Senate needs France Castro

Castro is always on the front lines, from the remote IP communities in Mindanao to the shabby classrooms where kids don't have shoes on to the protests of tutors asking for more money to buy chalk and school supplies for kids who can't afford them. Other lawmakers make the front pages of newspapers with their "heartfelt" PR puffery while failing to pass a single law that people can trust.

By Diego Mora

ACT Teachers Rep. France L. Castro has been battling for years to improve the welfare of teachers nationwide, raise their salaries and reform the educational system so that young Filipinos would advance in science, mathematics and the arts.

For such unstinting commitment to the sector she represents, Castro has been vilified, Red-tagged, arrested or harassed as she joined fact-finding missions on the murders of educators in Mindanao and the closures of schools managed by the indigenous people (IP) or educational rights advocates.

As she diligently pursued the investigation into the P221.4-million disbursements of resigned Education Secretary Sara Zimmerman Duterte Carpio in a span of 11 days as 2022 drew to a close, she was bashed, tagged as “an enemy of the people” and a “coddler of terrorists,” only for the Sara cohorts to shut up when Castro and the Makabayan Coalition produced all the receipts that proved their allegations against the DepEd secretary.

Sara has no love lost for France, and the ACT Teachers lawmaker proceeded to do her job, securing confirmations from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the Office of the Executive Secretary (OES) and the Commission on Audit (COA) that the Duterte daughter had, indeed, sought P125-million from the OES to fund, among other things, the purchase or lease of seven satellite units of the Office of the Vice President (OVP.) The money, charged to the Contingent Fund (CF) of Malacanang, for which the Palace is accountable, was supposed to be part of OVP Confidential and Intelligence Fund (CIF) during a year when the same office had zero CIF budget.

Castro was denounced for her dogged pursuit of the receipts, or the basic documents, about the initial P125-million given to Sara by Malacanang, only to find out that an additional P96.4 million was remitted to the OVP in the merry month of December 2022. Accused of lying, Castro stood her ground, disclosing figures, pieces of evidence and testimony that bolstered the allegations against the Duterte daughter. By questioning not only the P150-million that Sara wanted as CIF for the DepEd apart from the P500 million CIF for the OVP, Castro argued that the funds could instead be used to improve teaching, raise salaries and build more classrooms.

Unlike other lawmakers who land on the front pages of the newspapers for his bleeding hearts PR pablum while failing to craft a single credible law, Castro is always on the battlefront, from the remote IP communities in Mindanao to the ramshackle structures that pass for classrooms of unshod pupils, to the protests of tutors asking for more cash to buy chalk and educational materials for kids who cannot afford to buy them. She fought against the profiling of teachers by military and police intelligence, denounced surveillance and monitoring of bank transactions of teachers who are paid online and slammed the attempt to transform schools into military camps or indoctrination centers.

So unlike Sara, who has been crisscrossing the country in aid of the 2025 and 2028 elections, Castro was also patiently performing her duties at the House of Representatives, in stark contrast to congressmen who are present only for the roll calls and whose voting records hew closely to the agenda set by Malacanang. She formalized her Senate run a day after the Duterte dynasty disclosed that former president Rodrigo Duterte, his and Davao City 2nd district Rep. Paolo Duterte and youngest son and current Davao City Mayor Sebastian Duterte will also vie for Senate seats next year. Worse, Sara confirmed that his brother Sebastian will only use the Senate as a springboard as he will run for president in 2028. And the source of the news? The estranged ex-wife of Rodrigo, Elizabeth Zimmerman.        

Rodrigo’s case reminds us of a famous quip from the late Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. who was asked if he was running for the Senate anew after undergoing a medical procedure: “Hindi na nga ako makalakad, tatakbo pa?” Castro can walk, run and work in the Senate while promoting the best interest of her constituency, the Filipino people at large. As to the other senators? They can busy themselves ensuring that their children will succeed them at the Upper Chamber, or their siblings will not be decorations when the Senate transfers to Bonifacio Global City (BGC), or entertain the people with their investigations that go around in circles, heading nowhere. The Senate should stop being a call center for the offspring of political kings and queens. Electing industrious lawmakers like Castro is a must for voters who care.###