For education sector, Aquino will always be remembered for K-12 program
Students in uniform are seen walking in this undated file photo.

For education sector, Aquino will always be remembered for K-12 program

Christian Deiparine (Philstar.com) - June 25, 2021 - 8:22am

MANILA, Philippines — Former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III was remembered by his education secretary for major reforms in schools, including his push for the K-12 curriculum that a teachers' group says is a burden for stakeholders. 

Aquino, whose death on June 24 shocked the nation, was the president who called for two more years — now called Senior High School — in the basic education system.

He signed the Enhanced Basic Education Act in 2013, with the first batch of senior high school students seen two years later.  The measure faced petitions before the Supreme Court but the court upheld the law in 2018.

Bro. Armin Luistro, education secretary during the Aquino administration, told Philstar.com in an exchange that he considers Aquino as the president for Philippine education for overseeing significant changes in the sector.  

"Very few people realize that during his term, the biggest education reform that we were unable to do in decades past [was] put into law and that's the K-12," he said, "with all the political difficulties as well as challenges."

Luistro also touted gains under the previous administration, which he said include the construction of some 120,000 classrooms to address backlogs, and the hiring of over 195,000 teachers. 

He owed it to a political will that Aquino exhibited in his six years, allowing him to seek bigger funding for the Department of Education from Congress.

"But you know, President Noynoy never wanted all these things to be attributed to him," Luistro said. "That is people's money...these are very real accomplishments and not motherhood statements."

Per official figures, allocation for DepEd in the government's annual outlay were: P207 billion in 2011, P238.8 billion in 2012, P293.4 billion in 2013, P309.43 billion in 2014, P367.1 billion in 2015, and P435.9 billion in 2016.

Inadequate funding for education

Despite the yearly hike in the agency's budget, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers said poor funding remained an issue during the Aquino presidency.

ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio said allotments were still below UNICEF's call for 20% of the national budget to the education sector, or 6% of the country's gross domestic product.

"President Aquino failed to see the real issue behind the decreasing quality of education," he added in an exchange. "He just changed the curriculum but failed to address the primary and most basic problems."

Basilio said there continued to be a lack of schools, facilities, and teaching personnel that led to crowded classes. This, he said, was made worse by the extra years in school that the Aquino administration implemented.

RELATED: K-12 not to blame for Pinoys’ poor test score – DepEd

"His legacy is negative," he said in Filipino of the late president. "He won't be forgotten because of the K-12. This was only an additional burden on students, teachers, and parents and only worsened the brain drain and brought down the quality of education in the country."

The National Union of Students of the Philippines has expressed condolences to Aquino's family and supporters but said failures by previous administrations should not go unforgotten. 

"As the nation grieves for his death, we also mourn all the victims of atrocities and failures that were committed under his leadership," the group said, "the deteriorated education system, and violent dispersal of mass actions, public assemblies, and gatherings."

The Duterte administration in February 2020 announced a review of the K-12 program in response to the results of the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment, where the Philippines got low scores.

The Palace said then that the Philippines' participation in the study was "to establish a baseline for the purpose of measuring the development of education in the Philippines vis-à-vis global standards."

Taking in criticism

The former education chief was aware of the criticism of policies under Aquino's term, recalling rallies outside his office almost every week.

Luistro, when asked what made the president push through with changes like K-12 anyway, said: "He truly believed that education is the foundation of a good nation. It's really [the] access to quality education."

Basilio acknowledged that the previous DepEd leadership was more willing to hold dialogues on issues.

"They allowed us to speak but our issues and concerns on salary, workload, and benefits remained unanswered," he said. "[They] were way better than the current one, where we are not allowed to speak."

The K-12 program, as with many government programs during that time, were subject to critical reporting by media, a fact that the former president sometimes mentioned in speeches.

"He was obviously not happy with all media reports," he said, partly in Filipino. "But what he would tell us is that sometimes, it's media's job to look out for the wrongs and it's our job then to say what is right."

Aquino as boss

Within the Cabinet, Luistro said the president was "very exacting" and tend to sift through reports, even asking for copies in advance.

It's a memory shared by the many who worked with Aquino following the news of his passing at the age of 61. There had been changes in department secretaries, but Luistro was among those who was with the president from Day One until he stepped down.

He described Aquino's passing as painful for two reasons: he knew the former leader was already sick but did not expect he would go that soon, and they saw him keep mum despite the things thrown at him after his term.

"At the very least, he deserves our gratitude," Luistro said. "He said, 'let our works speak for itself' and I hope the work we see now in government during his term will be recognized by our people."

There will be a one day public viewing of Aquino's urn at the Church of the Gesu in Ateneo de Manila University on Friday.

Per his family, the former president's remains will be laid to rest at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque on June 26. It will be beside his parents Ninoy and Cory, who were known democracy icons.

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