Sara Duterte

[In This Economy] Duterte exits DepEd: Good riddance!

JC Punongbayan

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[In This Economy] Duterte exits DepEd: Good riddance!
Who will replace Duterte? It better be someone good – for the sake of our kids and this country

Finally, she made an educated decision!

That’s how some netizens reacted to the surprise resignation of Vice President Sara Duterte as secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd) on June 19, just before the Marcos administration marks its second year. (She also resigned as co-vice chairperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.)

Rather defensively, Duterte said in her resignation speech that her decision to step down “is not from a place of weakness, but is brought about by my genuine concern for teachers and the Filipino youth.” 

But wait. If she’s really concerned for teachers and the youth, maybe she should not have accepted the position in the first place.

A million eyebrows were raised when President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. first announced, on May 11, 2022, that he was appointing Duterte as education secretary. 

It was evident from the beginning that she was not fit for the job. First, Duterte indicated that she wanted the defense post. Second, and more importantly, Duterte has no background or expertise at all in education, and was in no position to address the dire education crisis plaguing the country.

Before she took office, we already knew that Filipino students ranked dead last in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA, and that our scores were stagnant in the 2022 round. 

Studies have also shown that we’re suffering from a 90% learning poverty rate, meaning that 9 in 10 Grade 5 students can’t comprehend what they’re reading. Too many students are allowed to proceed to high school even if they’re poor (or in fact non-) readers.

Must Read

How Sara Duterte led DepEd for 2 years

How Sara Duterte led DepEd for 2 years

By coincidence, on the very day that Duterte resigned, the PISA came out with new findings that 15-year-old Filipino students ranked at the bottom in terms of creative thinking. (I’m guessing this had a hand in the timing of Duterte’s resignation. Perhaps her image can only take too much bad education news.)

Some teachers’ groups are letting out a collective a sigh of relief now that Duterte is out of DepEd. Said the leader of one such group in Bacolod City, Duterte is “not fit to be DepEd secretary because of her many inconsistencies.” Representative France Castro of the ACT Teachers Party list said that Duterte should have resigned earlier.

Too many controversies

Duterte’s time in DepEd was unremarkable. Too few reforms happened, and too many controversies arose. In fact, one can even argue that she left it in a worse place than when she got in.

This is not to say that she had no goals for the DepEd. I remember that in September 2022, Duterte boldly proclaimed that if she’s given P100 billion for DepEd, she will fix the education sector in 6 years. But she couldn’t even last 2 years!

To decongest the K-12 curriculum, DepEd launched in August 2023 the new Matatag Curriculum. But we’ve yet to see from the pilot tests how promising and feasible Matatag is. Not too many are hopeful that a curriculum change will work wonders, especially if chronic resource constraints (classrooms, textbooks, etc.) will remain unaddressed. Also in a controversial move, Matatag removed the term “Marcos dictatorship” and replaced it with “dictatorship” – in another institutional bid to whitewash Martial Law’s history.

Then in early 2024, Duterte issued a memo instructing schools to implement “Catch-up Fridays,” where teachers and students were expected to read, read, read. This was Duterte’s way of remedying the “learning losses” caused by the pandemic. It was also a response to the extensive learning poverty rate nationwide. But it’s doubtful whether Catch-up Fridays is really working. I’m told that in some schools, teachers and students are merely using the time for merienda.  

More insidiously, Duterte used her position in DepEd to brandish her militaristic tendencies. 

Duterte consistently pushed for mandatory military service for Filipinos once they’re 18, although this was beyond her purview already since most senior high school students graduate at 18. And during the early days of her vice presidency, she also held some meetings at DepEd with military and uniformed personnel to “[strengthen] linkages and interagency cooperation on matters of national security.”

And then there was the budget scandal. In 2023, she asked for P150 million of confidential funds for DepEd – the first time such funds were asked for DepEd. 

Who can forget the mental gymnastics that Duterte (and her minions in DepEd) used to justify such a fund? She tried to explain by saying that education and national security were “intertwined.” According to her: “The youth is the hope of the country. However, they are being recruited [New People’s Army or NPA], brought to use illegal drugs, criminality, violent extremism, and terrorism. We don’t want the future of the country to be like that.”

Thanks to public outrage, Congress dropped Duterte’s request for confidential funds for DepEd, and even said it’s not a big loss. (But if it’s not crucial, why insist on it in the first place?) 

Amid much criticism, Duterte also used the DepEd’s logo and social media accounts to red-tag teachers and critics. She called a weeklong transport strike “communist-inspired,” and branded the ACT Teachers Party list as a “fake representative of learners, educators, and other members of the education sector.”

Not only was this damaging, it was also ironic since DepEd is supposed to educate the youth about human rights, teach them values like honesty, and arm them against lies and disinformation. 

Who’s next?

With all the problems Duterte caused in DepEd, some say that her resignation may be her single biggest contribution to the education sector. 

Of course, we should never forget who placed Duterte there in the first place. If only Marcos had appointed someone competent at the outset, many education reforms would have been started, and the education crisis would not have compounded.

Who will replace Duterte? No names have surfaced just yet. It better be someone good – for the sake of our kids and this country. –

JC Punongbayan, PhD is an assistant professor at the UP School of Economics and the author of False Nostalgia: The Marcos “Golden Age” Myths and How to Debunk Them. In 2024, he received The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) Award for economics. JC’s views are independent of his affiliations. Follow him on Twitter/X (@jcpunongbayan) and Usapang Econ Podcast. 


Sort by
  1. ET

    I agree with Prof. JC Punongbayan: “Good riddance!” For the replacement, I also agree that “it better be someone good—for the sake of our kids and this country.” But more likely, it should be someone “secretly” helpful for the Marcos-Romualdez Political Dynasty’s 2025 and 2028 elections plan.

  2. MR

    Sara Duterte realized that she couldn’t use the Dept of Ed as a cash cow. Let’s not forget about the laptops that were intended for teachers’ use that ended up in retail markets … I hope Pres. Marcos appoints someone who is knowledgeable and qualified with a background in education.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Boy, Person, Human


JC Punongbayan

Jan Carlo “JC” Punongbayan, PhD is an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines School of Economics (UPSE). His professional experience includes the Securities and Exchange Commission, the World Bank Office in Manila, the Far Eastern University Public Policy Center, and the National Economic and Development Authority. JC writes a weekly economics column for He is also co-founder of and co-host of Usapang Econ Podcast.