Press Release
February 24, 2021

Pia on reopening of schools: focus should be on safeguards, not the debate on open vs do not open

Highlights of Senator Pia S. Cayetano's manifestations at the hearing of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts, and Culture (Part 2)

Topic: Prospects of pilot-testing face-to-face classes with strict safety regulations in low-risk areas

We've been discussing the reopening (of classes) since April, since May. So for the life of me, I cannot understand why we cannot roll out a pilot now? We've been discussing this for months and what has changed? We saw the surge, it went down a little bit, we saw the surge again. Alam na natin ito.

Hopefully, God willing, it can get better with the vaccine and with more information. So, baka pwedeng mabalik natin kay Usec. [Nepo Malaluan] na if the President allows, can you roll out the pilot-testing next week? I agree [that we] do it slowly, because if you do 100 schools next week, with permission of course, in one week's time, you can look at it naman, sumusunod ba ang mga bata? Like I said, from my own non-professional experience, and looking at what I've seen, parang kaya yun. So you really just have to insist that we are able to do this: 100 and then the next week, 500, and then 1,000, and so on and so forth, adjusting along the way. Why can't we do that ASAP? Assuming the permission is needed, can you do that next week?

[Usec. Malaluan said DepEd is prepared to roll out the pilot-testing.]

May I just respond quickly and then make one more statement with regards to NEDA?

Usec. Nepo, so itong rollout n'yo, would it already take into consideration the communities and schools as I showed all of you? [Note: Lusod Community School in Brgy. Lusod, an upland community in the town of Itogon, Benguet province, which Sen. Cayetano visited last Feb. 22 to distribute books for children and medical supplies for the villagers.]

May ganun na kayong model din? Kasi isang model lang yan sila. Those with 10 and less students, those with combined classrooms, those where the community is so small that they can even use their common area as a whole classroom under the trees, meron na kayong ganung scenario?

[Usec. Malaluan said they have this model and will show their presentation in the next hearing.]

I really want to move on this because sabi naman ni Usec,. they are prepared. So dapat ready na ang presentation na yan.

One point I wanted to raise since we're talking about coordination with IATF and all, I was in contact with Sec. Karl Chua of NEDA, because remember the economic cluster was pushing for the lowering of the quarantine status for the economy. I don't know if we included somebody from NEDA [in this hearing], I think they are the ones who see the bigger picture, they also coordinate for the SDGs.

Although Sec. Karl and his agency, NEDA, may be seen as part of the economic cluster, but he really is in charge also of supposedly coordinating all the efforts on the education side, on the health side, because they are supposed to ensure that we are on target with the SDGs. So when I asked him contrary to what I would read in the papers na the economic cluster as a whole is simply pushing for opening versus not opening, he explained to me that all along, he's been for the gradual reopening of schools. May ganun naman. I don't read that in the news. It's lost in this very black and white debate - open vs. not open - which really shouldn't be the case. The narrative should be, we have to open. How do we open? How soon can we open? What safeguards do we put into place to open?

I am pretty sure all of the stakeholders feel the same way, but maybe we can also ask our media friends to help phrase it that way. Kasi we don't send the right message collectively as policymakers kapag it's just one group versus another - open vs. not reopen.

Having said that, of course, I express our common concern. For me, every time you talk about children and going to the malls, including sports, which as you all know I am a big advocate of, every time we'd spend an hour discussing that, it's an hour lost discussing how children can go back to school. That's the frustration that we face. You're engaging local government officials, IATF people to discuss this, and yet the school is like a clear "No." It doesn't make sense, Mr. Chair. Thank you.

What I learned during my discussion with [Baguio City] Mayor Benjie Magalong is it's not just the data on may positive ba diyan or wala. Because first of all, the testing is very low in a lot of those [far-flung] areas. [So we should go beyond the] visual observation if kumusta ang positivity rate nila. That's a fact.

So the thing that we need to ensure is that the safety protocols of the barangays and communities are in place. Like I said, ang haba ng protocols na pinadala nila sa akin para bumisita ako doon [Benguet], which is good because they [LGUs] need to insist on that. Tapos [makikita ko] itong grupo ng mga bata pupunta para mag-misa sa kabilang barangay. So where's the consistency there?

Ang reminder ko lang sa DepEd is to put that in your checklist that these communities that you are working with - and I know you mentioned it already - but just to emphasize that beyond just the numbers kung kumusta positivity, remember it is not that reliable because the testing rate is very low. More important siguro because of the lack of testing is the safety protocols that they have in place na walang lumulusot. With all due respect, because it's a religious activity, pwede na lang dagsain ng mga tao? Ganun ba yun? Dapat hindi, diba? Dapat andun pa rin ang safety protocols. Hindi pwede mag-interact ang students [sa klase] pero aakyat doon ang ilang mga high school students para mag-interact sa kabilang barangay?

So yun lang. For all I know, maybe they have standards when they get there, but I was just a little bit surprised na may ganun pala, nag-interact sila and yet they told me that the relatives cannot go in and out of the village. So bakit may bumibisita na kabilang barangay na mga bata? So yun lang, paki-note.

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