MANILA, April 2, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva And Nikko Dizon - As President Arroyo toured campuses yesterday as graduation guest speaker, the Department of Education (DepEd) issued an order allowing political campaigns in schools.

DepEd memorandum order 158, amending department MO 107, was issued as two more disqualification cases were filed agianst the President. Alyansa ng Pag-Asa senatorial candidates Bong Coo and Nicanor Gatmaitan and Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) congressional bet Mike Planas lodged their cases on Wednesday and yesterday, respectively.

Coo and Gatmaitan sued the President after Commission on Higher Education (CHED) acting chairman Manuel Punzalan issued a memorandum to schools requiring the reading of a brief speech by the President before graduating students. President Arroyo announced in five commencement speeches she delivered yesterday her administration’s "education for all" program, which seeks to provide scholarship for one child from each of the country’s seven million indigent families.

Even as the President made this announcement in Metro Manila, her rival, actor Fernando Poe Jr., defended his lack of formal education by pointing out that formal schooling does not constitute "experience." The President, who is seeking a full six-year term in the coming elections, said the full details of her "education for all" program will be disclosed as her gift to poor Filipino families on Easter Sunday. Mrs. Arroyo instructed officials of the DepEd and the CHED to work out the details of this education for all program over the summer break. She promised to pursue the program if she wins the presidential race.

"We now have a list of these indigent families in our country... next school year, we can give one scholarship per poorest family," she said. "That is education for all." The "next installment" of the Arroyo administration, she said, will be to reform the country’s education system to provide access to indigent families already identified as the intended beneficiaries of this new scholarship program.

In MO 158, Education Secretary Edilberto de Jesus allowed political campaign activities to be held in public school campuses under certain conditions. "Political rallies and public meetings must not be scheduled during school days while classes are ongoing," de Jesus said in his new order. The amended order also said political rally organizers may use the schools as venues for campaigns and public meetings as long as they secure the necessary permits from the concerned local government officials.

The new DepEd order also allows the posting of campaign materials within school premises, as long as these campaign paraphernalia are removed after the event. MO 158 is a reversal of MO 107, which marked public schools as "campaign-free zones." Poe, a high-school dropout said formal education does not constitute "experience."

"There are two kinds of experience," Poe, standard bearer of the KNP, said in Iloilo City. "There is experience in education — where one is able to study — and experience in life, where you work your way up from the bottom."

When asked if life experience is better than formal experience, Poe replied, "I believe so."

He has been criticized for seeking the highest post in the land despite his lack of formal education and political experience.

Poe was born into privilege, but his family lost all their wealth after the death of his father, actor Fernando Poe Sr.

The KNP standard-bearer always reminds people during his political rallies that he triumphed over seemingly insurmountable odds with hard work and dedication, despite his lack of education. Poe declined to comment on the DepEd’s "bridge program" for high school students, admitting that he has not heard about the program yet, though reports about it were published last week.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye dismissed criticism that the President violated the DepEd guidelines of, which bar candidates from campaigning at graduation ceremonies. The President flew to Batangas province Wednesday, where she was commencement speaker at the Batangas State University, Lyceum College of Batangas, and the University of Batangas.

She was also commencement speaker Thursday at graduation rites of the Novaliches High School, Pasay City East High School, Balara High School in Quezon City and the Fort Bonifacio High School in Makati City. — With Rainier Allan Ronda

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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