By Zanti Alonso Gayares and Ancelmo Miguel Catalla

In his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. never failed the Filipinos to deliver capricious and unstable plans, especially for the education sector. Nothing new from his political campaign up to taking the oath to office.

Cartoon by John Dave Poot

Knowing that PH education is at a pivotal point as the country moves from the catastrophe of the pandemic, the President focused on militarization, enhancement for foreign empowerment, solidifying the atrocities of the system, and making the sector in favor of their reign一proving that the education sector of the Philippines under a Marcos Jr. administration is a continuance of the abysmal system, not far from the decays of the past.

One of the main points mentioned in the SONA 2022 concerning the education sector is the review of the viability of the K-12 school system. In a recent survey of Pulse Asia, 44% of Filipinos are not satisfied with the said system, leading to inquiry on the status of the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013. Also, several groups expressed dismay at the poor structure of the system which is said to be adherent to the trajectory of producing graduates who are docile laborers, well-suited for transnational and multinational companies— a perfect supplement for the labor export policy. This is a clear indication of the continuance of a commercialized and colonial education structure.

In line with the goals to stabilize the education sector as a marketable asset in the international arena, he also noted the continuous evaluation of the medium of instruction and maintaining English-dependent communication. This mirrors the desire of empowering the colonial atrocities of the education system which is a prolonged detrimental characteristic of it being observed in existing measures such as the removal of Filipino, Panitikan, and the Philippine Constitution as required subjects in college.

Aside from this, it is also conspicuous for Marcos Jr about his interest in empowering the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sector in the country, mentioning the betterment of its performance in the international rankings. This is not far from his idea of enhancing the students to be more competitive and fit for foreign competitions. However, in the desire to give STEM the central spotlight, it totally leaves out courses related to humanities and social sciences (HUMSS). As much as the country needs advancement in the STEM areas, the President should also take note that courses related to HUMSS are significant, especially with the recent predicaments of the country such as poor governance, economic stability, public service, and distortion of history.

Marcos Jr. also emphasized the government’s plan to bring back face-to-face classes amid the pandemic. He encouraged everyone to get their COVID-19 booster shots in preparation for the upcoming school year. Marcos Jr. also sought the help of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for the availability of classrooms. While the return of in-person schooling is reassuring, this administration needs to guarantee that there will be no students left behind.

According to the Asian Development Bank, the lack of digital connectivity forced Filipino students to lose access to formal education. As the future of Philippine education is seen with the “new normal” of blended learning, it is vital for the government to allocate resources for digital learning. At the same time, with new challenges arising from inflation, it is critical for this administration to control the increasing prices of basic commodities. Transportation services and other goods must be accessible and more affordable for students.

On another note, while the country’s education gap continues to widen and formal education proceeds to become less accessible, Mandatory ROTC remains to be one of the main priorities of Marcos Jr. In his address, the President urged Congress to pass a law that would allow the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) to become mandatory in senior high schools. But looking at its brutal past, it’s hard to ignore that mandatory ROTC has cultivated a culture of corruption and abuse in supposedly safe-haven institutions. .

In 2001, the body of an ROTC cadet named Mark Welson Chua, a University of the Sto. Tomas’ student who reported allegations of bribery and abuse in their ROTC program, was found in the Pasig river. His body was wrapped in carpet, his hands and feet were tied with shoelaces, while his head was wrapped in cloth, left to decompose. Chua’s death ultimately led to the passage of Republic Act 9163 or the National Service Training Program Act of 2001, giving students the freedom to opt out of the ROTC program and choose community service programs and other related activities.

Ironically, in 2019, the President's older sister, Senator Imee Marcos, expressed her disagreement with the enforcement of mandatory ROTC. In a statement, the senator argued that there are other ways to serve the country besides being a soldier. Senator Imee Marcos instead lobbied for a Citizen Service Program that allows students to be developed in community service, disaster preparedness, and environmental protection.

Looking at the bigger picture, there are better alternatives to integrate patriotism, nationalism, and discipline into students. This militarization will only pave the way to conform to the status quo, to breed a nation of blind followers, and eliminate significant mass movements. It is daunting to see that a place where students are expected to learn and feel safe will be infiltrated by a vessel that will institutionalize violence and fear.

Overall, the Marcos Jr. administration needs to acknowledge the real state of Philippine education一increasing the percentage of out-of-school youth, a flawed curriculum, overworked teachers, and unprepared students. Instead of breeding power-tripping cadets and forcing multilingual students to speak English, it is time to put our country’s misplaced priorities in order. Because if we don’t, the Philippines’ education system will surely be left rotten.

After the first State of the Nation Address (SONA), the Explained PH Opinion Desk shares a series of columns tackling the important areas of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s speech, including the necessary points that he did not mention.