By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate President Vicente Sotto III insisted on Tuesday the need for the bill that will authorize the opening of classes after August, in anticipation of the COVID-19 outbreak’s “second wave.”
Sotto told reporters that he will still push for the approval of his Senate Bill No. 1438, which seeks to allow the opening of classes in September or any month to give the Department of Education (DepEd) more time to prepare and adapt to the “new normal” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones had earlier said that the opening of the school year 2020-2021 has been set on August 24, although schools may adopt online learning methods for their students.
Sotto said he discussed the bill with Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Basic Education Committee, who also feared that the COVID-19 situation might worsen.
“What if there is a second wave? When I was talking to Sen. Gatchalian, ‘yon mismo sabi niya: Paano kung may second wave, paano sasagutin ng DepEd ‘yan (he asked that: What if there is a second wave, how will DepEd respond to that)?” the Senate chief said in an online meeting with reporters.
Briones, he said, stands to violate the law should she decide to reschedule the opening of the school year to a later date without the law allowing it.
Republic Act No. 7977 states that “the school year shall start on the first Monday of June but not later than the last day of August.”
“My bill gives the President the power to adjust school calendar unlike the previous law,” he said, adding that he leaves the matter to Gatchalian.
Aside from Sotto, Sen. Joel Villanueva also filed a similar measure allowing the DepEd to postpone the school opening beyond August during a state of calamity or a state of national emergency.
Sotto said such measures will be one of the pieces of legislation that the Senate will prioritize in the resumption of their sessions.
Other priority bills include the proposed Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Reform Act (CITIRA) which President Duterte had certified as urgent, the proposed Expanded Solo Parents Act, the re-filed bill proposing the creation of the Coconut Industry and Development Trust Fund, and the bill seeking heftier penalties for the crime of perjury.
Sotto also considered as an important piece of legislation the proposed Medical Scholarship Act to entice more Filipinos to enroll in medical courses and hence produce more health workers who will serve the country.