(File photo)

MANILA – Senator Pia Cayetano dismissed criticisms against a Department of Education (DepEd) order on social media use limitations, saying the agency is justified in promoting professionalism among teachers and other employees.

Cayetano sponsored DepEd's PHP678.1-billion proposed budget for 2023, which was already "deemed submitted" after hours of plenary interpellations late Monday night.

As professionals, Cayetano said teachers should follow protocols.

"I am speaking for myself, I would recommend also that these concerns would be, idaan sa tamang proseso. Kung ano ang gusto niya i-post sa personal life niya, wala naman problema doon (go through the right process. Whatever he/she wants to post about his/her personal life, there is no problem with that), to a certain extent, professional," Cayetano said during her interpellation with Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros.

"At the end of the day, you want to talk about it, tingin ko freedom naman talaga nila ‘yun (I think they really deserve that freedom) but you want it to be dealt with professionally. Don’t expect your bosses or superiors to respond to your social media post. ‘Yun lang naman ang sa akin (That is just my point). I am not referring to any particular case. Of course, it’s a case-to-case basis," she added.

Under Department Order (DO) No. 49, DepEd personnel, including teachers, are ordered to “avoid relationships, interaction, communication, including following social media with learners outside of the school setting, except if they are relatives.”

In response to Hontiveros' manifestation that she finds DO 49 bothersome for teachers amid the prevalent use of social media in learning processes, Cayetano explained that it aims to end situations between teachers and their students that "did not end well".

"Sa prinsipyo kasi, Madam Chair (In principle), teachers are in loco parentis [in place of parents] at all times. Sa paglilinaw po, paano ba dapat i-interpret, ‘yung implikasyon nito (To make it clear, how should it be interpreted, its implication) for teacher-student relationships and the spaces provided within the school settings? Para masiguro ang (To make sure of the) positive learning environment para sa mga estudyante at guro (for students and teachers)?" she asked.

Cayetano said she understood the teachers' sentiments regarding DO 49 and urged DepEd to make sure to have "open channels" in addressing concerns.

"Between the teacher and principal, hindi na napaparating ang problem nila (Their problems are not being conveyed). So make sure, Madame VP, and the team that your channels are open, which I know that is the objective here," Cayetano told Vice President and DepEd Secretary Sara Duterte, who was in attendance for the whole duration of the budget deliberation.

In a previous press conference, DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa said DO 49 is “really more of a reiteration.”

“I think, we all agree that they (teachers) are all role models. And as role models, siyempre po (of course), they should act professionally and aside from that, they should always uphold the honor of DepEd in general," Poa explained.

Poa said teachers and students can reach out to each other in-person or online but just within the classroom or school setting.

In a previous statement, Duterte explained that the order was intended to minimize biases on the part of teachers and prevent criminal incidents from happening.

Judicious spending

Meanwhile, Senator Raffy Tulfo urged DepEd to properly utilize its intelligence funds to ensure the safety and protection of students from child molesters, kidnappers, drug dealers, and other predators.

The agency must also address complaints of rampant bullying and harassment from non-students outside the campus using their funds, instead of relying on the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) all the time.

“The PNP and PDEA are already overwhelmed as it is so it will be best kung magkakaroon ang DepEd ng sariling (if DepEd will have their own) intelligence network to easily track down people taking advantage of the lack of security in schools,” Tulfo said during the proceedings.

DepEd’s Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses must likewise be allotted for necessary expenses to avoid instances of teachers spending for classroom and students’ needs.

Future spending of DepEd will also be used for the holding of a National Reading Month, filed by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian as Senate Bill No. 475, every last week of November.

The bill includes participation in the month-long celebration of the National Library and all congressional, city, and municipal libraries, and village reading centers.

Public telecommunications entities will be tasked to provide free access to DepEd’s online educational platforms, digital libraries, and other online knowledge hubs and sites without additional financial burden on all subscribers.

Ang pagbasa ay isa sa mga pinakamahalagang pundasyon ng ating mga kabataan na dapat patatagin (Reading is an important foundation that must be strengthened for our youth), Gatchalian said in a statement. (With a report from Leonel Abasola/PNA)