An Open Letter:
Dear Mr. President:
We do not want to overdramatize our dismay, nor exaggerate our hurt. After all, even before your election, we cheered for you as our Education President. We rejoiced in your appointments of enlightened leaders to the CHED, the DepEd, and the TESDA. We have come out in full support of your administration’s K+12 educational reforms.
And why not? It was you who said, we are your Boss. With you, we have been happy, not to boss, but to partner – educators throughout the nation, public and private. It was good to feel the truth of what the law (RA 8545) provides: “the complimentary roles of public and private educational institutions.” How pleased we were when the education officials were consulting us, respecting us. As private education leaders, we felt recognized in “the invaluable contribution that the private schools have made and will make to education” (Sec. 2).
These were, indeed, the principles behind the Expanded Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (EGASTPE): the complementary roles of public and private schools; the objective contribution private schools make to Philippine education. We were happy that the efforts of many of our schools to bring basic education to the most remote of areas were recognized and supported by the monies of the Filipino people. We were happy that while Government spent taxpayers, money to support public schools, it also spent taxpayers money to support private schools. It was neither the public nor the private character of the school that was foremost; paramount was the fact that basic education was delivered – often under the most difficult of situations. And basic education could continue to be delivered in remote areas because of GASTPE.
Things were going well. What happened? Somebody tried to fix something that wasn’t broke. Somebody must have suggested it would be good if EGASTPE could be used to decongest public high schools; then someone must have insisted it is imperative that EGASTPE monies be used to decongest public high schools. Then someone said, since indeed EGASTPE must decongest public high schools beneficiaries of EGASTPE must first enroll in public high schools to congest them further, then be declared a student beyond the carrying capacity of the public school – an “aisle student” – in order to qualify for EGASTPE. In this manner, the efficacy of EGASTPE decongesting public schools would be documented.
What is dismaying and hurtful here, is that we, presumably the partners of the State in providing basic education to the people, were not consulted. All of a sudden, the news was there of our Education President vetoing the time-tested policy of private schools determining who would fill their EGASTPE slots, and now declaring:
“Consistent with the core mandate of the ESC System to decongest public secondary schools through scholarship grants in private institutions, I hereby direct the implementation of the ESC System under Deped-OSEC, Special Provision No. 16, “Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education:, page 65 to be made exclusively to graduates of public elementary schools and those coming from congested public secondary schools. Otherwise the intended purpose of the ESC will not be achieved and our public secondary schools will remain congested….” (Veto Message of Pres. Aquino.) It is clear here who was acting the Master, and who the slave.
But why was the already well-functioning EGASTPE program that was succeeding in delivering basic education, now being made a tool to decongest congested secondary schools? The DepEd itself states that only some 85% of Filipino youth get to elementary school at all. Working together, the public and private schools fail to reach 15% of the population. Where then could be the wisdom in administering the EGASTPE to make it ridiculously difficult for private schools to fill their allocated slots? Where is the wisdom in disqualifying graduates of private elementary schools from direct EGASTPE benefits in private secondary schools? Is the intention that parents shun private schools and send their students to public schools to crowd them even more? Or is the intention to glorify the image of congested public schools, empower their administrators with discretion over whether a child is a chair student or an aisle student, regardless of the distance of the school from the home and regardless of the expense that would be incurred by the child in being told to stay in public school.
The EGASTPE law was not enacted primarily for the benefit of decongesting secondary public schools. It was not enacted for public schools. The public schools have their budgetary allocations in public money. The EGASTPE law was enacted – must we be surprised? shocked? – for private students and teachers. After all, that’s the meaning of EGASTPE – the Expanded Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education. Those who care may please consult Section 3 of this law, entitled, Criteria of Assistance. There is no statement prescribing that the beneficiaries of the EGASTPE provisions be graduates of public elementary schools nor be first enrolled in congested public secondary schools!
In a national situation where public and private schools are working together to educate, and not doing enough of it, why are you disqualifying private school graduates of elementary schools from EGASTPE benefits? Have you not here arrogated to yourself legislative powers, since there is no original disqualification of the private elementary school graduate from EGASTPE benefits? Does this not deny private school students who are not declared aisle students equal protection of the law, since they become hapless victims of “unwarranted partiality and prejudice” (cf. I. Cruz, Constitutional Law, pg 117).
Mr,. President, we are happy that you are letting the EVS, with all of its political baggage, die. We are happy that you are continuing to support the salaries of many of our teachers, but on this matter of the EGASTPE, we ask you to reconsider your veto. Let us continue to serve our poor as we have done so long before you came; do not allow your wise appointment of a Christian Brother to DepEd Secretary to be tainted by a policy grossly prejudicial to the private elementary institutions, pupils and their parents. Suspend your veto, so that we can continue to do our work as your partners with pride and dignity. Do not make us beg to save our schools and teach our poor.
Count on us as your partners. We count on you.