“Education is the key to the improvement of the quality of life of Filipinos.”
This is the truism Senator Teresa “TAO” Aquino Oreta maintained as Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture of the 11th Congress, and still maintains even as she handles a different committee in the 12th Congress. It is with this principle that Senator Aquino Oreta has vigorously sought to improve the employment status, working conditions, and welfare benefits of public school teachers.
“I want to take care of the teacher so that the teacher in turn will take care of our children, so in turn our children will take care of the future of the country,” she has often said.
The youngest of the prominent Aquino’s of Tarlac, she carries with her the strong family tradition of nationalism and activism.
Senator Aquino Oreta finished her primary school at the College of Holy Spirit in Mendiola and finished high school at Assumption College. She then took up Literature and history at the Assumption Convent and received her International Studies degree in Cuidad Ducal, Avila, Spain. She became a Lieutenant Colonel (Reserved) in the Philippine Air Force after earning a Master’s Degree in National Security Administration from the National Defense College of the Philippines.
She is married to businessman Antolin M. Oreta Jr., and they have been blessed with four children – Rissa, Len, Karmela and Lorenzo.
Before being elected to the Senate, she already made her mark as a legislator in the House of Representatives for three consecutive terms, from 1987-1998, representing the district of Malabon-Navotas. Even then, she already focused on issues concerning education, women and children, livelihood and employment, food and health, as well as the improvement of public facilities in Malabon and the nation in general.
At the Lower House, she authored, and co-authored about 280 bills (79 were enacted into laws) and proposed 101 local and national resolutions (20 were adopted). Senator Aquino Oreta became Assistant Majority Floor Leader twice: First during the 8th Congress in 1987 and the second, during the 10th Congress in 1995. In so doing, she became the first woman Assistant Majority Floor Leader in the history of the Lower House.
A strong advocate of women’s health empowerment, she authored Republic Act 6864 eventually led to the creation of the MAKATAO Center for Women Center / San Lorenzo District Hospital for women in Malabon in March 1998. The center and hospital seek to provide integrated health services, health education and counseling.
In the 1998 National Elections, she was elected senator under the LAMMP (Laban ng Makabayang Pilipino) banner.
In the three years she has been in office, Senator Aquino Oreta had filed 197 Senate Bills (authored and co-authored) and resolutions, related to education, youth, women, family relations, health, local governments, trade and commerce, foreign relations, agriculture, agrarian reform, justice, public works, human rights, cooperatives, labor, mass media, electoral reforms, government service, environment, rural development, finance, public order and illegal drugs, and many other concerns.
Senator Aquino Oreta is guided by her Seven-Point-Agenda which accounts for her thrusts in the legislature:
The Filipino Child First. “We need to guarantee that the Filipino child will be nurtured in an environment conducive to infant survival, growth and physical development.”
Caring for Our Teachers. “No education reform will succeed unless it is a reform of the teaching-learning process and is focused on helping the teacher become a better teacher.”
Governing Basic Education. “Promulgate instead a policy framework for the governance of basic education which shall adhere to a principle of shared governance, the adoption of decentralized system of basic education and the establishment of opportunities for local school initiatives.”
Modernizing Education. “The new age of learning will bring fresh views, new looks and different shapes of schooling and schools.”
Universalizing Literacy. “It is easy to be self-complacent with very high literacy rates that are officially reported to be 94%. Yet it is disturbing to know that the other side of this so-called ‘achievement’ is the fact that almost 11 million Filipinos have very poor or even no literacy and numeracy skills at all.”
Rationalizing Tertiary Education. “I am alarmed with statistics that only 16.2 of every 100 students in both public and private schools who began in Grade 1 in any given schools year subsequently reached 4th year college. What immediately comes to my mind with such discouraging figures are not the faces of those who made it but rather of those who did not. When 83.8 of 100 students do not survive one wonders if this reflects a failure of the students or of a system of education that over the years has become both ineffective and inefficient.”
Policy Research. “There is a need to look for data about education legislation in order to make sure that they are implemented and that they benefit our learners.”
Some of her bills that have been signed into law during the 11th Congress include:
R.A. 8980 – Early Childhood Care and Development Act
R.A. 8972 – Solo Parent Act
R.A. 9053 – Philippine Landscape Architecture Act
R.A. 8976 – Philippine Micronutrient Fortification Program
R.A. 9003 – Solid Waste Management Act
R.A. 8749 – Clean Air Act
R.A. 8976 – Food Fortification Act
R.A. 8792 – E-Commerce Act
R.A. 9105 – Art Authentication Act
R.A. 9036 – Philippine Science High School System Act
R.A. 9155 – Governance of Basic Education Act
Early 1999, Project TAO, for Teachers’ Advancement for Optimum Well-being, was launched. This is the nationwide survey of the employment status, working conditions, and welfare benefits of public school teachers – the most comprehensive study of its kind in the history of the Philippine education. It is meant to give a face and a name for every statistical data on teachers for any given locality. The database has already been completed and turned over to the Department of Education, Culture and Sports for them to periodically update and improve on where necessary.
The success of this undertaking is being parlayed to another study on the computer readiness of all primary and secondary schools, public and private, (Project TAO CARES) with the end view of interconnecting them with the DECS Central Office database. Also, school heads, principals and schools division superintendents were trained in the effective administration of schools (Project TAO LEADS) in direct response to the Project TAO findings, as well as the changing needs of the school environment.
Senator Aquino Oreta is also responsible for enabling the issuance of pay slips for public school teachers for the first time in August 2000. This she pushed for, immediately upon learning that the teachers were kept in the dark of any deductions from their salaries by the simple absence of this basic document.
The Senator strives to be in constant touch with her constituents particularly through her radio program, “Usapang TAO sa RMN” which is aired from 7:00 to 8:00 am every Sunday over DZXL (558 KHz) Manila, DYHB (74.7 KHz) Bacolod, DXCC (828 KHz) Cagayan de Oro, DYHP (612 MHz) Cebu, DXDC (621 KHz) Davao, DWNX (91.1 MHz) Naga, DYMY (729 KHz) Cotabato, DYMD (1152 KHz) General Santos, and DXRZ (900 KHz) Zamboanga.