DepEd as ISA         

By Artchil B. Fernandez

There is a dramatic shift in the role and function of the Department of Education (DepEd) when Vice President Sara Duterte was appointed as its head. Aside from education, Duterte added another layer to the work of DepEd – national security.

Sara Duterte made this clear when she justified her request for a P150-million confidential fund for DepEd in the 2024 national budget. “There is a purpose and a need for confidential funds in the DepEd because basic education is intertwined with national security,” she told the House Appropriations Committee.

The connection between basic education and national security may seem strange. But for structural Marxist Louis Althusser they are a perfect tandem and Duterte’s action makes sense. Althusser has long argued that educational institutions are crucial tools for the maintenance of the ruling system.

Why capitalism has endured despite its crisis and how does it reproduce itself? This is the central question Althusser wrestled with in his lifetime. He contends that capitalism endured and survived due to its ability not only to reproduce the material production but production relations as well.

The same can be said of the current unjust and highly asymmetrical social system in the country. Its ability to endure despite in a state of perennial crisis is due to its ability to reproduce itself. Althusser’s analysis of how capitalism survived is useful in understanding the current situation of the country in general and the behavior of Sara Duterte in the DepEd in particular.

How does the capitalist class or the ruling class in the case of the Philippines reproduce submission to the status quo? Using the Marxian notion of infrastructure and superstructure, Althusser develops his concept of Repressive State Apparatuses (RSA) and Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA). The infrastructure is the economic base and the superstructure “contains two ‘levels or ‘instances’: politico-legal (law and State) and ideology (different ideologies, religious, ethical, legal, political, etc.)” (Althusser 1971). Both the RSA and ISA reside in the superstructure.

Drawing from the Marxian view of the State as a “machine of repression which enables the ruling classes to ensure their domination over the working class,” (1971) the RSA for Althusser constitutes the government, army, police, courts, prisons, the administration among others.  ISA on the other hand according to Althusser represents “certain number of realities which present themselves to the immediate observer in the form of distinct and specialized institutions” (1971). He identified the school, religion, the family, legal, political, trade union, communication, culture among others as ISA.  The difference between the RSA and ISA Althusser maintains is this: “the Repressive State Apparatuses functions by violence; whereas the Ideological State Apparatuses function by ideology” (1971). For Althusser ideology “represents an imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” (1971).

Among the ISA, the educational institution is the core ideological state apparatus. Only schools Althusser asserts have “the obligatory (not the least free) audience of the totality of children in the capitalist social formation, eight hours a day for five or six days out of seven” (1971). In the past this role fell on the Church but in modern times, it has been replaced by the school.

From the point of view of Althusser, the school is not only a means of social control but a powerful tool of the ruling class to make the masses docile. Through the ISA, individuals or the students are interpellated through everyday activities. Interpellation for Althusser is the process by which the ideology constitutes the individual person as subject. Students are therefore molded as passive and pliant through ideological interpellation by the ISA, particularly the school.

Thus, by locking in basic education with national security, Sara Duterte is attempting to take advantage of DepEd as ISA to perpetuate the dominance of the ruling “Cartel of Dynasties.” Producing submissive citizens is one way for the ruling elite to ensure it rules not only at present but in the years ahead.

Recent order of Sara Duterte in the DepEd to clear classrooms of decorations without consultation and in the absence of scientific study on the issue signals her authoritarian bent.  She treats the education department like an RSA. This is not surprising since Duterte desperately wanted to be the secretary of national defense, a key RSA but was denied by Bongbong Marcos (BBM) who instead placed her in charge of a crucial ISA.  Duterte’s moves in DepEd indicate she is venturing into a dangerous experiment which is forging the agency both as ISA and RSA.

Transforming DepEd as ISA and RSA is a deathly step. Tying and connecting everything to national security is a fascist mentality. Nazi Germany demands total submission of citizens to the State. This is the character Sara Duterte is molding in young Filipinos through the DepEd. Who is the Fuhrer in her vision of a fascist state?

It is bad enough that DepEd as ISA is a tool that justifies and rationalizes the hegemony of the current unjust social order. But Sara Duterte is pushing or blurring the boundary between ISA and RSA in the DepEd by trying to make it an instrument both of repression and ideological manipulation.

Sara Duterte may have failed to lead an RSA and got an ISA instead but it did not prevent her from advancing her authoritarian agenda and mindset. In fact it had given her an opportunity to meld both RSA and ISA through DepEd. Should her attempt succeed, this will pave the way for fascism in the Philippines.