LONDON — There is no slowing down for the erudite, octogenarian outgoing secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd) Leonor Magtolis Briones, who recently attended and spoke about equity and resources in education, in one of the plenary sessions of the four-day Education World Forum 2022.
The Education World Forum, which was held from 22-25 May 2022 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, is the largest gathering of education and skills ministers around the world, with 122 education ministers from some 107 countries in attendance this year.
“We discussed how we can move forward, how we survived, shared stories, and how we handled different challenges post by COVID, particularly the shutdown of schools, the changes in the curriculum,“ Briones told ABS-CBN News after the summit on Thursday.
The cabinet secretary also spoke for the first time about the transition as finished as the head of the largest bureaucratic institution in government, with the biggest budget, and during the pandemic, had been beset with issues.
She said she is ready to step down but not retire and if asked for advice, she will unselfishly share her vast experience in government service. Briones is a former Presidential Adviser for Social Development, with the rank of department secretary and was National Treasurer of the Philippines, heading the Bureau of National Treasury (1998-2001), under the presidency of Joseph Estrada.
“It’s the prerogative of the incoming president to appoint members of his official family. He chose her (Duterte) and she accepted. But we are looking for continuity. She is fully aware of all our programs that we initiated at the Department of Education.”
She shared that Duterte has reached out to her twice to facilitate the transition but they have yet to meet in person.
“She has reached out to me quite a few times. It just so happened I was in a very important meeting. She has just been proclaimed. After she takes her oath of office, we will start the transition process immediately. We have had an exchange of letters, wherein we suggested that she selects her transition team, her point person and I have my own undersecretary heading our own transition team,” said Briones.
Briones is also hoping Duterte will continue the two key DepEd projects: the Alternative Learning System and Last Mile Schools Program, among others, which have been supported by her own father President Rodrigo Duterte.
“I go by her public declaration that whatever programs there are, she will study them and of course, she will carefully consider, whether she will recommend to the new president. And, it’s very likely that she will, because the outgoing president is her father,“ Briones said.
For those doubting the ability of Duterte to lead the DepEd, Briones said: “She is basically a very intelligent person. She will bring her own perspective. She is her own person.”
Briones also believes being mayor of one of the Philippines' richest cities, and having had access to the grassroots in the education sector, will help Duterte navigate through her new role: “She is very concerned about citizenship, about loyalty to the country beyond of course the usual academics. So she is not really a complete stranger. I’m sure she will be able to pick up along the way.”
She also gave her congratulatory message after Duterte’s proclamation on Wednesday.
“Vice President Sara: first of all, congratulations on your proclamation as vice president of the Philippines. we in the DepEd family are looking forward to welcoming you as the new secretary of education.”
Hopeful under the new administration
Briones, who is known as “Ka Liling” during her activism days, played a big part in the First Quarter Storm (FQS) under the rule of the Marcos regime. Now, under the presidency of Marcos, Jr., she is “hopeful.”
“To quote from Lord of the Rings, sabi in Arwen, when everything was so dark-- there is always hope. Otherwise, we give up and that is the worst thing that could happen,” said Briones.
She believes president-elect Bongbong Marcos will look after well the education department because she was given an impression, when she met and chatted with Marcos Jr., that he had a penchant for mathematics and music.
“We have met even before I was secretary of Education when I was with civil society- Social Watch Philippines and I recalled that we talked not about politics, not about education but we talked about music and how you loved mathematics and music, which resonates with the priorities of the department itself. we want our learners to be good and to be familiarised with the basics of mathematics, with science, and technology but at the same time, we don’t want them to forget their culture, we don’t want them to forget that they are humans.”
After attending the forum in the UK capital, Briones also met with management system providers and Cambridge Partnership for Education.