DepEd order muzzles teachers’ freedom of speech – lawmaker

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star
DepEd order muzzles teachers� freedom of speech � lawmaker
Students are reminded to observe social distancing while they undergo temperature check and are required to submit a health declaration form before entering the school premises during their first day of school at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral School in Quezon City on July 26, 2022.
Miguel De Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro yesterday raised alarm over the new order of the Department of Education (DepEd), saying it is “essentially muzzling” teachers and employees.

DepEd Order No. 49, Series of 2022, signed by Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte on Nov. 2, reminded personnel to raise issues and concerns regarding basic education through formal and appropriate channels “without resorting to any political or third-party intervention or accommodation.”

The order amended a previous directive reminding DepEd employees to refrain from seeking endorsements or soliciting favorable actions from politicians, government personnel and similar entities outside the department.

Failure to comply, the order said, shall mean outright denial of any request or appeal for consideration in the Office of the Secretary.

The DepEd did not provide details on how the policy would be implemented, including penalties for violations.

In a statement, Castro said the order hampers the rights and freedoms of teachers and education support personnel to speech, expression and right to organize.

“Why does the DepEd feel the need to create such an order that gags and threatens teachers and education support personnel, which treats them as mere creatures only of the school and dehumanizes them, preventing them to exercise their right to free speech, expression, to organize and be able to voice out their grievances?” the representative of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list asked.

The lawmaker noted that teachers already follow Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and the Philippine Teachers Professionalization Act of 1994.

She added that the order “expands and even exceeds boundaries of the definitions under existing laws to prevent teachers from exercising their constitutional rights.”

Instead of coming up with a gag order for teachers, Castro said the DepEd should focus on other problems such as shortage in classrooms, lack of support for teachers and the worsening crisis in education.

Clarify provisions

Various groups have also expressed concern over the DepEd’s expanded “professionalism” policy, urging the department to clarify some of the broad provisions in the order, including the reminders to not disparage DepEd, not to participate in spreading rumors or post “online attacks” against fellow DepEd employees.

Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) chairpman Benjo Basas said some provisions may be used to suppress freedom of expression and organization.

He added that personnel often resort to releasing information through social media and other platforms because of the DepEd’s failure to address their grievances.

While they understand the goal of the provisions, Basas maintained that people in general should be allowed to freely share their experiences.

The TDC likewise expressed openness to meet with agency officials to discuss ways on how to better operationalize the order’s objectives. – Janvic Mateo

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