The old guards of Philippine activism only give kind words when they talk about Ka Liling.
She is Leonor Magtolis Briones, who at 80 is the oldest in President Rodrigo Duterte’s Cabinet. Briones is part of the Official Family as the Secretary of Education, a position she has held since 30 June 2016 — the day Duterte assumed office.
She is known in the Cabinet as the quiet one. She only talks when it is her turn to give her piece.
Prior to joining the Cabinet, she had served as a professor at the University of the Philippines where she earned a degree in Master of Public Administration with a major in local government and fiscal administration in 1967. She obtained her Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a major in accounting from Silliman University in 1958.
She acquired her post-graduate diploma with honors at Leeds University in England in 1968.
Two years after that Ka Liling was an activist who played a big part in the First Quarter Storm (FQS) — the youth-led days of protests that shook all four corners of Malacañang and threatened Ferdinand E. Marcos down to his spine, he declared martial law in 1972 to save himself.
There’s a grainy black and white photograph of Liling Magtolis aboard a firetruck that they had commandeered to ram one gate of Malacañang at the height of those rallies that extended deep into the night.
She was wearing a one-piece mini that was the fad at the time. A head scarf, probably red in color, kept her hair in place. She was composed while everyone around her was agitated.
The flag that fluttered beside her was that of MPKP. It stood for Malayang Pagkakaisa ng Kabataang Pilipino, to which some old activists swore she was once a member of. The MPKP was the old pro-Soviet Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas-1930’s youth group, the remnants of the Kabataang Makabayan, whose core Jose Maria Sison towed out of the PKP-1930 to form the nucleus of the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
The stories of FQS had long been held hostage by the organizations and personalities with links to Sison’s CPP-NPA. But once, aboard a firetruck, Ka Liling had almost led a bunch of other activists not belonging to the CPP-NPA into the grounds of Malacañang.
Ka Liling had made it to the Palace after long years of struggle as a professor teaching public fiscal administration at the UP. She served as secretary to the Commission on Audit for seven years, consultant to the Senate of the Philippines, Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Program.
Her life revolved around education, shuttling to and from the UP and Silliman University.
Briones was a former president of Freedom from Debt Coalition.
She previously served as Presidential Adviser for Social Development, with the rank of Department Secretary, under President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, a position she had held in the government that counted trips to the National Treasury of the Department of Finance and the Commission on Audit.
She is clean, all of those around her could attest.
It’s her journey into the Department of Education that has been beset with several issues, though. At her age and with her long experience as an economist and educator, she has encountered the challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, exposing the DepEd to the incompetence of several educators under its management.
Among the issues brought to the attention of Daily Tribune is the refusal of several teachers to conduct online lessons on schedule, their aversion to using lower-cost online platforms that are affordable to the pupils and their families, lodging complaints against principals who are strict with the online class schedules, and many others which are fanned by teachers’ unions masquerading as welfare groups.
At the forefront of these rumblings are activists not in Briones’ mold but under the influence of the CPP-NPA. They are described to be mostly rabble-rousers not dissimilar to the persons Ka Liling had been with when she was so much younger.
But times have changed. Ka Liling’s experience during the FQS was due to the radicalization of the masses over issues bigger than themselves.
The bunch she has to deal with now could not even make proper lesson modules. But they can agitate others by complaining against election duties, their supposedly low salaries compared to what the soldiers are getting, and fire away many more complaints as long as they can raise their megaphones higher than their mouths.
Ka Liling can check with her supervisors, although some of them are said to be sympathetic with these union leaders.
That’s why they can do these things, except man their online classes.
Pity our children whose future is broken by their faulty books, modules and poor communication.
Woe to those who have wasted the gains laid before them by their elders, one of them aboard a firetruck.