Press Release
December 9, 2021

ANC Headstart Interview of Sen. Win Gatchalian with Karen Davila on face-to-face classes, teachers honorarium, NTF-ELCAC and elections


Q: Sir, this December over 2000 learners from 28 schools in the NCR already participated in the dry run of limited face to face classes. So far, what have you observed, Senator Sherwin?

SEN. WIN: Karen, I took the opportunity to visit rural areas, in Zambales, Quezon and also here in the urban areas. Of course, the urban setting and the rural setting are worlds apart. In the rural areas, in my own analysis, we can really proceed with limited face to face classes as early as January and the reason for that is in our latest out there about 400 LGUs that have zero COVID. Meaning COVID cases are dropping and in some areas in some rural areas in our country are experiencing zero COVID. So in other words, they can really proceed with their limited face to face meaning at least 50% capacity. But in the urban areas is a different story. We still have to be cautious even though for example, like Valenzuela, it was quite an organized and successful comeback to limited face to face. But admittedly there are some LGU that are experiencing very crowded classrooms. For example, here in Metro Manila, for example, QC and in some parts of even Valenzuela, where we have 45 students per classroom, even 50 students per classroom. So even though you divide that into 50%, that's 25 students, so it's still quite congested. So we have to, in the urban areas, we have to do a case to case approach for limited face to face.

Q: Very good. So you're saying it's not a one size fits all? I'll start first with the rural areas, LGUs with very low COVID or no COVID at all. Would you suggest three hours of let's say blended learning, limited face to face, because at this point, they go face to face only on certain days of the week. I think it's twice a week. Or three times a week. For rural areas with no COVID, what kind of face to face do you see working for those areas? So let's face it, naiwan din ang marami nating mga estduyante.

SEN. WIN: Correct. In the rural areas, they definitely don't use online there, very limited, maybe less than 10% of the students there used online. Because some of them don't even have access to the internet because of the very limited access to the internet. In fact, the Barangay that I went to in Quezon, Quezon, there's sporadic internet connection. So it's impossible for them to have online learning. But the good thing about in their case is there's zero COVID, there's no COVID cases at all. In other words, they can go back to limited face to face meaning practice 50% capacity in the classroom and go longer than three hours because roughly speaking three hours you cannot learn so much. Because a typical session will be around six to seven hours. So as long as they practice 50% capacity they can go with longer hours.

Q: So what recommendation would you give, let's say in rural areas, with no COVID muna or let's say, very minimal numbers of COVID would you suggest for example, kasi I think right now basic education, lower grades are at three hours, would you suggest it to be five hours or six? The fear kasi what if the kids start eating together pero walang COVID naman doon.

SEN. WIN: At least five hours, and you know what I noticed also lately, the teachers are telling me, during pre-COVID time during class opening students will be very sociable, they'll be talking to each other. They'll be playing with each other. They'll be very gregarious. But this time they're quite reserved. And this is also quite an interesting phenomenon because we want our children to play with each other and socialize. But if they're wearing masks and shields and you know their distance from one another, we're actually complicating that social aspect of learning. And that needs to be looked at very closely because in an education setting we have to also make sure that they're developing socially or their social development is also being taught. So in other words, in the rural setting, we can go longer hours, provided we practice 50% and we allow a certain level of socialization among the kids because that's very important for their growth.

Q: Lalo na kung walang COVID sa lugar na yun, walang COVID tapos walang COVID naman ang mga bata definitely, 50% na yun, ang tanong ng ilan, tapos open air naman sa area, kailangan pa bang mag-mask?

SEN. WIN: Kailangan pang mag-mask, I think that's a minimum standard. The Shield should be studied carefully because I noticed also the kids are having a hard time talking, and we all experienced that. Imagine six hours of wearing mask and shield in a classroom which is not air-conditioned so there's also that aspect that we have to look at. But the pilot testing was successful, you know what adjustments we did also. In the beginning, the plastic barriers were mandated but a lot of the students also had problems because they're going to see their teachers and they are confined in a very limited space and it's very difficult for them to concentrate so the DOH and DepEd recommended removing that. So that's a very good improvement. So later on, maybe they can also study the shield if they can remove that.

Q: What suggestion would you make for face to face classes in the cities. You just said syempre iba dito sa syudad. One public classroom 45 students if you do 50% that will be 25, madami pa rin. but then if you have so many classes, kakayanin pa ba ng teacher syempre mapapagod din ang teacher

SEN. WIN: Karen, first things first. We have to make sure that the teachers are tested regularly. They get their PCR tests at least every two weeks, or at least once a month. This will help build confidence among the parents because the parents are actually quite scared in the urban setting, imagine Urban's quite congested. So first things first, we go with improving the confidence by testing the teachers regularly, of course that will be shouldered by the government and then second, we have to make sure also that the teenagers are vaccinated. Unfortunately, the teenage vaccination is quite low. We're now at 20%. And we're even in Valenzuela, we're experiencing a lot of hesitancy by what reason, we don't know exactly, but we are experiencing hesitancy among the teenagers. We have to continue to push the vaccination of our teenagers.

Q: Now, just recently, earlier this year, you filed Senate Bill number 2355, that's the academic recovery and accessible elearning program or ARAL. This is to institute a nationwide learning recovery program. What do you intend to do? What's the goal of the bill?

SEN. WIN: Karen, World Bank just reported that nine out of 10 ten year old cannot read. And that was exacerbated by the pandemic. Prior to that it was six and then now it's nine. And the learning loss also by ADB, meaning the amount of learning a student will learn in a specific grade was sliced into half. Meaning if you are Grade 12, you're only learning up to grade six. So meaning the pandemic has really exacerbated what we call learning loss. So, a lot of countries are now instituting what they call catch up or a catch up plan, meaning providing tutors, providing time for students to learn and to read to basically catch up. And ARAL means exactly a catch up bill which the government will provide tutors will provide materials, find those who are having problems reading because reading is a fundamental skill that all learners should learn.

Q: But isn't this a bit too ambitious? I mean, as it is already, there is a struggle in terms of, you have teachers asking for bigger salaries. They're asking for Internet funding. They're asking for laptops etc. Saan kukunin ang pondo at kahit ang tao, kasi mahal ang tutor, Senator.

SEN. WIN: That's a very good question. And that's precisely one of the core problems of this proposal. So we will now tap college education students. So if you are learning or enrolled in an education course and you want to be a teacher, we will tap you to provide tutoring, to those who need tutoring. And it's part of their practicum, or part of their OJT in our country. And we can also tap this in education, students because they also have to fulfill a certain amount of hours for their extracurricular activity. So instead of doing let's say other things, just go out and tutor students because these are just basic skills. And it will also help them in terms of getting more experience to become a teacher.

Q: Okay, let's talk about the budget now just very briefly. Clearly there is more desire in terms of adding funding for the Department of Education. And you are proposing to realign part of the P15 billion allotted to flexible learning options to the senior high school voucher program. Why is that? You are moving, that's a big amount of money. P15 billion on flexible learning options tapos ililipat mo sa senior high school voucher. What is the reason for this?

SEN. WIN: Before I answer that, the DepEd budget has grown from 2021 by 3%. So that's an additional of close to about P18 billion. So that's a piece of good news for the education sector, especially basic education, so we have more money by P18 billion. Now the logic why I was proposing to shift from flexible learning options to the senior high school voucher system is because number one, the flexible learning option is geared towards producing modules and I was arguing that second half of next year, we should go back to the normal face to face classes, meaning you don't need modules at all anymore, and because if you are providing for modules that means you're also saying that the whole year in 2022, we will still be under what we call distance learning. And I'm very optimistic that by the second half of next year, I hope, we will go back to the normal face to face. As far as senior high school vouchers are concerned, the government owes the private schools P35 billion, it's already compounding. And there are now approximately 600 private schools that closed. So in other words, we have to make sure that private schools are being paid for providing vouchers to our Senior High School.

Q: Right now, P35 billion ang hindi bayad.

SEN. WIN: In other words, ang utang ng gobyerno sa private schools is P35 billion. So what we don't want is for them to grow over time because it's growing before it was only less than P20 billion and now it's already 35. Because we're not allocating enough money to pay them. And that will accumulate then number two, private schools will now feel the pressure in terms of cash flows. So that's why that's the proposal to switch from a flexible voucher system.

Q: Ang tanong ko itong voucher system for a high school student for example, itong senior high school voucher amounts to how much?

SEN. WIN: Close to about P24 billion a year.

Q: What is the budget per student?

SEN. WIN: More or less they get about P7,000, the private schools, now what's happening here is the private schools are being paid close to approximately P10,000 on average, to take in a public school student so a public school can now study in a private school and government pays the private school.

Q: P10,000 a month per student?

SEN. WIN: Yes, more or less.

Q: Do you believe you have two years into the pandemic? There are many families that have been affected. And they moved some of their children from private schools to public schools. Are you seeing a change for 2022?

SEN. WIN: The good thing Karen is enrolled is now back to pre-pandemic level. So that's a good thing. And you're right, that most of the private school students, approximately close to a million actually went to our public schools. From a system point of view, it's good because everyone is in school, but of course, from a complimentary point of view, it's not good because the private schools are partners also. And they've been providing capacity over the years. So we have to look at that and also make sure that the private schools stay afloat even during the pandemic and one way of helping them is to make sure that the voucher system is being funded and paid on time.

Q: In terms of the DepED budget, you talked about the increase already. But should there be realignments in terms of the priorities of the DepEd other than this school vouchers, high school voucher system should we be building more classrooms? Senator?

SEN. WIN: In the long run, yes, that's why we funded what the DepEd calls the last mile schools because we have a lot of areas which do not have schools and this actually became haven for recruitment of let's say, terrorism or communist terrorist. And because the areas are not feeling government there. One way of government to be felt is to build schools. So that's why we funded close to P3 billion for the building of last mile schools.

Q: And in terms of the absorptive capacity involving these schools, we do know that for the 2021 budget, am I right to say that over 50% has been spent only. That's really, number one alarming, pathetic, ridiculous in terms of giving government service. So your P5 trillion, we've only spent more than half.

SEN. WIN: That's the point on the head. That's actually one of the criticisms against the department, the Department of Education. The building of classrooms is so slow, in fact, they are only building the budget for 2020. They're not even touching it. The 2021 or this year's budget. That's why the budget for classrooms was cut dramatically from P10 billion to P2 billion because they're not spending as quickly and that's why we're pushing them to fix the process of building classrooms. Money is not an issue. The legislators will support education by making sure that we have enough classrooms and enough materials, but the spending is actually the problem of DepEd and that has been a perennial problem, especially with building of classrooms.

Q: I know that of course, the Senate and the lower house handled the budget, but not the implementation of how the budget is spent. And yet you do have oversight functions, or now it is spent right? How would you change how the DepEd specifically can build faster? What is the problem in terms of the process of closing the bidding, negotiating for the contractor? What's the issue?

SEN. WIN: There's a very good program that the past administration actually implemented. I have to give credit where credit's due. I have to credit Brother Armin. He launched what they call a counterpart program in building of the classrooms. The problem of building classrooms right now is that everything is centralized to DPWH. So the budget is from DepEd and then DepEd gives it to DPWH and DPWH builds all the classrooms nationwide. And that is centralized. What Brother Armin did in the past is to give it to the local government units provided that the local government units come up with the 50% so hati tayo. I'll give you the 50% and you produce a 50% but you build the classroom. So in effect, he decentralized the building of classrooms. In fact, I experienced that when I was the Mayor in Valenzuela and it's faster because you have 1500 local government units, all at the same time building as goes to one DPWH building. I think we should repeat that program. It's a very good program and it can improve the phase of building classrooms.

Q: And considering the DPWH is building so many roads, bridges, they have big ticket items to run.

SEN. WIN: This type of decentralization is now being talked about in the mandanas ruling next year, the mandanas ruling will be implemented. And part of the devolution is to devolve the building of classrooms, but DepEd should still continue to support LGU because not all LGUs can build the necessary classroom. So the counterpart program of Bro. Armin is actually a good program in the sense that it decentralizes the building of classrooms and gives the absorptive capacity to the LGUs.

Q: Okay, in terms of the 2022 budget, what is allotted for teachers? I'm curious, is there a budget, let's say for teachers to be given their own laptops, because what's ironic is two years into the pandemic, you have teachers coming from, well ACT Partylist said that public school teachers don't even if gadgets or laptops, two years into online classes?

SEN. WIN: The future of learning in the Philippines will be blended learning. Meaning we will have both physical face to face classes and both internet based learning, this is the future of learning that we should look at. We cannot just go purely face to face, we cannot go purely on the internet. It has to be a combination. And the reason for that is the Philippines is a very vulnerable country. We have volcanic eruptions, we have typhoons, we have earthquakes. Now we are pandemics and we have to make sure that in any event learning will continue. And the only way to do that is to use the internet. Now to answer your question, yes, the budget provided close to about P20 billion for gadgets. And this is under their IT program. And this IT program, specifically will buy a lot of those gadgets to be given to our teachers. So we will now address the issue of the teachers but we should also address the issue of learners because our learners, some of them don't have access to the internet because of the cost and we have to look at that, that one is not in the budget yet.

Q: How would you address internet costs? Because actually, buying prepaid internet is more expensive than actually having a monthly internet bill.

SEN. WIN: We are actually, actually, I'm going to file a bill of subsidy for very poor students to have access to the internet. We noticed that the D and E segment of our public school have zero access to the internet at all. If they do, it's just very minimal. So we have to make sure that they have access to the Internet. The Internet now is becoming a basic necessity just like water and electricity and we're studying that possibility, of course that we'll need a lot of budget. So we're looking at some ways of raising funds to provide internet access to the poorest students in our public schools.


Q: Now this is already off your committee chairmanship, but since you have teachers and students under the constituency of your committee. Teachers are appealing and asking for higher honorarium, this coming elections. The Comelec has already increased honorarium by 2,000, but you do have the ACT partylist saying that it should be plus three. So that means 5,000 increase because they say it's technically not one day work but roughly at least well, not counting training, etc. But at least a solid two days and longer hours this election day.

SEN. WIN: On top of that, they're being taxed by the BIR, so the BR withholds approximately, I think about 20% of their allowance. It's not tax free. Hindi pa siya net. Actually I filed a bill to make it tax free. Because it's not a core responsibility of our teachers. In fact nakikiusap lang tayo sa mga teachers to man the polling places. So first of all, I agree to increase it because it hasn't been increased for a long time. And then number two, let's make it tax free now because, number one, it's easier for BIR just to leave it alone. And then second, it sends a good message to our teachers that even though it's under their mandate to man the polling places, they're there to help to make sure that elections are orderly. And on top of that, Karen, I just want to emphasize our teacher salaries quite far off from the teaching report. We looked at the numbers and the entry level of a teacher one is approximately around 20,000, or more or less. In Singapore, it's about 65,000, three times as much as ours. So again, if we want to improve the quality of our teachers, we have to make sure that our teachers are highly motivated and we attract the best. So I'm also looking at the possibility of raising it. Not 65,000 but at least half of that in the next few years.

Q: So first of all, I wanted to ask you, if you file the bill, to make it tax free, you would need both houses, and you'd need the president to also agree that it's tax free.

SEN. WIN: Correct. In fact the house has already approved this. In fact, I was talking to Congresswoman France Castro. And the house has already to approve this and we're pushing very hard to get this approved so that by election time, we will remove the withholding tax from the allowances.

Q: And where would you get the increase that they want from the Comelec? I think they calculated that it would be something like P2 billion or P3 billion for the increase in honorarium, where will you get that?

SEN. WIN: First of all, in the whole scheme of things that so much so we will have to cut it from excess or departments who have not used their budget and lodge that under the Comelec so that the Comelec can provide for teacher allowances during election time.


Q: Maiba lang tayo sandali, in terms of the NTF ELCAC, we know that the Senate has given it P4 billion of what Senator Angara calls blind allocation. What do you believe should the NTF-ELCAC already be number one, should it be dissolved? Because they say other agencies are doing what the NTF-ELCAC is doing. Number two, that's only a task force, that's now asking for, I think, P28 billion in funding even bigger than some government agencies. What should we do with the NTF-ELCAC?

SEN. WIN: I did my own research. In fact, I did my own consultation. I went around to talk to governors and even mayors, town mayors, mayors who are played with communist terrorist in their areas. It's different when you live with communist terrorist every single day. The fear is there. The real and present danger is there. And I talked to them and they all agree that the NTF-ELCAC Program, which is the anti communist terrorist program is effective. In a sense that it brings the project all the way down to the barangay level. It's not perfect by any means, but it's effective in the sense that barangays are now feeling government because they see water facilities, they see barangay halls, they see health centers. These are the things that they haven't seen for a long time and the government has not been reaching out to them. So in other words, my own position based on my research is the anti communist terrorist program of NTF-ELCAC is effective, but we should prevent people or NTF ELCAC personnel from using it to red tag and this is where the problem came in, because they were discriminately red tagging everyone, which is not correct. And this will destroy the good image of the program. So they have to correct that because it's really perception and they're battling perception in this case.

Q: But then if the program is so good why is it that with 2600 or 800 Plus projects that were proposed, it was shocking to find out in the Senate hearing that only 26 projects of the NTF-ELCAC fell through so ang tanong where is the money? Kung 26 projects lang what did you do with the money?

SEN. WIN: Two things that we need to fix. Number one, I do support removing what they call the soft programs, yung mga training, livelihood. It's very difficult to track that for example, if we give livelihood to 1,000 people, how do we make sure that there's 1000 people? But I support giving infrastructure to schools because you can see. It's tangible, and in my experience, tangible projects are more effective in terms of changing the perception of our constituents. So that's number one. Number two is, there's a big problem with absorptive capacity again, as you pointed out earlier, We're talking about projects to thousands of barangays and barangays are now implementing programs and the programs are quite large, P20 million, P25 million so they're having problems of building all of these programs at the same time. So I do support adjusting it to absorptive capacity because even though we raise it to P100 billion but if they cannot spend it it's futile. So I support adjusting it to make sure that we put funds for them to absorb and to build those projects.


Q: Quickly na lang before we go. I mean, we need another whole show for the Malampaya discussion. You've already been adopted. Of course you are running with Senator Ping and Senate President Tito Sotto's tandem, but Senator Manny Pacquiao recently adopted you into their slate.

SEN. WIN: Like I have mentioned to you before, this is really a different political landscape. We're in, we have a lot of adoptions, we have a lot of common candidates. We also have slates that are more than 12 personalities, I think in our slate, we have 14 personalities. So in this particular case, it's quite different. I've never seen this before, but yes, I do confirm that I'm a guest candidate also in Pacquiao's slate.

Q: And will you be speaking with Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte to be included in the Marcos-Duterte slate, because you were in talks with her remember when you said to run for VP.

SEN. WIN: I don't wanna preempt Mayor Sara on this matter, I would wait for the announcement of the 13 just like the slate of Manny Pacquiao, I waited for their announcement just to not preempt their decision.

Q: And how does President Duterte running for the Senate frankly change the landscape of the top 12?

SEN. WIN: Well, dramatically, you know that he changed the landscape of the top 12, the whole Senate ranking dramatically. Definitely with his popularity, with his approval rating, his approval rating is still at the 70s level and that's good for a President in his last term. And definitely he will probably land in the top six in my forecast.

Q: President Duterte you believe will run top six basta andun siya, not necessarily number one anymore.

SEN. WIN: That really depends. We still have seven months to go. But landing in that top six is really a feat. So definitely, his supporters are intact. Just like I said, popularity and trust ratings are quite high, and he will definitely get in the top six.


Q: All right. On that note, Senator Sherwin, is there anything you want to say just very quickly?

SEN. WIN: Just one Last thing, magpa-booster shot na tayo. Because I was looking at the data, in Valenzuela we prepared 8,000 capacity booster shots everyday but ang nakukuha namin 20 lang or 40 a day. So we saw some complacency happening again, among our constituents, and that's not good, because a lot of our constituents have already surpassed the six months deadline in their booster shot. So magpabooster shots na poa ng mga kababayan natin.

Q: Tanong ko lang ano ang booster shot nyo sa Valenzuela?

SEN. WIN: We have Pfizer here. And it's universal, but low turnout is actually quite worrisome because a lot of our constituents have taken their shot six months ago, so they're now nearing or surpassing that six months.

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