Press Release
May 17, 2023

Senate Bill No. 2200 / Committee Report No. 66


May 16, 2023
Session Hall, Senate of the Philippines

Delivered by the Honorable Win Gatchalian, Senator of the 19th Congress:

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, a pleasant afternoon to you all. It is an honor to stand before you today and introduce a landmark legislation that aims to confront a crucial concern in our basic education sector - the mental health problems plaguing our children and youth.

As I speak at this very moment, there are children and adolescents who are struggling with mental health. They wake up every morning, finding it hard to get out of bed, battling anxiety and depression, feeling lost and alone. This reality poses a grave threat to their well-being, academic success, and future.

Sa kasamaang palad, marami pa rin sa atin ang hindi lubos na nakakaunawa sa usaping ito. Marami pa rin sa atin ang inaakalang simpleng tulog at pahinga lamang ang solusyon upang matugunan ito. At ang pinakamalala sa lahat, marami pa rin sa atin ang apektado ng suliraning ito, ngunit bigong makahingi ng angkop at propesyonal na tulong. Ika nga nila, ang mental health crisis ay isang "silent killer".

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the mental health challenges faced by our youth. The pandemic has brought about unprecedented levels of stress, uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, and the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus have made things even worse. With the closure of schools and the shift to online learning, learners have been isolated from their classmates, playmates, friends, teachers, and mentors--leading to a sense of loneliness and detachment. As a result, the mental and emotional well-being of our youth have been significantly compromised.

In fact, in School Year 2021 to 2022, the number of learners who were reported to have committed suicide and attempted suicide is staggering. As schools nationwide opened after 375 days or 1.8 years of school closures, which is the longest in the world, figures from the Department of Education reveal that 2,147 learners attempted to commit suicide, while 404 learners took their own lives.

Mr. President, every life is precious, and one life lost is one too many. It is heartbreaking to know that in a single school year, over 400 learners ended their lives. Each one of them had his or her own aspirations and the potential to succeed in life. They could have landed their dream jobs, made groundbreaking discoveries, or could have become global advocates for mental health awareness.

In recent years, we have also witnessed disturbing incidents that demonstrate the impact of mental health problems on the Filipino youth. In October 2020, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student from the town of Tupi, South Cotabato committed suicide due to the pressure and difficulty of learning school modules. Prior to the incident, the learner reportedly complained to his mother that he could not answer the tasks in the learning modules, especially in mathematics.

In January of this year, we also heard the news of a 13-yearold student who tragically lost his life after being stabbed by his 15year-old classmate. It is heartbreaking to learn that the suspect claimed the victim had been bullying other students.

Mr. President, these events serve as a stark reminder of the pressing need to prioritize mental health in our schools. Mental health issues can have a significant impact on the development of our learners, leading to poor academic performance, concentration difficulty, poor social relationships, and in extreme cases, suicidal tendencies.

This is also the reason why the World Health Organization recognizes the critical role of schools as primary mental health support systems for students, by enabling the planning and implementation of a broad spectrum of mental health actions that encompass promotion, prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation.

It is essential to note that Republic Act No. 11036, also known as the Mental Health Act, clearly defines the role of the Department of Education in the execution and implementation of Mental Health Promotion in Educational Institutions. Apparently, the DepEd revised the School Safety Assessment Tool, or SSAT, to mobilize and prepare the schools for the safe, effective and efficient conduct of the progressive expansion of face-to-face learning. One of the main areas of SSAT is the 'Well-being and Protection', where schools are mandated to maintain the provision of basic mental health services and psychosocial support to ensure the well-being and protection of the learners.

Furthermore, the DepEd has recognized the importance of guidance counselors in schools. According to Department Order Number 77, series of 2010, based on DepEd-DBM Organization and Staffing Standards, there should be one guidance counselor for every 500 learners at the secondary level.

However, with 23.98 million basic education learners for School Year 2022-23, the country is facing a significant shortage. As of February 2023, there are only 1,180 guidance counselors in DepEd. This means that for learners in Junior High School and Senior High School on average, DepEd has one guidance counselor for every 8,431 learners. If we include elementary level learners, this ratio increases to one guidance counselor available for every 20,319 learners on average.

The shortage of guidance counselors is not the only challenge faced by the DepEd. The education sector also struggles to attract highly qualified guidance counselors due to low compensation. In Purchasing Power Parity terms or PPP, the starting salary of guidance counselors in the Philippines is one of the lowest. For comparison, guidance counselors in the USA may earn an estimated monthly salary of 78,807 Philippine pesos, which is more than double once we compare it to the 27,000 monthly salary earned by each of our own guidance counselors.

This reality is unacceptable, Mr. President. Our guidance counselors deserve better. Our Filipino learners deserve better. Our Filipino learners deserve to have access to proper mental health care, support, and guidance. They deserve a safe and nurturing learning environment that promotes their mental health and well-being. Given this context, it is my privilege and honor to sponsor Senate Bill Number 2200, otherwise known as the Basic Education Mental Health and Well-Being Promotion Act.

This proposed measure institutionalizes the School-Based Mental Health Program to promote and ensure the mental health and well-being of all learners in public and private basic education schools across the country. The Program will define the role of every stakeholder in the school community to appropriately respond to mental health concerns through prevention, intervention, postvention, and recovery. It will be developed in consultation with learners, their parents and parent-substitutes, and implemented by the DepEd.

The Program will provide essential school-based mental health services, including screening, evaluation, assessment, and monitoring, mental health first aid, crisis response and referral system, mental health awareness and literacy, emotional, developmental and preventive programs, and other support services such as strengthening the learners' family bonds. Moreover, the DepEd will implement complementary measures that enable other associated healthy behaviors among learners and eliminate the stigma on mental health counseling. It will also provide mental health awareness programs and literacy and appropriate mental health-related referrals to teaching and nonteaching personnel.

The cornerstone of this legislation is the establishment of a Care Center in every public basic education school in the country, and ensuring their establishment and maintenance in private schools. The Center will be equipped with functional physical facilities, located within an adequate space where confidentiality is maintained and accessible to the learners, teachers, and nonteaching personnel.

Specifically, the Center will serve as an instrument to deliver school-based mental health services, including the development of a localized multi-year roadmap on the School-based Mental Health Program, improvement of the mental health awareness and literacy of the teaching and non-teaching personnel, and establishment of linkages with the school community, including parents, parent-substitutes, LGUs, and other stakeholders. Moreover, the establishment of the Center will also be a key to equip the learners with skills and information for prevention, identification, and proper response and referral for their own and others' mental health needs.

This landmark legislation will also pave the way to hire and capacitate competent personnel whose duties and responsibilities shall be geared towards promoting and ensuring the mental health and well-being of all learners and promote their professional growth and career progression by prescribing the creation of new plantilla positions of Mental Health Specialists and Mental Health Associates in the DepEd. The new plantilla positions of Mental Health Specialists I to V and Mental Health Associates I to V will be created in the DepEd. All existing plantilla positions of Guidance Counselors and Psychologists in the DepEd shall be converted to Mental Health Specialists plantilla positions, and their corresponding salary grades will be adjusted in accordance with the salary schedule prescribed in this Act. Specifically, the compensation of the existing plantilla positions of Guidance Counselors I to III and Psychologists I to III will be adjusted to Salary Grades 16, 18 and 20, as their positions are converted to Mental Health Specialists I to III. To ensure their career progression, they can be promoted to Mental Health Specialists IV and V with Salary Grades 22 and 24, respectively.

The creation of these new plantilla positions will address the current shortage of Guidance Counselors in our basic education institutions. By creating more positions, we can guarantee that our learners have access to mental health services they need.

Mr. President, as policymakers of our nation, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this issue any longer. It affects the progress and well-being of our learners, and even our society.

Sa pagpasa ng batas na ito, mas lalo nating binibigyang-diin ang pagkilala sa ating mga paaralan bilang pangalawang tahanan ng mga mag-aaral, hindi lamang sa paglinang ng kanilang kaalaman at kahusayan, kundi maging sa pangangalaga sa kalusugan ng pag-iisip.

To the youths who are suffering silently and bearing the weight of their mental health struggles: please know that you are not alone. You are not weak for struggling with mental health issues. You are brave and strong for facing these challenges head-on. And you are worthy of love and support, no matter what.

I want to remind you that even K-pop artists, who are often idolized as flawless and perfect individuals, are not immune to mental health struggles. One heartbreaking example is Jonghyun, a member of the group "SHINee", who tragically took his own life in 2017. Prior to his passing, he had bravely spoken about his battle with depression. In a note made public a day after his death, the 27-year-old expressed feeling deeply "broken from inside."

In 2019, Sulli, a former member of the K-pop group "FX", also ended her life. She was known for her outspokenness regarding mental health issues, cyber-bullying, and women's rights. Unfortunately, her advocacy subjected her to intense scrutiny and online backlash.

These incidents tell us one thing: it is crucial to acknowledge that mental health issues can affect anyone, regardless of their profession or fame. Both Jonghyun and Sulli give representation to those who suffer from mental health issues. Their narratives highlight the importance of addressing mental health issues in the entertainment industry and beyond.

Mr. President, by passing and implementing this proposed measure, we can increase awareness among young people that seeking help from Mental Health Specialists and Associates is always an available option within their learning community. This can encourage more youth to seek support and guidance whenever they need it in promoting their overall well-being.

In closing, I express my heartfelt appreciation to our esteemed colleagues who co-authored this bill: Majority Leader Senator Joel Villanueva, Senator Nancy Binay, Senator Christopher "Bong" Go, Senator Lito Lapid, and Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. I also extend my gratitude to the numerous stakeholders who participated rigorously in this bill's legislative process. Their unwavering support, invaluable input, and active participation in the public hearing and eight Technical Working Group sessions have been the driving force behind the crafting of this substitute bill. Their invaluable support and contributions have been instrumental in making this bill a reality.

Mr. President, esteemed colleagues, we cannot continue to allow our learners to suffer in silence. It is now up to us to create a world where mental health is valued, where those who are struggling are not judged or dismissed but embraced with understanding and care. We owe it to our children to provide them with an education that is not only academically driven but also mentally and emotionally enriching. Only then can we truly say that we are providing our learners with quality education.

Thank you very much, Mr. President, esteemed colleagues.

News Latest News Feed