Press Release
February 24, 2021

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

Topic: Prospects of pilot-testing face-to-face classes in low-risk areas and under strict safety protocols

I visited a community that I've been visiting before the pandemic [Brgy. Lusod, an upland community in Tinongdan, Itogon town, Benguet province]. I think the first time I've been there was nine years ago. It's up in the mountain, there is no final access to their community except by foot. So they are very isolated, sa madaling salita. When I first went there in 2012, my concern then was on the health side, sabi ko, "what if there's a woman in labor who needs a doctor?" Talaga, literally, ibababa siya by stretcher. In this community, as you can see behind me [shows photos], that's one of the classrooms, and then opposite me is another classroom. So typical of barrios parang nakapaligid [sa eskwelahan], parang yan na ang pinaka-sentro nila. And then to the left and to the right are classrooms. And sa gitna, may stage.

I am showing you a photo of an empty classroom. It's a good-sized classroom. What I want to share with all of you is there are only 32 students in the whole community. And they have 3 classrooms. So the average per classroom is 10.5. So when we talk about resuming class and we've talked about this many times, Mr. Chair, not only in your hearings, but also in my committee, we talked about staggered classes. Like I hear now, one-third ang papasok, one-half... Anong one-third eh sampu na nga lang sila?

So it gave me an idea that we should always be careful with our terminology, because, yes maybe half of a typical classroom of 30-40, but there are many classrooms like this in the rural areas. And this is not the only one I visited over the years. It just so happens that hiking happens to be a hobby, so I have the privilege of doing what I like to do and visiting these communities.

Kung ayaw n'yo pa ng indoor [classes], if you can see, malalaki naman ang mga windows nila. Kung ayaw n'yo pa talaga ng indoor, let's go back to the outdoor, and they're all sitting there. Now the teachers there have been complying with the very straightforward instructions na bawal ang face-to-face, pero ano naman ang gagawin natin sa mga batang ito? Bakit hindi pwedeng gawin yung ginagawa ko? And the teachers live there, by the way. The 4 teachers for the 3 classrooms live there.

You've heard me talk about this, Mr. Chair, hindi ko lang sila nabisita until very recently. Pero ito na nga yun, parang hindi ko talaga ma-fathom why we cannot make use of the teachers being present and the very small classrooms. Aantayin pa natin ang August bago bumalik itong mga 'to? I cannot understand that.

Now, I have nothing against putting standards into place, because, and dito pumapasok ang reminder ni Doc. Composano [Dr. John Andrew Composano of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines], which is similar to what Mayor Benjie Magalong told me when I met with him prior to going to this village. Sabi niya, there should be protocols in place before you allow, because you have to ensure that the transmission is low, that their practices are safe to prevent transmission, etc. I understand that.

My reason to visit them, and if you can see the boxes in the background, is I brought books and art supplies for the kids. So pinayagan naman nila ako. Sabi ko, "I will follow whatever safety standards you have." Nagpa-PCR test ako and brought a very limited number of people, and we practiced social distancing and other safety protocols the whole time. On my way down from the mountain, I met a gentleman with about 20 teenagers. And after him, another 10 teenagers and another maybe 6. Where were they going? Magmimisa sila diyan, with all these kids from another barangay. Sabi ko, andami nilang protocol para makabisita ako doon in an official capacity, practically writing an affidavit swearing that ito lang ang gagawin ko, tapos may magmi-misa doon. They were walking without masks. I know that in other countries, allowed naman yun so I have no judgment there because we were out in the open. Ako, naka-mask, pero sila na walang masks, sabi ko, I hope as soon as they arrive in the village, mag-mask sila kasi they are from another barangay.

So that's my point. I wanted to share that with all of you, especially with DepEd. And perhaps Dr. Composano can comment if he wants. But my heart bleeds that this is the situation of these kids. And the teachers are [audio cut] to do a few things, but natatakot sila.

If you enter the classroom, the tables are back against the wall and puro modules. Why? Bakit kailangan nila mag-module eh andyan ang mga bata sa harap nila? Pero kasi, ganun ka-inflexible ata ang [policy] ng DepEd na, "ito na, mag-modules kayo." Eh kapitbahay naman nila ang apat na teacher nila I express my frustrations transparently. Thank you.

[Education Usec. Nepomuceno Malaluan replied that DepEd is seeking allowance for a pilot program to congregate children in a school setting.]

One last point. I think it's incumbent upon DepEd, and you can work with DILG and maybe the mayor's leagues, to show photos to IATF and even to the President to show what is a normal day like in these rural areas. Kasi, aside from this mountain, I have been to about five rural areas, especially agricultural areas. Andun lang naman ang mga bata, naglalaro at nagko-congregate naman talaga sa labas. That's their everyday life now. So we're like pretending that they are home, isolated, and therefore cannot see their teachers, and cannot mingle in whatever way with their classmates. But that's not what's happening. They're mingling on the streets like I used to always see them pre-COVID. Andun sila naglalakad together, bumibili ng ice cream kung may pambili, naglalaro ng local basketball. Yes, may naglalaro ng mga local basketball sa mga barangay. It's not a league, pero nagshu-shooting sila doon. That's the reality. That's what's happening. So it's ridiculous that we're not intervening and delivering education in a more efficient way.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

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