MANILA - Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Tuesday formally sponsored a consolidated measure that seeks to empower President Rodrigo Duterte to set or postpone school openings during national emergencies.
Senate Bill 1541 is the consolidated version of three proposed measures sponsored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senators Joel Villanueva and Francis Tolentino.
The measure seeks to amend a provision in Republic Act 7797 or the law that lengthens the school calendar from 200 to 220 days, with the Department of Education secretary setting the school opening between the first Monday of June to August.
During Tuesday’s Senate session, Gatchalian, chairperson of the Committee on Basic Education, said opening classes in August will endanger students in contracting the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
“In fact, further moving the school opening beyond August is a decision with more complicated implications in the education sector, not only on the health and safety of the learners and their parents, but also on the livelihood of private school teachers and the survival of the private education sector,” Gatchalian said.
“The immediate effect of this legislation would be to empower the president to move the start of the school year 2020 to 2021 to September or even later, in the event that public health authorities would recommend the postponement of the school year in order to contain the spread of COVID-19,” Gatchalian added in his sponsorship speech.
Senate Majority leader Miguel Zubiri, who co-sponsored the measure, pointed out the need for the legislature to make a “pro-active” amid the situation, especially in the face of thousands getting infected by COVID-19.
“We need a proactive stance now more than ever because this concerns a very important and vulnerable demographic of our population, our children…this country’s future… there is a need to give our government the flexibility to postpone the opening of classes at a later date for our children’s safety and welfare,” Zubiri said.
Villanueva also said the educational sector in the country involves more than 27 million students, 1.2 million teachers and school personnel, and 61,000 public and private schools.
“This measure will consolidate the efforts of education stakeholders in mitigating damages and surmounting challenges in this crisis. More importantly, this measure will pacify stakeholders and reassure parents who remain wary of sending their kids back to school while the pandemic is still in place,” he explained.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, urged the Senate to state in the provisions that the bill, once enacted into law, will cover both public and private schools including international learning institutions which traditionally observe their own rules and standards.
The recommendation was immediately accepted by Gatchalian.
The Senate will continue deliberating on the measure on Wednesday, with the target of passing it on second reading the same day.