MANILA - Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian on Thursday urged the Senate to earmark a portion of the 2021 budget for the medical benefits of teachers, noting that the lack of this allowance during the COVID-19 pandemic "sends a bad signal."
There is no item dedicated for a medical allowance for teacher under the Department of Education's (DepEd) proposed P563-billion budget for 2021, Gatchalian said during budget debates in the Senate.
"Removing that medical benefit for teachers sends a wrong signal, a bad signal that in times of a pandemic, we are not taking care of them," he said.
"The COVID-19 pandemic is a medical issue and the medical benefit is a good source for them to address this medical issue," he said.
The said allowance could not be found in the 2021 budget because the executive department did not ask for funding for the program, said Sen. Pia Cayetano, who sponsored the DepEd's budget in plenary.
But Cayetano refused to have a separate fund for the medical allowance of teachers, saying educators would be given the "choice" to spend their P5,000 allowance for medical needs.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers received P3,500 annually to augment their expenses for school materials.
Earlier this month, the Senate passed a law that would increase the "chalk" allowance to P5,000 next year so that educators may have extra cash for their needs under the blended-learning system.
"They included it as part of the expenses that can be used by teachers for their allowances so it's a choice that they make," she said.
"I just want to make sure that there will be no overlapping [of allocations]," she said, noting that the government has to spend on a lot of things next year, including the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines.
Cayetano said a separate funding that teachers may use for medical checkups is not a priority as not all educators may need to see a doctor during the global pandemic.
"Healthy people should not be prioritized for check-ups," she said, citing information from health experts.
"If we're talking about young healthy individuals and they need to see a doctor, then that's the time they go through the process of consulting a doctor," she said.
Gatchalian said that giving a medical benefit for teachers would help boost the morale of the education sector.
"My intention is just to make sure that the morale of our teachers remain high especially at this time that they are frontliners in bringing education to our children," he said.
The funding for the Alternative Learning System - designed for Filipinos who dropped out from formal education - should also have its separate line item in the 2021 budget, Gatchalian said.
"This is a good way to make sure that the ALS will be implemented as prescribed by law," he said.
Under the spending bill, the funding for the ALS is lumped with the other "flexible learning options" amounting to P16.6 billion.