Senate tackles bill granting president power to move school opening beyond August

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 26 2020 08:11 PM

FILE PHOTO: Students wear face masks in a school in Batasan Hills, Quezon City as a precaution against COVID-19, 10 cases of which were confirmed in the Philippines. Photo taken Feb. 3, 2020. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Senate on Tuesday began to tackle in plenary a measure that would allow the President to move the opening of classes beyond August during a pandemic or a national emergency.

At least 12 senators signed Committee Report No. 87 which consolidates 3 bills that authorizes the president or the education secretary to "defer the start of the school year in times of emergencies and calamities."

"Sa pamamagitan ng panukalang batas na ito, mabibigyan natin ang mga paaralan ng mas mahabang panahon upang siguruhin ang kaligtasan ng bawat mag-aaral, guro, at kawani ng mga paaralan," Senate Committee on Basic Education chair Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said in his sponsorship speech.

(Through this bill, we will give schools longer time to ensure the safety of every student, teacher and personnel in our schools.)

"Bagama’t hangarin natin na maipagpatuloy ang edukasyon, ang kaligtasan at kalusugan pa rin ang ating pangunahing prayoridad sa gitna ng pandemyang ating kinakaharap," he said.

(While it is our goal to ensure continuity of schooling, health and safety is still our top priority in the face of a pandemic.)

The measure takes into consideration the health and safety of some 27 million students, their parents, and approximately 1.2 million teachers and school personnel in 61,000 public and private schools in the country, Sen. Joel Villanueva, a co-author of the bill, said in a separate speech.

"The COVID-19 pandemic lends urgency into this piece of legislation," Villanueva said.

"I sincerely believe that we must allow some flexibility in our laws. But, we have no choice but to let hard science and not public opinion surveys or guesses call the shots," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon told Gatchalian that the bill needs to "be very specific" to ensure that it would cover international schools, which operates under charters based in the school calendar of other countries.

Under Republic Act 7977, the DepEd is mandated to open each school year during a specific time frame between the first Monday of June and the last day of August.

The DepEd earlier moved the start of school year 2020-2021 to August, 2 months later than the usual June opening, as the education sector adjusts to a blended learning system to minimize the exposure of students to the coronavirus.

But Gatchalian said most schools in the Philippines are not yet ready to deliver lessons through online, television, radio or print, citing the country's slow and limited internet availability.

The Senate will continue debating on the measure during the May 27 session, as lawmakers hope to pass the bill on third and final reading before Congress adjourns for a break on June 3, 2020.

President Rodrigo Duterte had said Monday he would prefer not to hold physical classes until a vaccine against the coronavirus is available.