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For kids in special education, lockdown learning a must

By Winona Sadia/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Learners with special education needs require face-to-face instruction but are vulnerable to the coronavirus disease. Parents and teachers have no choice but to make distance learning work.

As the clock ticked closer to 10 a.m., Elena Elpedez cleared the dining table to make way for her son’s online class simulation. Ten-year-old Enzo, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, has the entire makeshift study area for himself for a good hour. Excited, Enzo set up his Zoom account to meet up with his classmates and teachers, albeit virtually.

Despite the difficulties of distance learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, Elena did not think twice about enrolling her bunso (youngest child) this school year for special education or SPED at Parang Elementary School in Marikina. It was better, she said, than letting months pass without Enzo learning anything.

Elena left her business process outsourcing job in 2015, as soon as she realized the need to supervise Enzo’s schooling and therapy. She then put up a printing business at their house to augment her income. During the lockdown, Elena recycled reviewers and worksheets from customers to refresh Enzo with what he had learned the previous school year.

Elena prints out recycled worksheets to help Enzo continue learning during quarantine. Photograph: Winona Sadia

Para ma-instill sa kaniya na dapat continuous pa rin ang pag-aaral niya. Ayaw ko kasing isipin niyang bakasyon lang siya, baka matagal ko na naman siyang mapapayag mag-school (I wanted to instill in him that learning should be continuous. I don’t want him to think it’s just a long vacation. It might take time to convince him to go back to school),” she said.

The 44-year-old mother of two was worried over their internet connection after the school held simulation classes ahead of the opening on Oct. 5. She’s keeping her fingers crossed that Enzo and his kuya (older brother) Edrei, an 18-year-old Grade 12 student, would have opposite class schedules so they won’t use the internet at the same time.

The problems of SPED parents and teachers go beyond weak internet connections, however. Physical interaction with teachers is a cornerstone of SPED, and experts and stakeholders are still debating whether to push face-to-face classes or settle for distance learning. One thing is sure: parents like Elena will have to pull all stops to make everything work, if they don’t want their kids left behind. (See related story: Will distance learning work? Parents, teachers not so sure)

But Elena is not so confident in becoming Enzo’s teacher.

Titingin ako sa books niya ngayon at ipapabasa sa kanya. Kung ano `yung pagkabasa [at] pagkakaintindi namin, `yun na `yun,” she said. “Hindi katulad ng teacher, may sarili silang style, may mga visual aid pa sila, which is hindi talaga magagawa ng parent (I will look at the books and ask him to read them. How we read and understood them, that’s it. Teachers have their own style, they have their own visual aids, which parents don’t),” she said.

Elena converts their dining table into a makeshift study area for Enzo, who begins schooling at Parang Elementary School on Oct. 5. Photograph: Winona Sadia

Exception for SPED learners?

SPED enrollment has always been low. Genevieve Caballa, executive director of the Alternative Learning Resource School Philippines (ALRES-Phils) – a school offering SPED and therapy programs – said that 97 percent of learners with disabilities were not in school. Enrollment has not improved for more than a decade, she said.

Data from the Department of Education (DepEd) showed that of more than 5 million Filipino children with disabilities nationwide, only 1.4 percent or more than 71,000 non-graded learners were enrolled for the upcoming school year as of September.

Former education secretary Bro. Armin Luistro called for face-to-face classes among learners with special education needs, or LSENs, despite the pandemic.

“SPED should continue and it has to be face-to-face. There are only a few students and they need the equipment and special teachers in the schools. Barangay (village) leaders and DepEd should work together on it,” Luistro told the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).

Fernan Gana, president of the Quezon City Federation of Parents and Teachers Associations, said this was easier said than done.

Tama ‘yung rekomendasyon [pero] siguro, pag-aralan lang ‘yung protocols [at] kung paanong iiwasang magkahawaan ‘yung mga bata. Alam naman nating mas vulnerable sila, lalo na `yung mga nasa SPED school (The recommendations are correct but the protocols should be studied to prevent kids from infecting one another. Those who are in SPED school are more vulnerable),” he said.

But for Reading Association of the Philippines President Frederick Perez, SPED institutions might have to consider halting classes altogether.

“Sorry to the SPED schools but I don’t believe that special education will be meaningful and fruitful at this time. Maybe next year. They (LSENs) need a lot of physical contact,” he said.

‘Face-to-face learning ideal, but safety first’

Caballa would rather stick to distance learning, cautioning against resuming face-to-face classes for LSENs.

“Many of them are immunocompromised, so they are more at risk than neurotypical children. [We] don’t want to endanger learners. They could get easily infected,” she said.

Caballa argued that halting school altogether for SPED learners would mean depriving them of their right to continuous education.

“Children have a critical window for development and learning opportunities. If you miss that, there’s no turning back,” she said.

The SPED expert also warned against “regression,” which she said was common among learners with disabilities.

Neurotypical learners, or children with no intellectual or developmental disorders, were less likely to regress even with long breaks from studies, as they have other options to continue learning, she said.

“For learners with disabilities, if they don’t study or are not given just a little stimulation, they easily regress academically and behaviorally,” Caballa said. “The intervention we’re looking at is really empowering parents. Parents are the key.”

According to DepEd’s Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan, face-to-face instruction for learners with disabilities would be allowed only in “very low-risk areas” such as geographically isolated, disadvantaged, and conflict-affected areas with no history of Covid-19 infection.

However, teachers and learners should be living in the vicinity of the school. Face-to-face classes for LSENs, DepEd said, must undergo risk assessment and adhere to strict health protocols.

Redefining learning

Caballa said the way to help LSENs cope with the new normal in education was for parents and teachers to “redefine learning.”

When SPED classes opened at her school on July 13, teachers saw the need to engage the household in online and offline learning activities.

“It’s not just paper and pencil. It’s integrated in home routines. In cooking, for example, we incorporated functional math and reading, reading a recipe, measurement, procedure,” Caballa said.

SPED teachers must also make it a point to keep the screen time within the “ideal” one to two hours per session, she said.

Some of Enzo’s artworks are displayed on the walls of their house in Marikina. Photograph: Winona Sadia

The new setup means parents play an even bigger role in their children’s studies, Caballa said.

Kung dati, hinahatid lang nila `yung bata [at] pinapasa na sa teacher, [ngayon] they realized [na] mahirap pala `yung ginagawa ng teachers, but at the same time we’re encouraging the parents [at] nakaalalay kami sa kanila (Before, they just dropped the kids at school. Now they realize that what the teachers are doing is not easy. At the same time, we’re encouraging the parents and we’re helping them.),” she said.

“It becomes less teacher-dependent because the teacher is just a facilitator and the parent is the lead teacher, which is how it should be.”

Caballa said she found comfort in how several learners have responded to the distance learning setup.

“For the majority, we found out that they were more resilient than how we had perceived them to be. We thought they won’t be able to adjust,” she said.

Running a private SPED school where parents shoulder the costs still has a lot of challenges, especially on the part of teachers, Caballa admitted. There are two backup teachers per session in case the internet connection falters.

“It’s difficult, but I guess we’re driven by our passion for what we do. We know that we don’t have a choice. The other choice is just to stop,” Caballa said. –PCIJ, September 2020

Winona Sadia finished AB Journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. She works as a TV news producer. You may reach her on Twitter (@winonymous) or at sadiawinona@gmail.com for comments or suggestions.

CHR slams PNP’s arrest and humiliation of minor

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said it will investigate the arrest and humiliation of a 13-year old by the Philippine National Police in Malabon City last Saturday, September 26.

The CHR reported that the minor was arrested for not wearing a mask when he crossed the street to their house from a neighbor’s place.

The agency said that after taking the boy’s mugshot at the police station, officers allegedly told the minor that “he now has a profile picture for his Facebook account.”

The CHR said the remark caused distress to the boy.

 “It is concerning that this happened despite the prohibition on the arrests of minors,” CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline de Guia said in a statement Monday, September 28.

While noting that Joint Task Force Covid-19 Shield Commander Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar reminded police forces and barangay law enforcers to not penalize minors for quarantine violations, the CHR said proper sanction and disciplinary actions must still be pursued to prevent a similar incident.

The CHR said the barangay chairperson also apologized for the incident.

De Guia reminded the police of the joint memorandum circular “Reiteration of Protocols on Reaching out to Children, including those in Street Situations, in need of Special Protection, Children at Risk, and Children in Conflict with the Law During the Enhanced Community Quarantine” issued by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Council on the Welfare of Children (CWC) in dealing with such cases.

“Minors who are guilty of violating quarantine rules must be turned over to their parents, guardians, and/or a social worker so that proper interventions, guidance, and/or advice are given to them,” de Guia said.

“We remind that law enforcers and barangay leaders are duty-bound to protect the rights of children. Any form of punishment that humiliates and degrades the dignity of minors is violative of this sworn obligation,” she added.

The CHR said children should be protected more so during the coronavirus pandemic,  “as they bear the brunt of the secondary effects and the measures taken to combat Covid-19.”

“Government officials and its officers should be the first ones to protect the welfare of children, not violate them,” de Guia said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Cebuano children to launch Leon Kilat book on hero’s 147th birth anniv

A children’s book on Cebuano hero Pantaleon Villegas, popularly known as Leon Kilat, is set to be launched on Monday, July 27, in time for his 147th birth anniversary.

Written and illustrated by graduates of a 2018 workshop, Historya (Children Creating Stories from Cebu History), the story book “Si Leon Kilat ug ang Sigbin” (Leon Kilat and the Sigbin) is part of a continuing campaign to reconnect local youth to their Cebu roots.

Sigbin is a local mythological creature said to come out at night to suck the blood of victims from their shadows.

Negros Oriental-born Villegas was a revolutionary leader in Cebu during the Philippine Revolution against Spain.

The authors of the storybook are Jhulianna Capangpangan (University of San Carlos- South Campus), Santi Sagayno (Gaas National High School), Isabella Faith Bautista (Ateneo de Cebu) and Francis Luke Vicoy (Colegio del Sto. Niño).

Ateneo de Cebu’s Kristine Anne Subaan is the book illustrator.

The book is published by Tres de Abril, Inc and Palm Grass: The Cebu Heritage Hotel.

The cyber launch of the book and celebration of Villegas’ birth anniversary entitled “LEON KILAT: Revolution and Magic” (Celebrating Leon Kilat @147, ang bayani sa Sugbo nga Abtik pas Kilat), will be at two o’clock on Monday [The hero of Cebu who is faster than lightning]. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Martial law in Mindanao victimizes more Lumad children—NDFP

President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao, extended for the second straight year this 2019, continues to wreak havoc in the lives of Lumad children, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Southern Mindanao Region said.

In a statement posted on its website today, the NDFP reported that a platoon of the 88th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army accosted and seized 17-year old Loujean Antian Lumbatan, a Grade 7 student of Sinuda High School, and 10-year old Ara Mystica Antian Pangcat, a Grade 5 student of Cabalansihan Elementary School at Sitio Sanggiapo, Brgy Sinuda, Kitaotao in Bukidnon province at around 11:00 in the morning last February 18.

“For no apparent reason, the two unarmed Lumad minors were arrested and held incommunicado at the unit’s camp in Sitio Sanggiapo between 11:00 in the morning and 11:00 in the evening,” the NDFP said.

Early in the afternoon, the parents and some relatives searched frantically for the missing children and proceeded to confront the soldiers but were turned away by the soldiers who insisted they knew nothing of the children’s whereabouts, the group added.

The girls were released in the afternoon of the next day, February 19, but not after being subjected to harrowing interrogation and were brought to the 88th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Maramag, the NDFP said.

The girls reported that they could hear their parent’s voices outside the camp in Sitio Sanggiapo but were warned by the soldiers not to make any sound.

When confronted why they arrested and detained the two girls, the soldiers reportedly claimed they were only after “the[ir] safety,” the NDFP said. 

The Bukidnon incident followed the January 30 seizure of two toddlers, a one-year old and a two-year old, and their subsequent forced separation from their parents and guardians by AFP and PNP troops following a raid on the office of the Misamis Oriental Peasants Association (MOFA) in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental, the group said.

“In Lumad areas in Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte and elsewhere in the Southern Mindanao, bombings, shelling and indiscriminate firing within populated communities by AFP troops and their paramilitaries Bagani and Alamara have terrorized hundreds of children,” the NDFP said in its statement. 

The NDFP also scored the arrest of three civilians of the 71st IB last February 20 at Sitio Binogsayan, Brgy. Napnapan in Pantukan town.

Eddie Avila, Graciano Embalsado and Pulpy Lariwan were later forced to “surrender” as members of the New People’s Army (NPA), even as local government officials insisted that the three were in fact civilians, Rubi del Mundo, NDFP-SMR spokesperson said.

‘Localized peace talks’

But Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Eduardo Año said the so-called surrenders are real that stem from the continuing success of localized peace talks between local government officials and the revolutionary groups.

“Dahil sa sipag at pagpupursigi ng ating mga local officials, natanggal na ang kaliskis sa mga mata ng mga dating rebelde at naliwanagan na sila,” Año said in a statement posted on the DILG website today, citing the reported surrender of more than 200 alleged Communist supporters in Negros Island last month.

The DILG secretary claimed the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict by Duterte will also lead to more rebel surrenders because of its focus on localized peace engagements.

Año also said DILG’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) has disbursed around P488 million in 2018to aid former rebels and their immediate family members

‘PR stunts’

The NPA’s Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command, however, dismissed government’s claims, saying so-called peace and development outreach programs by the Duterte administration are mere public relations stunts that are part of its psychological war tactics.

“They are in fact mere PR stunts which hold neither a grain of truth nor reflect the sentiments of thousands of Lumad who continue to be victimized by the US-Duterte regime’s hated martial law,” Rigoberto Sanchez, NPA Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command spokesperson, said.

Sanchez added it eludes common sense that the Lumad and the peasants should support government troops when it is they who seek to destroy their way of living, sell ancestral land to greedy and exploitative capitalists threaten or kill those who opposes them. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bill lowering children’s criminal liability draws wide opposition

Government agencies, children’s rights advocates and international organizations are up in arms over efforts at the House of Representative to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) of children from 15 to nine years old.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) object to the measure, saying the proposed adjustment violate international laws such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) promoting and protecting children’s rights that the Philippine government promised to uphold.

“It will increase the chances of more children at a younger age to be subjected to judicial proceedings contravening the spirit and intent of the Convention,” the DSWD and JJWC in a statement said.

Both offices recalled that the UNCRC Committee has in fact praised the Philippine government when it passed the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (or RA 9344), which raised the MACR from 9 to 15 years old.

‘Bill by dumbest lawyer’

But President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly complained that the law is too lenient on children in conflict with the law and blamed its principal sponsor Senator Francis Pangilinan.

“This law passed by this son of a b***? He passed the juvenile law…Fifteen years old and you can’t put them in jail!” Duterte in a speech in Puerto Princesa City said.

“You are really nothing. You are the dumbest lawyer I know…I will destroy him,” Duterte said of Pangilinan last November.

In response to Duterte’s wishes, the House Committee on Justice, chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon, said it will hold a hearing today to repeal RA  9344 as a “priority matter of legislation.”

“[The House of Representatives] will move for the passage of the bill in support of a request from President Duterte,” a statement from Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo’s office last Friday added.

‘Anti poor’

But both the DSWD and the JJWC said that poverty should be blamed on children running afoul with the law.

“Prior to the enactment of RA 9344, studies found that most children involved in crimes were poor.  Most came from dysfunctioning families who lack access to basic needs, parental love and support, with very little education and were usually neglected or abused,” the agencies said.

“Most committed theft and crimes against property.  Clearly, these were crimes committed for survival, safety and security, they added.

A children’s rights group echoed the agencies’ concern, adding dire poverty in the Philippines makes them more prone to criminality and anti-social activities.

“The government should address poverty and make services available to children in conflict with the law. Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old is not the solution. Children should be protected and be given the chance for rehabilitation,” the Association for the Rights of Children in Southeast Asia said in another statement.

Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights and its member organizations including the Children’s Rehabilitation Center also voiced its opposition to the measure, saying the MACR bill neglects that fact that poverty and lack of socio-economic opportunities are the main drivers of child offenses.

“At least 45 percent of the offenses attributed to children are petty theft, robbery and other offenses against property, while 65 percent of children offenders come from poor families,” Karapatan said.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Save the Children Philippines also voiced their opposition to the measure.

“Lowering the age of criminal responsibility is an act of violence against children,” the UNICEF said Friday.

“This will only push them to further discrimination, abuse and eventually, into more anti-social behavior,” SCP for its part said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Children vs convicted criminals

Several members of the Philippine House of Representatives want the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility lowered from 15 to nine years old while powerful personalities such as former First Lady Imelda Marcos convicted of graft remain free. (Cartoon by Mark Suva)

NDFP: Sagay massacre child survivor needs protection from police

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines Special Office for the Protection of Children (SOPC) called for the protection of the 14-year old Sagay City massacre survivor the police earlier tried to take into custody.

Coni Ledesma, NDFP Negotiating Panel member and SOPC head said in a statement that the victim needs psycho-social support and the nurture of his family instead of being endangered into being branded a child soldier of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“The last thing the boy needs is to be victimized and traumatized twice over by being treated like a criminal,” Ledesma, also a Negrense, said.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) tried arresting the victim last Wednesday while in the custody of the City Social Work and Development Office of Sagay and said he may be both witness and suspect in the incident last Saturday that killed nine farmers.

Sagay Police Chief Inspector Robert Reyes Mansueto denied arresting the victim and said they only tried to him “for safekeeping.”

The boy was eventually returned to his mother with the help of human rights lawyers.

Ledesma said the minor is among the most vulnerable of the Sagay massacre survivors who needs urgent intervention.

The NDFP SOPC called on human rights, civic and religious organizations and concerned individuals to come to the aid of the child.

“His parents or guardians, his teachers, people from his community must stand up and vouch for him to prevent the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP from further violating his rights,” Ledesma said.

She added that the NDFP-SOPC is willing to provide support and assistance should the boy and his family request it. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Children’s group Salinlahi celebrates 32nd anniversary

Aktibong pagtalakay sa mga isyu kaugnay sa karapatan ng kabataan ang naging kaganapan sa ika-32 anibersaryong programa ng Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns.

Nagsama sama ang iba’t ibang sektor upang pangunahan ang usapin ukol sa kabataan na nararapat pagtuunan ng pansin ng kasalukuyang pamahalaan.

Kasama rin sa programa ang pangkulturang pagtatanghal ng ilang kabataan upang isulong ang panawagan sa pagsulong ng kanilang karapatan lalo na sa panahong ito na laganap ang pang aabuso.

Ipinakita sa kabuuan ng programa ang boses hindi lamang ng mga grupong lumalaban kundi pati ng mga mismong kabataan.

A giant of a film waiting to be born

“Yield” is a film that has already made history by being included as finalist to six categories in this year’s 66th Famas Awards. It may be the first ever documentary film to be nominated in the best film and best director categories–traditionally exclusive to full-length feature films. It is also a finalist in the best cinematography, best editing, best sound, and best documentary film categories.

Yield’s co-director, cinematographer, editor, sound engineer Victor Delotavo Tagaro told Kodao the film will finally be launched after the Famas Awards ceremonies.

Following is Kodao’s short review of the film. (Tagaro was once a Kodao filmmaker.)

= = = =

Filipino feature films usually rely on long-winded dialogues to move their stories along.  Video documentaries, on the other hand, mostly rely on voiceovers to stitch its sequences together.  In both cases, they betray their radio drama roots by almost always describing what is already being shown.

Comes now Yield, a 90-minute pictorial feast that eschews the voice-over and the dialogue as story-telling tools.  The film relies almost entirely on the visual to bring the viewer from one situation to the next, in a bracing roller-coaster ride of both despair and hope.

The documentary does not reveal a script—an unconventional approach realized successfully by its directors.  There are no interviews either, the film firmly sticking to the unhindered interaction between the camera and the subjects.  Thus, there are no perspectives but the subjects’ and the viewers’ reactions are entirely their own, unencumbered by manipulative dialogue or an interviewer’s questions.

Instead, the film relies solely on gorgeous sequential cinematography to move the story along.  The deliberate composition of each frame and the beautiful movement of each sequence offer the viewers a visual tour-de-force that is unlikely to be forgotten in a long while.

Yield’s narrative benefits from this unusual and brave approach in filmmaking.  It is a presentation and discussion of the lives of poor children all over the Philippines that is un-proselytizing but pregnant, silent but incendiary.  It lets poor children tell their stories just by living, the camera recording them almost incidental.  It lets them tell the viewer a thing or two about their struggles to live—and die—with dignity.

Within an hour-and-a-half, the film takes us to five years of these children’s lives.  It also subtly reminds us while watching of the epic amount of dedication and creativity spent to produce it, as well as bonds and relationships formed between the filmmakers and the subjects in those five years of pain and joy, of loss and creation.

Yield is co-directed by its executive producer Toshihiko Uriu and Victor “Onin” Delotavo Tagaro who, to date, is most famous for his 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre documentary, “Sa Ngalan ng Tubo.”  He is also the primary cinematographer and editor of this TIU Cinema production.  The film’s unobtrusive yet powerful music is by Diwa Felipe de Leon

Whenever this documentary’s launch date may be, it should be marked as the day Philippine cinema gave birth to a giant of a film.—Raymund B. Villanueva

HRW DISPATCH: Philippines’ Displaced Children Barred from School

HUNDREDS of Filipino children were barred from attending class when schools opened this week.

The reason? The children have been living in shelters in Zamboanga City since their families fled fighting in the southern Philippines, and the Zamboanga City government failed to submit their school records and other requisite personal data to the Department of Education. It’s not clear if or when these kids will be able to attend school. Read more