MANILA (UPDATE) - The Supreme Court has unanimously declared government's K to 12 basic education program as constitutional, 5 years since it was signed into law.
In a 94-page decision promulgated on Oct. 9, the high court dismissed the consolidated petitions filed by various schools, teachers, professors and legislators questioning the constitutionality of Republic Act 10533 or the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013.
The measure was signed into law by former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III in 2013 as his administration's flagship education reform program.
The program expanded the 10-year basic education cycle in the Philippines with kindergarten and 12 years of basic education. It aimed to produce high school graduates ready for either college or employment, as they will finish basic education at age 18.
The Supreme Court, in the same decision, also lifted the temporary restraining order which halted the exclusion of Filipino and Panitikan as core subjects in K to 12's college curriculum.
It also upheld the Kindergarten Education Act and other related issuances of the Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) implementing the K to 12 program.
In a ruling penned by Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa, the Court said the K to 12 law was validly enacted as it went through public consultations and had been signed by the Senate President and the House Speaker.
It also contained essential terms and conditions and sufficient parameters for exercising the powers delegated to DepEd, CHEd and TESDA, making it a valid delegation of legislative powers.
The high court justified the measure as an act of police power or the State’s authority to pass legislation that may interfere with personal liberty or property of its citizens in order to promote general welfare.
“The enactment of education laws, including the K to 12 Law and the Kindergarten Education Act, their respective implementing rules and regulations, and the issuances of government agencies are an exercise of the State’s police power. The State has an interest in prescribing regulations to promote the education and the general welfare of the people,” the Court said.
The court rejected claims that the K to 12 Law violated the Constitution when it made kindergarten and senior high school compulsory and, in so doing, imposed additional obligations on parents and students.
Republic Act 10157 or the Kindergarten Education Act made the 1-year kindergarden education for children at least 5 years old a requirement for grade school education.
The high court said that while the Constitution is clear in making elementary education compulsory, it did not limit the legislature’s power to determine the extent of basic education. Instead, it only provided for a minimum standard.
Nothing in international treaties, the Court added, prohibits the expansion of compulsory basic education beyond elementary school, and Congress should be lauded for going beyond the minimum standards.
The court also said that the objective of the K to 12 law was to serve the interest of the public and not only of a particular class. The means employed are commensurate with this objective, thus, it did not violate petitioners’ rights to due process, it said.
“[T]he restructuring of the curriculum with the corresponding additional years in senior high school were meant to improve the quality of basic education and to make the country’s graduates more competitive in the international arena,” the Court said.
“It was meant not only to (1) improve the basic education in the country, but also to (2) make it at par with international standards,” it added.
The court clarified that the K to 12 program is not being applied retroactively but only to those who are currently enrolled. Students who already graduated were not required to complete additional 2 years.
It also brushed aside policy arguments, junking the petitioners' argument that the K to 12 Law program only increases the resource gap, that the Philippine government does not have enough funds, and that there is no assurance that the program will give jobs to K to 12 graduates.
“Policy matters are not the concern of the court...government policy is within the exclusive dominion of the political branches of the government. It is not for the court to look into the wisdom or propriety of legislative determination,” the Court said.
EXCLUSION OF FILIPINO AND PANITIKAN SUBJECTS
A key contention raised by petitioners was the exclusion of Filipino and Panitikan subjects from the college curriculum.
The Supreme Court initially issued in April 2015 a temporary restraining order to stop the implementation of CHEd Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 20, the circular which revised the general education curriculum in colleges and universities.
But the top court lifted the TRO upon finding that the order is constitutional.
It said changes in the general education curriculum were implemented to ensure that there were no duplications of subjects from elementary and high school to college.
It added that CMO No. 20 only provided for minimum standards and that professors could always add more subjects as part of their academic freedom.
The Court also sought to address concerns raised that the implementation of the K to 12 program has led to job losses of some college professors.
Some argued they will lose their academic freedom upon transfer to senior high school classes.
“While the Court agrees, in principle, that security of tenure is an important aspect of academic freedom – that the freedom is only meaningful if the faculty members are assured that they are free to pursue their academic endeavors without fear of reprisals – it is likewise equally true that convergence of security of tenure and academic freedom does not preclude the termination of a faculty member for a valid cause,” it said.
It cited valid causes for termination of employment under the Labor Code such as reorganization, the abolition or redundancy of a position and the need to merge, divide, or consolidate positions.
USE OF MOTHER TONGUE
Aside from making kindergarten compulsory, the Kindergarten Education Act also mandated the use of the learner’s mother tongue as the primary medium of instruction in kindergarten.
The Court said this is not contrary to the Constitution because its framers never intended to use only Filipino and English as the exclusive media of instruction.
The Supreme Court decision on the K to 12 law comes almost two years after various groups filed their petition seeking to stop the implementation of the K to 12 law.