Department of Education Module: A Threat to Free Speech?

Article by: Martin

Visual by: Kailani

Edited by: Joaquin

The right to free speech is a privilege protected by both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Philippine constitution. Last week, a module, a curriculum specialised for distance learning, developed by the Department of Education received backlash from the Commission on Human Rights, for a simple question, “If given the chance, will you join this rally?”, to which the correct response, provided by an official answer key replied, “No, because the government has really been doing their best for all the Filipino people and their constituents.” While the question at hand, provided by a Department of Education module, has since been disowned by government officials, the fact that it was considered in the first place is yet another harmful attempt to suppress free speech in the Philippines.

Photos of the controversial module were circulated throughout social media, to the disdain of numerous Filipino citizens. The modules themselves were developed for a Grade 12 Media and Information Literacy class, accompanied by an image of an unnamed protest. The Department of Education was criticised heavily by the Commission on Human Rights, an independent constitutional office dedicated to investigating human rights violations in the Philippines. The organisation’s spokesperson, Jacqueline DeGuia stated, “We stress that our current freedoms that we enjoy today are fruits of past struggles. Instead of discouraging dissent, it would be better to demand better services and accountability from the government and its officials as part of their duty to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights of all.”

As mentioned above by DeGuia, freedoms in the Philippines are indeed granted by struggles upheld through displays of speech and expression. Peaceful protests have been a recurring event throughout Philippine history. The EDSA Revolution of 1986, perhaps the most notable demonstration in the country, saw the removal of the extravagant and elusive dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, from his thirty-year position as president of the Philippines, redistributing most of the power back to the Filipino people. The possible implementation of this module could harm political awareness for a future Filipino generation, giving rise to potential political conflict in the future.
Fortunately, in response to disapproval provided by both the Commission on Human Rights and social media critics, officials from Malacañang Palace and the Department of Education have since retracted elements from their controversial module, stating, “The Department of Education, as an institution, upholds our Constitution and believes in the principle of freedom of speech and expression.” While the controversial question itself has been altered, the fact that the government considered implementing a module that ignores past displays of expression, and discourages future demonstrations, is harmful to the pursuit of free speech in the Philippines. Government officials should acknowledge that, after all, dissent is necessary for a functioning democracy.

Sources:

Aguilar, Krissy. “Palace: DepEd Module That Discourages Joining Rallies Not Part of Curriculum.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 20 Oct. 2020, newsinfo.inquirer.net/1350263/palace-deped-module-that-discourages-joining-protests-not-part-of-curriculum. 

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News. “CHR Hits Alleged DepEd Module Discouraging Protests.” ABS-CBN, 18 Oct. 2020, news.abs-cbn.com/news/10/18/20/chr-hits-alleged-deped-module-discouraging-protests. 

Rappler. “CHR Calls out DepEd for Module Discouraging Students to Join Protests.” Rappler, Rappler, 19 Oct. 2020, http://www.rappler.com/moveph/chr-calls-out-deped-alleged-module-discouraging-students-join-protests.