DepEd acknowledges ACT membership legal, won't bar teachers from joining

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
DepEd acknowledges ACT membership legal, won't bar teachers from joining
Members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers hold a protest rally in Mendiola, Manila in August 2022.
The STAR / Miguel De Guzman, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Education will not ban teachers from joining the Alliance of Concerned Teachers or other organizations, its spokesperson said.

The statement came, though, with a caveat that they should steer clear of breaking the law. ACT is a legal organization and, through ACT Teacher party-list, has representation at the House.

At a press conference held with the government's anti-communist task force, DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa said the department continues to respect teachers' freedom to form or join groups, a freedom guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution.

"We will not abridge the freedom of our teachers to join these organizations or for these organizations to conduct their activities wherever they want," Poa said. 

"We cannot ban them from joining these organizations," he said in Filipino. 

However, Poa said that DepEd "will not condone teachers who will condone or engage in criminal activities."

Attempts to link group to communist rebels

Vice President Sara Duterte – concurrently education secretary – and ACT traded barbs last week over the group's proposal for the department to hire around 30,000 teachers annually to shrink class sizes to a manageable level. Duterte dismissed this as an unrealistic and outdated suggestion.

In several statements, Duterte accused ACT of creating noise to divert the public's attention from reported attacks by the New People's Army that caused panic at a school in Masbate province. 

Duterte previously alleged that ACT was a supporter of the Communist Party of the Philippines when the group expressed its support for the week-long transport strike in March. 

Meanwhile, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict stopped short of calling the group an illegal organization, instead repeating the government's claim that ACT is the "legal front" of an undergeound organization aligned with the CPP.

Support for and membership in activist and advocacy groups does not equate to taking up arms against the government, but government agencies like the NTF-ELCAC often conflate activism with terrorism.

"What is not acceptable is their deceitful intent. It is a step-by-step process. The mere membership, particularly in ACT is not illegal. But what we are trying to tell the public is the true nature of the organization," NTF-ELCAC chief Ernesto Torres, Jr. said.

Torres also said that ACT's core leaders are "members of an underground mass organization" based on a video of CPP founder Joma Sison shown to media by the NTF-ELCAC. Sison, who died in exile in the Netherlands in December, said the video had been spliced. Groups like ACT have denied ties to communist rebels.

While the government has designated the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization,  ACT — the country's largest group for teachers — is not a designated organization.

Just like other teacher organizations, ACT regularly conducts and publishes surveys among its members that give the public an idea of teachers' view on several education issues. Its most recent survey was on teachers' experiences inside their classrooms during the start of the summer months.

'Rehashed' material

Meanwhile, ACT Secretary-General Raymond Basilio said that the NTF-ELCAC's claims about the allegiance of the group's leaders are not based on evidence. 

The teachers' group also said that NTF-ELCAC's supposed video evidence is merely a "rehashed" material that cannot stand in a court hearing.
"Without evidence, they make that association. That's how blatantly they give these kinds of statements," Basilio said in Filipino.

Basilio said that the video material of Sison was "cut and sliced" to create a different kind of interpretation that would implicate ACT.

Peace curriculum

Basilio said that while the DepEd has yet to formalize an agreement with the NTF-ELCAC over its supposed creation of a peace curriculum, ACT has monitored several schools where the task force held seminars with students, which supposedly resulted in canceled classes.

Basilio said that these reports came from high schools in the Cordillera Administrative Region, Central Luzon and Metro Manila.

In an interview after the press conference, Poa said that the peace curriculum will not just focus on the communist insurgency. 

It will be an "age-appropriate" program integrated into the K to 12 curriculum where students will learn various skills through activities like "toothbrush drills," among others, Poa said.

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