The Department of Education (DepEd) assured it will "not abridge" the freedom of teachers to join organizations, amid recent statements linking the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) to communist groups.
But DepEd Chief of Staff and Spokesperson Michael Poa said teachers must not be involved in illegal activities.
"Pagdating naman po sa ating mga guro, they really have the freedom to join these organizations... But, of course, ang iniiwasan natin is really for our teachers to engage in illegal activities," he explained in a joint press conference with the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on Tuesday.
NTF-ELCAC Executive Director Usec. Ernesto Torres Jr. has claimed ACT is a "front organization" of the Katipunan ng mga Gurong Makabayan (KAGUMA), an "underground organization" under the National Democratic Front (NDF) of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
"Iyong ACT naman — iyong Alliance of Concerned Teachers — hindi naman po lahat sila ay willing na nagsusuporta sa CPP-NPA-NDF. Probably, I could say, majority of them are just there unwillingly and unwittingly supporting some of the not-so-good intention of the organization," he explained.
"'Yong ACT 'yan 'yung tinatawag natin na legal front organization nila. At 'yan ay nakatago doon sa underground mass organization, which is KAGUMA. 'Yon pong core leaders ng ACT, we can say — we can confidently say — na sila po ay nandoon sa KAGUMA. Na talagang ang mga miyembro noon ay party members ng CPP-NPA-NDF," he added.
Torres said they are "dealing with those agitators within the ACT," saying they have "guidelines" on distinguishing between legitimate teacher unionists and those allegedly supporting communists.
Asked to specify the said guidelines, Torres shared, "Kung 'yung mga paga-agitate sa atin, kung may mga naghihikayat sa atin na gumawa ng isang bagay and you think in your wise discretion na hindi siya makakadulot ng maganda sa iyong buhay, sa buhay ng iyong pamilya, sa buhay ng iyong komunidad ay huwag mo itong sundin."
The official said some of the core leaders "are not necessarily" teachers, as some have retired and not all are party members.
'Discrediting' legitimate organizations
ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio slammed DepEd and NTF-ELCAC for their "lies" and for "discrediting" the union's fight for teacher welfare and the improvement of the education sector.
Basilio denied that they are "lawyering for the NPA."
"Simula't sapul na tayo po ay naitatag at naglilingkod sa ating sektor ng edukasyon ay wala po silang nakitang pagsulong ng sinasabi nilang rebolusyon. Ang atin pong tinutugunan ay maiangat iyong antas ng kalidad ng edukasyon sa bansa, matugunan 'yung mga batayan na pangangailangan ng ating mga guro at mga estudyante. Makikita naman 'yan doon sa aming track record since 1982," he shared.
"Alam nila, walang ganoon na krimen sa bansa. Pangalawa, ano 'yung basis na sinasabi nila na we've been supporting the Communist Party of the Philippines? Hindi nga rin sila makapaglatag ng ebidensya. Talagang malinaw na ginagamit ng NTF-ELCAC 'yung rekurso ng gobyerno upang siraan 'yung mga legitimate organizations na nagsusulong ng mga basic issues and concerns ng sektor na nire-represent nila," he added.
Basilio said they are studying the possibility of seeking legal action due to some of the "compelling statements" that the government must be held accountable for, including Vice President and DepEd Sec. Sara Duterte's previous statements linking ACT to communism.
"Iyong binabanggit nila na the core leadership of ACT is part of the underground movement. Actually, I was just waiting na pangalanan kami doon kanina. Siguro alam din nila kung ano 'yung implication ng kanilang ginagawa. Pero with that mere statement saying that the core leadership, e sino po ba 'yun? That's me, the secretary general, my president, my vice president, and other officials of the national executive ng ACT. 'Yun ang kanilang pinupunterya without any single evidence associating to us," he explained.
Basilio stressed that they are one with the government in advocating that schools must be peace zones, and they "are not tolerating any violent or armed activities in schools."
Since January, DepEd recorded over 64,000 learners, more than 3,000, and 165 schools affected in various NPA attacks in Masbate, Camarines Sur, and Rodriguez, Rizal.
Poa said the respective schools are conducting psychosocial services for affected students and school personnel.
He added that the agency is in constant coordination with security forces, and assured it is putting equal importance to safety and security and to its mandate on delivering learning.
"There are always comments na dapat we focus on school infrastructure, teaching for example. But actually pantay-pantay 'yan. All of them are pressing concerns for the DepEd... We really exercise fiscal responsibility... We don't put everything in one basket. Hindi lang siya focused sa school buildings."
"Marami tayong ginagawa simultaneously kasi hindi naman sila incompatible. Kasi parati nga natin sinasabi, when we want to improve 'yung basic education sa Pilipinas, we cannot solely focus on school buildings, we cannot solely focus on teachers. We have to do both and we also have to include the security of learners," he shared.