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Govt stinginess worsens Filipinos’ suffering and PH economic collapse

Govt stinginess worsens Filipinos’ suffering and PH economic collapse

November 10, 2020

by IBON Media & Communications

The -11.5% growth, or contraction, in gross domestic product (GDP) in the third quarter, confirms that the Philippines is on its way to becoming the worst performing economy in Southeast Asia in 2020. The economy is saddled by the Duterte administration’s refusal to spend on aid for Filipino families and support for small businesses so needed amid the pandemic.

A fiscal response commensurate to the crisis at hand is critical but the economic managers are tying the government’s hands. The government package’s demand-side effort is grossly insufficient and even undermines its supply-side measures.

The Php3 trillion in government spending in the first three quarters of 2020 is only a 15.1% increase from the same period the year before. While this is larger than the 5.5% year-on-year increase in the same period in 2019, it is still much less than the corresponding 23.6% increase in 2018.

It remains to be seen how much more spending the administration can manage in the fourth quarter of 2020. The Bayanihan 2 law is supposedly the government’s main response to COVID in the remaining months of the year.

However, as of the president’s last report to Congress at the start of November, it appears that at most just Php28.4 billion has been spent so far. With only a little over a month left in the law’s effectivity, this is just 20.3% of Bayanihan 2’s Php140 billion in appropriations and just 17.1% of its Php165.5 billion including its standby fund. The report mentioned Php76.2 billion in allotments and releases which appears relatively large.

However, the same report did not mention any actual disbursements in major items especially for aid or support to small businesses or agriculture. These items with allotments released but not reported spent include: Php6 billion for the social amelioration program (SAP); Php13.1 billion for the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP), Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) and Abot-Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) programs; Php9.5 billion for public utility vehicle (PUV) programs; and Php12.1 billion for the agriculture stimulus package. While there is supposedly Php8.1 billion for small businesses, only Php893 million worth of loans were reported.

There is also little real stimulus in the proposed 2021 budget. The proposed Php4.51 trillion budget is a 9.9% increase from the 2020 budget. This is however smaller than the 13.6% increase in the programmed 2020 budget from the year before, and even smaller than the historical annual average 11.1% increase in the national budget over the 35 years of the post-Marcos era. The Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) actually projects an even smaller 5.3% increase in 2022 which will be less than half the historical average.

The DBCC initially projected the economy to have -5.5% growth in 2020. To achieve this, GDP will have to grow an impossible 6.6% in the last quarter of the year which is all the more impossible with the administration refusing to give meaningful aid to millions of distressed families and small businesses including in the country’s vast informal sector.

Additional direct cash assistance to households is already pitifully small under Bayanihan 2 and virtually non-existent in the proposed 2021 budget. The record joblessness and collapse in family incomes because of the government’s poor COVID response compels much larger support to alleviate wide and deep suffering.

The economic managers also keep insisting that the CREATE law’s corporate income tax cuts will most of all benefit micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). This is untrue. Large taxpayers account for an overwhelming 72% of all corporate collections as of 2019 which means that large firms will be the biggest beneficiaries of CREATE. Moreover, many MSMEs are also unregistered and in the informal sector so will not really benefit from any tax cuts under CREATE.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects the economy to contract with -8.3% GDP growth in 2020. This is the worst GDP performance in the region with other countries either contracting less or even registering positive growth: Thailand (-7.1%), Malaysia (-6%), Cambodia (-2.8%), Indonesia (-1.5%), Singapore (-6%), Brunei (0.1%), Lao PDR (0.2%), Vietnam (1.6%), and Myanmar (2%).

Even the IMF’s projected 7.4% GDP growth rebound in 2021 will still not be enough to bring the economy back to its level last year in 2019. As it is, the 2020 Philippine economy is going to be as small as it was three years ago in 2017, and with GDP per capita approaching as low as it was in 2016.

The Philippines’ COVID response is the smallest among those announced by the region’s major economies, according to the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) COVID policy tracker. This earlier reported the Philippines’ response as equivalent to just 5.8% of 2019 GDP which is smaller than in Singapore (26.2%), Malaysia (22.7%), Thailand (16%), Indonesia (10.9%), and Vietnam (10.1%).

Months into the worst economic collapse in the country’s history, the Duterte administration’s obsession with creditworthiness and the myth of a fundamentally strong Philippine economy is preventing it from taking the measures needed for real and rapid recovery. Its insensitivity is placing the burden of rebound and protracted recovery on millions of poor families and distressed small businesses. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

OFWs demand increased budget for protection and welfare amid Covid-19

An organization of migrants called on the Philippine government to ensure social protection and welfare services for overseas Filipino workers (OFW), Filipino migrants and their families by increasing funding for these programs in the proposed 2021 National Budget. 

In an online petition on change.org, Migrante International pointed out that in the proposal, only Php 8.6 Billion from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is allotted to fund programs that seek to assist and support OFWs and migrants in distress. 

The group said that despite the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Filipinos abroad, the proposed 2021 budget of Php1.2B for the DFA’s Assistance to Nationals Program (ATN) and Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) is only the same as in the 2020 budget.

It also said that while the proposed budget for OWWA has significantly increased to Php7.4B, the amount will still be inadequate to serve the thousands of OFWs who remain stranded overseas and awaiting repatriation due to the pandemic.

Migrante International said there are thousands of OFWs who lost their jobs who have yet to receive any financial assistance from the government.

Under the AKAP program, the financial assistance for displaced land-based and sea-based Filipino workers program of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), only 280,000 OFWs were granted financial assistance out of the estimated 1 million OFWs who were displaced in the past seven months. 

“The proposed budget does not take into account the increased support needed for the millions of Filipino migrants who have been displaced and severely affected by the COVID19 pandemic and who are in need of financial and livelihood assistance, welfare support, repatriation assistance and comprehensive health services,” Migrante International said.

“[T]he proposed budget will potentially leave hundreds of Filipino migrants every year who are victims of labor exploitation, human trafficking, illegal recruitment, gender-based violence, and discrimination neglected for lack of adequate funds to support their cases,” the group added.

The group also asked the government to provide immediate financial assistance in the amount of Php10,000 to all Filipino migrants, OFWs and their families affected by the pandemic by allotting an additional Php 7.2B to the DOLE AKAP Program. 

Migrante International said additional funds are also needed for hiring more personnel, legal advocates, interpreters, and other critical resources to effectively improve services and social welfare and protection for vulnerable migrants. 

The group also demanded that the government fully subsidize OWWA services and programs and stop the collection of OWWA membership dues from OFWs.

“To recover from the pandemic, the people, especially overseas and local workers, farmers and the poor need an expenditure program that heals and unites,” Migrante International said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Some 50,000 Filipinos left Dubai since June amid COVID-19 pandemic

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Around 50,000 Filipinos from Dubai and the Northern Emirates have left for home since June for various reasons brought about by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Philippine consul general to this city Paul Raymund Cortes said during a press briefing on Monday.

Cortes added the Philippine Consulate in Dubai has also provided free tickets and assistance to more than 2,600 distressed Filipinos, including 143 Filipinos who were repatriated on Saturday (October 31).

“Repatriation started in June and the Philippine Consulate has facilitated the return of Filipino workers and their families who were affected by the pandemic. Most of them returned home after they lost their jobs or were asked by the employers to go on a long furlough. Some decided to go home for good — after spending several years in Dubai — while others were stranded Filipino tourists and some took advantage of the amnesty programme by the UAE,” Cortes said.

The Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi have yet to provide the number of Filipinos who have left the UAE since the outbreak of the pandemic.

PhP68.5M spent for tickets

Cortes recalled three repatriation flights were chartered by the Philippine government back in June and August while majority returned home via commercial flights by Emirates, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific.

According to Cortes, the Philippine Consulate has spent around PhP68.5 million (Emirati Dirham 5.2M) for the tickets of over 2,600 Filipinos who went back home. The money was sourced from the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) funds of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

Swab tests

Philippine Labor Attaché Felicitas Bay said returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families were given free COVID-19 swab test upon arrival in Manila.

Bay clarified the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) did not discriminate whether or not returning Filipinos were members of OWWA.

“They (OFWs) were just asked to show a proof of employment or their working visa,” Bay explained.

Those who were not employed as migrant workers were required to pay for the swab test.

Aside from the free swab test, returning OFWs and their families were also provided free hotel stay and meals during the quarantine period while they were waiting for the COVID test result. Those who had to return to the provinces were also given free transportation.

Speaking during a virtual forum in Manila on Monday, OWWA administrator Hans Leo Cacdac Sadi: “We want to emphasise that the swab test being conducted by the Philippine Coast Guard at the airport is free. The specimen being brought to government laboratories is also free. The OFWs who are there (airport) need not pay anything.”

He advised arriving OFWs not to patronize those offering swab testing at the airport in exchange for a fee. “We advised our OFWs not to engage the offer at the airport to pay for the test,” he added.

According to Philippine media reports, returning OFWs were being charged up to Php20,000 for the immediate release of their test results. Cacdac said there are still 5,200 OFWs who are still in hotel quarantine accommodations while waiting for their swab test results.

Left to right Melvin Caseda, welfare officer; Renato Duenas, deputy consul-general; Paul Raymund Cortes, Philippine consul general; Felicitas Bay, Philippine labour Attache (supplied photo)

Assistance to OFWs

Meanwhile, Bay said the Philippine Labor Office in Dubai (POLO-Dubai) has disbursed a total of PhP208.2M (Dh15.8) as cash aid to 21,625 Filipinos in Dubai whose jobs were affected by COVID-19.

The cash assistance is part of DOLE-AKAP (Department of Labor and Employment-Abot Kamay Ang Pagtulong), a one-time financial assistance amounting to Dh730 for each Filipino benefeciary.

Bay noted around 98,000 Filipinos have applied for the cash aid since April 10. Her office is still evaluating some of the application but Philippine government has allotted a budget for only 22,000 recipients, she added.

Livelihood assistance

Bay added OWWA members who have returned to the Philippines for good can avail of a livelihood assistance program amounting to maximum of P20,000 (Dh1,520) while non-OWWA members who were lost their job can also avail of the National Re-Integration Center for OFWs program that can provide cash assistance up to P10,000 (Dh760). “They just need to show their displacement/ termination letter,” Bay noted.

Meanwhile, Cortes advised Filipino expats who lost their jobs “to work closely with their respective HR (human resources) personnel to ensure that they will get their end of service benefits (EOSB).

“Due diligence must be done by the workers and they must make arrangements with their HR. They (OFWs), may, however, avail of free legal consultation from the Philippine Consulate,” Cortes added. #

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This report is original to Gulf News.

Transport budget for infra but none for affected jeepney drivers

by Jose Lorenzo Lim

The COVID pandemic has led to massive income losses for Filipinos. The Duterte administration suspended mass transport, including jeepneys, when the enhanced community quarantines (ECQ) in Luzon and other parts of the country were declared in March. Quarantine measures have eased in general community quarantine (GCQ) areas and public transport has resumed in phases. 

The government is attempting to usher economic activity back but public utility jeepney (PUJ) drivers keep getting left behind.

Lost income and jeepney modernization program

Three months into the pandemic, the social welfare department reported some 36,200 jeepney drivers of over 200,000 nationwide getting cash aid under Bayanihan 1. Even so, many jeepney drivers only received one tranche of the Php5,000-8,000 of social amelioration. IBON estimated that around 55,000-70,000 jeepney drivers in Metro Manila each lost an average of Php26,000 per month of lockdown over the first three months of suspended mass transport for a total of Php78,000 each.

When quarantine measures eased, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) prioritized modernized jeepneys in resuming operations in Metro Manila which left most PUJ drivers still unable to operate. More traditional jeepneys have recently been allowed back on their routes but physical distancing protocols make them operate on just half-capacity and, thus, their earnings are also halved accordingly.

The PUJ sector along with other vulnerable sectors have been calling for additional aid as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage. However, although the government is moving to gradually resume economic activity, it is allocating less and less for emergency subsidies.

The Php5.58 billion in aid promised PUJ and transport network vehicle (TNV) drivers under Bayanihan 2, for instance, only means an average of Php116-225 per driver per day* spread across four subsequent months of lockdown since the expiration of Bayanihan 1 in June 30. The 2021 proposed national budget allocation for overall emergency aid is even smaller at just Php9.9 billion.

The DOTr announced that it was doubling the subsidy for jeepney operators switching to modernized jeepneys from Php80,000 to Php160,000. However, this is still not enough as modernized jeepneys cost around Php1.6-2.2 million each.

The slow modernization of jeepneys is also a sign that the program is failing. During the 2019 budget hearing of the DOTr, it was reported that the jeepney modernization program was only able to modernize 1.5% of its initial target more than two years after it started. Thus, the DOTr took a step back on the jeepney modernization program and said that it will allow old jeepneys on the roads provided they pass “roadworthiness” standards.

Transport budget for infrastructure

The DOTr is proposing a Php143.1 billion budget for 2021. Of this, Php112.8 billion are capital outlays for railways, seaports and airports.

Of this, Php96.2 billion will be funded by ODA. Specifically, this ODA funding will cover the rail transport program or the construction of the Metro Manila Subway Project Phase 1, North-South Commuter Railway System, and Philippine National Railway (PNR) South Long-Haul Project.

If the government was sincere about its jeepney modernization program not displacing so many drivers and small operators, it could have increased the subsidy for this program. The government counterpart funding for these 3 railway infrastructure projects is worth Php12.6 billion. This could have been an additional Php181,000 jeepney modernization subsidy if shared among 70,000 jeepney drivers in Metro Manila. 

While these expansive mass transport projects will provide faster trips across longer distances, Filipinos still rely on jeepneys as a mode of transportation for short distances or the first or last miles. Increasing subsidies for jeepney modernization is actually a win for both the government and jeepney drivers with the government taking strides towards its goal and jeepney drivers keeping their livelihood.

Keyword: Pandemic

Because of the coronavirus crisis, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) issued Memo Circular 2020-017 which only allows modernized jeepneys and traditional jeepneys under a corporation or cooperative to operate. This leaves out small jeepney operators and drivers. Unlike big corporate fleet operators, they can ill-afford the costly modernized jeepneys, or even the fees and requirements to form a cooperative. They are even less able today after months of lost incomes and depleted savings.

The government should prioritize subsidizing small jeepney drivers and operators and at least postpone costly infrastructure projects that are less urgent because of the pandemic. More railways, seaports, and airports might always seem like a good thing. However, it has always been questionable if these deliver the best economic and development returns for the huge spending on them and the increased debt taken out. Certainly, the emerging needs of vulnerable sectors because of the pandemic should be a more pressing use for scarce funds.

The Duterte administration should support drivers and operators with emergency subsidies for upgrading or replacing their units to meet safety, health and environmental standards. Getting them back on the road will contribute to spurring economic activity. It will also increase the mobility of the working people who are the most crucial elements in economic recovery. #

Governor apologizes after accusing teachers of ‘doing nothing’

Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba was forced to issue an apology following his accusation that teachers are doing less work with the government’s blended learning scheme.

Mamba told radio station DZRH Saturday that “teachers are simply enjoying themselves at home and receiving salaries without working.”

Mamba added that he thinks that the government is being shortchanged and hinted that teachers’ salaries may be slashed soon.

Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) president Joselyn Fegalan said Mamba had no right to accuse teachers of doing less work as teachers are in fact burdened by greater workload due to the Department of Education’s blended learning scheme.

“Teachers deserve an apology. You go back to that radio station and say sorry,” Fegalan said.

Mamba is ignorant of the situation of teachers even in his home province, ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio added.

“It seems he does not know that many teachers spend their already inadequate salaries to buy paper, laptops, printers and ink because the government has yet to fully provide these,” he said.

“Gov, it’s World Teachers Day on Monday (today, October 5) and this is your message to them? Is this how you thank them?” Basilio asked.

The Student Council of the University of the Philippines College of Education also condemned Mamba’s remarks as “patently insensitive, infuriating and disrespectful of the teachers’ effort to educate amid the pandemic.”

‘Just being fatherly’

Mamba in a statement Sunday he is sorry and did not mean to hurt any teacher, adding he wanted to challenge everyone with his remarks.

In another DZRH interview Sunday, Mamba said he has high regard for teachers as shown by his administration’s involvement of teachers in provincial government projects.

Mamba added he was just being fatherly in lecturing just as he was in admitting mistakes.

A source from Mamba’s camp told Kodao that the interviewer did not give the governor a chance to fully explain what he meant as the interview was at its end. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Proposed 2021 health budget shrinks, neglects public health–IBON 

by IBON Media & Communications

Research group IBON said that the lower budget for the public health in the proposed national government budget for 2021 will keep health care inaccessible and expensive for too many Filipinos. The pandemic highlighted the lack of capacity in the privatized health system. IBON however criticized the merely fleeting increase in health spending and the cuts next year in important health areas.

The Department of Health’s (DOH) budget is at least Php171.5 billion in 2020, consisting of the Php104.5 billion under the General Appropriations Act (GAA) 2020, Php49 billion under the Bayanihan 1 law, and at least Php18 billion under the recently passed Bayanihan 2 (RA 11494). IBON noted that the proposed Php131.7 billion DOH budget for 2021 is Php39.8 billion or 23.2% less than this.

IBON said this indicates a merely short-term response to the pandemic and an unchanged trajectory of health privatization including allowing the public health care system to whither away. In particular, health infrastructure spending and support for public hospitals are seeing large cuts next year.

The proposed 2021 budget for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) covering the building of health infrastructure and purchase of medical equipment is just Php4.8 billion. This is 62.9% less than this year’s Php12.9 billion budget composed of Php8.4 billion under the GAA 2020 and Php4.5 billion under Bayanihan 2. 

The HFEP budget has actually been falling steeply under the Duterte administration in the regular GAAs even before the pandemic, IBON pointed out. It was Php30.3 billion in 2018, Php15.9 billion in 2019, then Php8.4 billion in 2020. The group also noted that the government’s Php1.1 trillion infrastructure program for 2021 only allots Php2.3 billion or one-fifth of one percent (0.2%) to the DOH, which is also a 36.7% cut from the GAA 2020. 

Health privatization-driven budget cuts for public health facilities like this have already caused public hospitals numbering 730 in 2010 to fall to just 433 in 2018.

The proposed 2021 budget for health workers and supporting the operation of DOH hospitals also falls by Php1.7 billion or a 2.6% cut, from Php64.3 billion in 2020 to Php62.6 billion next year. This is because the Php12.6 billion increase in Human Resource for Health (HRH) and DOH hospital budgets in the GAA 2021 from GAA 2020 is off-set by the discontinuing of Php13.5 billion in fleeting support under Bayanihan 2.

The government has played up how the 2021 budget for Human Resources for Health (HRH) Deployment increases to Php16.6 billion from Php10 billion in 2020 to hire 26,035 health workers. This seems urgent because the government doctor-to-population and government nurse-to-population ratios have been worsening under the Duterte administration, between 2016 and 2018 – from 1:32,644 to 1:33,909 doctors and from 1:17,269 to 1:17,769 nurses.

However, the health sector group Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) has pointed out how this increase is only temporary and does not indicate a sustained increase in health workers for the public health system. They highlight that 14,553 DOH plantilla positions will still remain vacant in 2021 with public hospitals still understaffed and government health personnel still overworked over the long-term.

AHW also points out that 23 of 66 DOH hospitals, which many of the poor depend on, will see their maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) budgets cut by Php4 million to as much as Php209 million. IBON meanwhile noted how the budget of two COVID-19 referral government owned- and -controlled (GOCC) hospitals will also be cut next year. The Lung Center of the Philippines sees a 2.9% budget cut to just Php405 million in 2021, and the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) a 13% cut to just Php1 billion.

The budget of the Epidemiology and Surveillance program that is crucial in controlling the spread of diseases through timely data and research has already been cut by over 50% from Php263 million in 2019 to Php116 million in 2020. Yet despite its obvious importance in dealing with pandemics, IBON said, government proposes to reduce it further to Php113 million in 2021.

The budgets for the National Reference Laboratories (NRL) and Health Information Technology (HIT), which are vital in detecting, testing, databasing and reporting coronavirus cases and other emerging diseases, are also slashed.  The proposed allocations for NRL and HIT decrease from Php326 million to Php289 million, and Php1.2 billion to Php97 million, respectively.

The second biggest chunk of the proposed 2021 health budget, or Php71.4 billion, still goes to the Philippine Health Insurance System or PhilHealth. While noting recent corruption controversies in the agency, IBON pointed out that it is difficult to reconcile the unchanged budget with increasing health expenses of Filipinos. At the same time the group stressed that government resources are better spent on expanding and improving the public health system rather than subsidizing private health sector profits.

IBON said that the Duterte administration should increase funding for health infrastructure, personnel, and operations. Filipinos right to health and affordable health care cannot be realized if, as is happening today, more and more of the country’s health system is being turned over to the profit-driven private sector. The group stressed that this will always result in health care that is too expensive and health capacity that, as the pandemic has shown, is insufficient for public health emergencies. #

Emergency bike repair station to open at EDSA-Timog

[EDITED]

Cyclists needing repairs may fix their rides for free at the MMDA (Metro Manila Development Authority) Station at EDSA corner Timog Avenue in Quezon City starting tomorrow, Sunday, September 4.

An emergency bike repair station has been put up at the spot equipped with an air pump, bike lifter, basic tools as well as first aid equipment for injured riders.

Bike air pump (Supplied photo)

The bike repair station will also have a bike parts sharing basket that serves as a drop off point to anyone in need of bike parts or intends to donate unwanted or used but still serviceable bike parts.

The bicycle repair station is a project of REACT Ready Group who are public and industrial safety professionals and disaster risk reduction advocates and practitioners.  

REACT Ready Group collaborated on the project with the BeSeekLetA for EveryJuan, an organization known for its road safety advocacy projects for bike commuters.

Thousands of residents have started using bicycles as transportation since the government imposed lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

(Supplied photo)

REACT Ready Group public information officer Ares Gutierrez said more emergency bike repair stations in strategic locations along EDSA shall be put up soon.

Another station at the Quezon Elliptical Road is being considered, he said.

Gutierrez added the emergency bike repair stations are private sector initiatives and no government funds are being used in the project.

The bike repair stations will be turned over to the MMDA. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

More emergency bike repair station kits to be distributed in strategic points along EDSA. (Supplied photo)

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The original story mistakenly identified the Timog-EDSA emergency bike repair station as the first. Readers have pointed out that at least two similar machines have been put up already along Commonwealth Avenue and Aurora Boulevard, although these do not seem to have a parts-sharing mechanism and first aid kits.

COVID-19/SARSCOV2

Ni George Tumaob Calaor

Pandemyang tinagurian

banta sa kalusugan

at upang ito ay malabanan

palakasin at resistensya’t pangangatawan.

Ngunit ano itong ginawa ng gobyerno?!

sa kaka-lockdown, kabuhayan nami’y gumuho

nawalan ng trabaho ay libo-libo

at mga empresa’y nagsasarado

sa aming mga bahay, kami ay binilanggo

komunidad pinarondahan, nakangising bayarang berdugo

sa gutom at kadalitaan, kami ay iginupo!

“Wala na tayong pondo…” mangiyak-ngiyak na sinabi mo

‘di ba’t sabi mo… “Ako ang bahala…” at kami ay umasa sa iyo

‘ba’t ngayon kriminal, sa amin ang iyong trato

kung sa tuwing lockdown ay otrokratiko’t militarista mong isugo

kami sa takot ay tatakas at tatakbo

at sa gutom kami ay iyong igugupo

na mas nakakamatay pa sa COVID-19/SARSCOV2!

Uulitin ko…

“Wala na tayong pondo…” mangiyak-ngiyak na sinabi mo

at kami naman naawa sa iyo

nguni’t ‘yon pala ay luha ng panloloko

at bilyon-bilyon ang kinokorap ninyong pondo!

Habang heto kami’t gutom at dalitang buong dahas mong iginupo

O ‘di kaya ay kriminal mong ipinapatugis sa bayaran mong berdugo!

‘Di ba’t mas nakakagimbal pa sa pandemyang COVID-19/SARSCOV2?!

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)