Constitutional & Legal Foundations
The Philippine traditional value of stressing the importance of education has been codified and incorporated into the constitutions and laws of the country. The first Philippine constitution, or the 1899 Constitution (also called the Malolos Constitution), expressly provided in Article 23 of Title IV that "public education shall be free and obligatory in all schools of the nation." Section 5 Article XIV of the 1935 Constitution, which was enacted for the Commonwealth government, stated that the "Government . . . shall provide at least free primary instruction, and citizenship training to adult citizens." The provision for free public elementary education was retained under the 1943 Constitution adopted by the Provisional government during World War II. This was carried over to the 1973 Constitution that took effect during the regime of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The 1987 Constitution took effect during the presidential term of Corazon Aquino. Several significant provisions on education were embodied in this constitution. Public elementary education was declared to be free and compulsory. Public high school and secondary education were also to be provided for free. Moreover, it was categorically stated in Section 5(5) of Article XIV that the "State shall assign the highest budgetary priority to education and ensure that teaching will attract and retain its rightful share of the best available talents through adequate remuneration and other means of job satisfaction and fulfillment."
The constitutional provisions on education are creditable considering that the various constitutions of the Philippines have been forged during times when the nation was on the verge of crucial political changes. When the 1899 Constitution was written, the Philippines was embroiled in the Philippine-American War. The 1935 Constitution was written when the Philippines was poised for independence from the United States of America. The 1943 Constitution occurred when Japan occupied the Philippines during World War II. By that time, the Filipinos were fighting for independence against a third foreign colonial power in less than fifty years. When the 1973 Constitution was declared ratified, the dictatorship of Marcos was in full swing. He and his cronies had engineered political and civil unrest to justify the declaration of Martial Law and the indefinite extension of his term in power. Marcos was ousted during the peaceful EDSA Revolution of 1986. The 1987 Constitution was drafted as the country struggled to recover from three decades of Marcos' economic plunder and dictatorship. Political stability has not gained an enduring foothold in the Philippines. The term of office of President Aquino was marked by several attempted coups d'état.
The next president, Fidel V. Ramos, forged peace with the Muslims in the Southern part of the country and brought economic growth. However, his accomplishments were curtailed by his successor, Joseph Estrada. Estrada was elected into the presidency by popular vote in 1998. Conflicts with the Muslims re-ignited after the Muslims kidnapped Filipino citizens and foreigners. Allegations of corruption on a massive scale were filed against Estrada in October 2000. Confidence in his leadership quickly eroded as government officials, prominent political leaders, the military, and his cabinet successively called for his resignation. The people again took to the streets in peaceful protest. In January 2001, he resigned his post and handed the reigns of government to his Vice-President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. An impeachment trial was ongoing when he resigned. Political instability dramatically and adversely affected education. Economic adversity quietly caused systemic educational instability.
Despite the categorical affirmation in the 1987 Constitution for the State to assign the highest budgetary priority to education, this was not followed. The economic plunder of the country by some of its leaders and their cohorts (both Filipino and foreign) left the Philippines with a huge foreign debt that amounted to over US$45 billion in 1997. Annual interest payments alone exceeded US$4.5 billion. Deficits in needed classrooms, textbooks, and salaried teacher positions have accumulated over the years. As of April 2000, the public education system had a deficiency of 37,000 classrooms, 10 million textbooks, 29,000 salaried teacher positions, and 2.6 million desks. These backlogs were not met and spilled over to the succeeding school years. Despite the desperate need for more textbooks, classrooms, teachers, and learning materials, debt servicing takes up the bulk of the fiscal budget every year.