MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senators on Monday, June 1, unanimously approved on final reading a bill which seeks to give the President the power to start classes later than August during a state of emergency.
Voting 23-0, senators passed Senate Bill 1541, which proposes to amend Section 3 of Republic Act 7797, the law that sets the start of classes between the first Monday of June and the last day of August. The Philippines is under a state of public health emergency due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Under the bill, the President, upon the recommendation of the Department of Education, may “set a different date” for the start of classes nationwide or in select parts of the country.
The bill would cover all basic education schools, including foreign and international schools.
The House of Representatives has yet to pass a counterpart measure. House Bill No. 6895, which carried the same amendment as the Senate bill, was sponsored and approved on second reading on Monday.
The earlier version of the House bill sought to suspend classes and school activities “until further notice.” Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda suggested that the House adopts the Senate version instead.
If the President certifies the measure as urgent, the lower chamber can pass it on 3rd and final reading before session adjourns sine die on June 3. Otherwise, this measure will have to wait until Congress resumes in July.
SB 1541 consolidated SB 1438, SB 1452, and SB 1457, which were authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senator Joel Villanueva, and Senator Francis Tolentino, respectively.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, the sponsor of the measure, said that the immediate passage of the measure would prevent the spread of coronavirus disease in schools.
The DepEd earlier announced that school year 2020-2021 would resume on August 24 – a decision approved by the government’s task force on the coronavirus. “Remote” enrollment officially started on June 1, with DepEd highly discouraging parents to go to schools.
However, President Rodrigo Duterte himself had rejected the move, saying that he would not allow classes to resume until a vaccine is developed.
Parents and students criticized DepEd’s decision to start classes on August 24, as the number of new infections daily continues to increase, the finances of households had been affected by the no-work-no-pay setup during the lockdown, and many households don’t even have access to the internet or to a computer.
Teachers, meanwhile, voiced their concern about putting children and their families at risk. – Rappler.com