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Editorial

Witch hunt against teachers

/ 05:28 AM January 11, 2019

It all seemed like a well-intentioned visit—until police officers whipped out a form and asked administrators of Cecilio Apostol Elementary School in Manila to fill it out. They wanted a list of faculty members in the school associated with the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT).

They were not operating alone. Reports would subsequently reveal that, on orders of their superiors, intelligence officers had fanned out to a number of other elementary and high schools in Metro Manila as well as in Baguio City, Bulacan, Laguna, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, Agusan del Sur and other areas, to carry out the same mission: Do an inventory of all public and private school teachers aligned with ACT.

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The visiting policemen flashed a memorandum signed by higher-ups and printed on a Philippine National Police letterhead at that. The cops may have thought their undertaking was harmless or inconsequential, but the unmistakable profiling being done was enough to send chills among the ranks of teachers. Why were they under surveillance?

They were apparently being smoked out on mere suspicion of being part of a “legal front” of the Communist Party of the Philippines, as PNP chief

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Oscar Albayalde eventually confirmed. While he denied authorizing the move to profile the ACT teachers, Albayalde said the “intelligence monitoring” was needed to find out who among the teachers were supporters of the Left. “It’s because we want to separate people here. Hindi lahat ng members ng ACT [not all ACT members] are supporting the Left… kaya kailangan makita kung sino talaga ang sumusuporta in their organization [that’s why we need to find out who really are the supporters].”

Officials of ACT, a government-accredited teachers’ union that counts some 200,000 members across the country, bristled at the move, and with good reason: When has championing the rights and welfare of teachers become a crime? Also, the profiling and surveillance by the Duterte administration of those it considers its critics and bugbears—from legitimate opposition figures and progressive advocacy groups to obscure drug suspects—have led to nightmarish consequences for such targets, from harassment to imprisonment to outright death. How many profiled drug surrenderers, for instance, had become numbers in the still-rising toll of the government’s brutal campaign against drugs?

The profiling came weeks after ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro was arrested, along with former Bayan Muna representative Satur Ocampo and 16 others, at a checkpoint in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, while en route to deliver provisions to a school for the “lumad” (indigenous people) in late November. They were later slapped with charges of kidnapping, trafficking and abuse of lumad children, but were allowed by the court to post bail.

The latest move appears to be, for all intents and purposes, a witch hunt—part of the escalating campaign of vitriol, demonization and harassment being directed at a broad swath of activists, dissenters and opposition leaders. National Capital Region Police Office Director Guillermo Eleazar’s justification that the list of ACT members would not be used for illegal ends sounded not the least bit reassuring. And neither did presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo’s pronouncement that there was nothing to fear “if you’re not doing anything [wrong]”—a mantra the administration loves to wield against its bête noires, but which it conveniently forgets to apply to itself when fulminating against, say, the threat of an international probe into its human rights practices.

The law enforcers’ surveillance campaign was a clear fundamental breach of the ACT members’ constitutional right to privacy and association. It also violated the Data Privacy Act, which mandates that personal information should never be collected, processed and stored by any organization without one’s explicit consent.

The Department of Education had earlier unwisely endorsed the PNP memo to school heads in Manila, but backtracked in the face of the teachers’ outcry. Vowing not to release any information about the ACT members, Education Secretary Leonor Briones reiterated, in a reminder to her regional directors, that “personal information is covered by the Data Privacy Act.”

The PNP itself says it has over 22,000 unresolved deaths in its records. Rather than spying on their fellow citizens, the police would have better use of their taxpayer-funded official time by training their eyes elsewhere—at the assassins and criminals roaming the land, and the rogues and knaves in their own ranks.

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