When Vice President Sara Duterte resigned as Department of Education (DepEd) secretary, my first reaction was relief, given how volatile her impulses had been in steering the agency’s priorities. Not long after came the dread, not dissimilar to seeing a place vacated by an unruly tenant only to find the place turned upside down with countless things that need fixing. Who cleans up the mess that she has left behind?

Her tenure at DepEd launched radical changes, such as the “Matatag” curriculum which reduced learning areas to spend more time and focus on reading and math. The agency also seemed to go on a nationalism campaign, labeling merged subjects of Araling Panlipunan and music, arts, physical education, and health as “Makabansa” and restoring Good Manners and Right Conduct in the curriculum.

While patriotism (or at least, developing an obedient, nonquestioning form of it) seemed to be a top priority for DepEd under her leadership, the country’s performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) continue to fare poorly in reading, science, and mathematics. The recent results in creative thinking are also dismal. (It must be said that some education scholars have criticized Pisa’s methodology, such as how our performance in creative thinking may be attributed more to our students’ limited proficiency in English than actual creative abilities.)

Despite DepEd receiving the biggest share in the national budget, our public education is perennially under-resourced. We do not have enough classrooms. The school buildings that we do have are ill-equipped for today’s climate changes, resulting in 32 lost teaching days due to calamity or almost 18 percent of the 180 days contact time for teaching, based on the findings of the Second Congressional Commission on Education and the Philippine Institute for Development Studies. We struggle to nurture quality teaching, if the passing rates of Licensure Exam for Teachers is an indicator. Learning materials, if there are any, are riddled with mistakes.

These are long-standing problems of DepEd even before the Vice President’s term. Her appointment to the agency is itself a sign that the current administration does not prioritize the issues plaguing public education. Such an agency requires technical and professional expertise and yet a politician, not an educator, was put in charge. The Vice President, at times, does acknowledge her lack in technical knowledge yet she still makes impulsive, reactionary directives rather than recruit the best talent to address public education’s woes. She inherited a chronically beleaguered department, yes, but she positioned it to a misguided direction of so-called nationalism instead of addressing basic foundations such as literacy. (While I am at this point, instilling loyalty and obedience without literacy does not produce critically thinking active citizens. Instead, what you risk getting are submissive citizens who do not have the capacity to check the facts. I am hoping that this is not the intention!)

With her resignation, there is confusion among those involved with DepEd’s initiatives. What will happen to the implementation of Matatag curriculum? What happens to the “Catch-up Fridays” program? What happens to the myriad memoranda and executive orders? It struck me that when politicians resign or move on from a post, that there does not seem to be any process of clearance. Every student needs to finish a clearance process before they can graduate. All government projects require clearance. As a researcher, I need to get “cleared” with all paperwork, accounting, and other deliverables before I can apply or be granted another project. I cannot simply quit and move on. One must put one’s affairs in order before one can be granted another opportunity. How come, with elected public servants, there is no such expectation?

An elected official can drain the budget, leave a deficit, and the replacement is expected to work with whatever is left. And this same elected official can run again! Imagine if an elected official is required to clear themselves of all irregularities and scandals, ensure transition of programs and projects, and essentially leave their handled departments and agencies either the same or better than they started with before they can run for another elected position.

As I write this, Leila de Lima has finally been cleared of all drug charges, but not without having been detained for almost seven years. Who takes responsibility for that? The human trafficking case against Datu Benito Bay-ao, for escorting “lumad” children to a school for evacuees in Cebu, was just dismissed. His coaccusers included slain Chad Booc and Gelijurain Ngujo II. Who takes responsibility for that? Amidst all this, VP Sara announced that her father (and two brothers) will run for the Senate. They need to clean up their mess and be accountable for their past actions first before they dare run again.

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