “sense of entitlement” to demand that the senators adjust their time to accommodate the DOT.

“This is about respect. We are just doing our mandate here. I take offense that our institution is being texted such messages,” Hontiveros said.

When allowed to speak on behalf of the agency, Frasco said she was also appalled at the “highly inappropriate, unacceptable and out-of-line actions” of Carrion, whom she described as a newly appointed official at the PRA.

Frasco added that when Carrion approached her that the DOT should be first fielded for interpellation, the DOT chief told the latter: “We cannot do that, because the Senate is an independent body, and we must fully respect their schedule, their discretion, their time. We wait like everybody else, because we are in their house.”

The PRA chief defied Frasco’s orders when she sent the text messages to the senators, according to DOT chief.

While Carrion had already apologized to the senators on the sidelines of the budget sessions, Frasco said she has ordered an investigation “to mete out the appropriate penalty that is appropriate to the impropriety of her actions.”

“Since I am the head of the DOT, of which the PRA is an attached agency, I would just like to emphasize our due respect to the Senate and to your exercise of your duty,” Frasco added.

Non-teaching personnel

To help decongest teachers’ workload and improve the quality of their teaching, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian is proposing the allocation of P1.9 billion for the hiring of non-teaching personnel.

Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate committee on basic education, noted that the proposed 2024 national budget has no allocation for the hiring of non-teaching personnel.

“We recommended an allocation of P1.9 billion, I know it’s a substantial amount to hire 5,000 administrative officers and 3,000 project development officers to help our teachers unload their administrative responsibilities. This is one of the low-hanging fruits in terms of improving efficiency in our classrooms,” he said.

The senator is specifically seeking augmentation under the Department of Education (DepEd)’s Personnel Services for the creation of 5,000 positions for Administrative Officer II and 3,000 for Project Development Officer I, citing the Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office.

Gatchalian pointed out how the congestion of teachers’ workload has affected the quality of teaching in public schools.

In 2019, the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) showed that actual teaching is sidelined by other administrative and student support roles of teachers, which include their participation in programs like mass immunizations, deworming and elections, among others.

Last year, Gatchalian urged the DepEd to study the recommendation of the PIDS to conduct evidence-based studies on teacher workload, which will rationalize the job functions of public school teachers, allow them to balance their workload and allocate more of their time to improve learner outcomes. — Cecille Suerte Felipe, Janvic Mateo

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