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Lockdown learning: Making education accessible despite the pandemic

This five-episode podcast was produced by UrbanisMO.PH and Young Public Servants with support from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Philippines, International Center for Innovation, Transformation, and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov) and PCIJ.

BY AARON MALLARI / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

What’s the big picture? Education stakeholders agree that learning must continue, even through blended learning, despite the Covid-19 outbreak. Teachers and learners, however, have to contend with problems in internet access and more needs to be done to ensure that no student is left behind. Blended or distance learning also presents opportunities for innovation in instruction.

Why it matters: Continued learning can help mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the development of young children, who are forced to stay at home.

What are the facts? Dr. Grace Zozobrado-Hahn, a physician and Steiner-Waldorf Education practitioner based in Palawan, says children face their own set of challenges during the pandemic, while Regina Sibal, former principal of Miriam College Grade School and Far Eastern University Senior High School, outlines measures that the government and the education sector need to take to ensure continued access to education. Elsa Magtibay, a school administrator at Xavier School in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, points to opportunities to improve educational delivery.

The bottomline: Experts agree: Education must adapt to the so-called ‘new normal,’ which entails the government to take the lead and support teachers and parents as they take on bigger roles.

Balik-pasada at ayuda, hiling ng mga tsuper

Ginanap ngayong araw, Hunyo 27, ang Araw ng Pakikiisa para sa mga Jeepney Driver. Nagkaroon ng magkakahiwalay na pagbibigay ng ayuda sa iba’t ibang pondohan ng mga tsuper sa Metro Manila.

Pangunahing tinulungan ng Bayang Matulungin, isang proyekto ng Bayan Muna at PagAsa, ang mga tsuper sa Project 3, Quezon City, Samson Road, Caloocan City, at Rizal Ave., Manila. Nasa mahigit isang daan ang kanilang natulungan.

Panawagan ng mga tsuper na ibalik na sila sa pamamasada at bigyan ng ayuda ang bawat isa. Lampas 100 araw na ang lockdown, ganun din ang kanilang tigil-pasada. Kasama ang kanilang pamilya sa mga apektado ng kanilang kawalang-trabaho. (Bidyo nila Jo Maline Mamangun, Jola Mamangun, at Reggie Mamangun)

Juana Change impersonates NCRPO chief at ‘Grand Mañanita’

Performance artist Mae Paner, also known as Juana Change, impersonates Philippine National Police-National Capital Region Police Office chief Major General Debold Sinas at last Friday’s Grand Mañanita at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

Sinas was in hot water last month after celebrating his birthday party inside a police camp he later tried to justify as a surprise “mañita” given him by police officers under his command.

Critics say Sinas’ party, complete with cake, catered food, beer, flowers and a live band, was in violation of coronavirus lockdown protocols the general himself vowed to implement strictly.

In protest of the impending signing into law of the controversial anti-terrorism bill, activists named their protest event at UP as a “Grand Mañanita” in sly reference to the general’s birthday party.

These officials flouted lockdown rules in Myanmar, Malaysia, and the Philippines

Arrest a community volunteer, then throw yourself a party

By Mong Palatino/Global Voices

Lockdown restrictions were enforced by many countries across the world to contain the spread of COVID-19, and Southeast Asia has hosted some of the harshest.

Most quarantine protocols require residents to stay at home, while mass gatherings are typically prohibited.

In Malaysia and the Philippines a particularly strict enforcement of these measures saw thousands of arrests and heavy penalties for violations from March onwards.

But a number of government officials were caught violating the very quarantine protocols they were supposed to oversee.

Global Voices looked into some of these cases, and their outcomes, which highlight how rules apply to ordinary citizens more than to powerful politicians.

We also considered a case in Myanmar that showed how religious discrimination can have a bearing on the application of the law.

Malaysia: ‘Disparity in sentencing’

Malaysia has arrested almost 30,000 people for violating its Movement Control Order (MCO). Harsh implementation was cited by authorities as necessary to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases.

But the public noticed that several politicians flouted the guidelines. The Centre For Independent Journalism compiled documented many of these instances. In one case, Deputy Health Minister Noor Azmi Ghazali posted a now-deleted Facebook photograph of him and another elected representative sharing a meal with about 30 students. Deputy Rural Development Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Mohamad meanwhile enjoyed an impromptu birthday party. Datuk Abdul Rahman Mohamad claimed that the party was a surprise sprung on him by friends and said he was unable to send them away for reasons of courtesy.

In many cases politicians and their families who got charged for failing to practice social distancing measures were slapped with light fines. Ordinary citizens, in contrast got maximum penalty fines and even jail time.

This prompted the Malaysian Bar to issue a statement about the ‘disparity in sentencing’:

The Malaysian Bar is disturbed by accounts of excessive sentences and cases of disparity in sentencing between ordinary people and those with influence, in relation to persons who have violated the MCO.

We acknowledge that the range of sentences handed down may well be within the ambit of the law, but the power of the Court to hand down sentences must be exercised judiciously in order to avoid any travesty of justice.

Philippines: ‘Mañanita’, not a birthday party’

The Philippines is cited by the U.N. Human Rights Office as another country that relied on a “highly militarized response” to deal with the pandemic. More than 120,000 people have been arrested for curfew and quarantine transgressions. Checkpoint security measures have led to numerous human rights violations.

But the government’s credibility in enforcing the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) guidelines suffered a tremendous blow after it was reported that Major General Debold Sinas, the director of the National Capital Region Police Office, benefited from a birthday bash organized by subordinates.

Sinas insisted that there was no birthday party but only a ‘Mañanita’ — a police tradition that features an early morning serenade for the chief. But the public backlash forced him to issue an apology.

Critics pointed out that Sinas and his team have enthusiastically arrested activists and community workers organizing relief activities during the lockdown. They blasted the general for holding festivities at a time when millions have lost jobs and income due to anti-pandemic measures.

Sinas was later charged for violating ECQ rules but has so far managed to retain his position. His case is still pending in the court.

A retired military officer, Ramon Farolan, advised Sinas to step down:

Your apology would take on greater meaning if you step down from your position. Accept that you made a poor judgment call, showing insensitivity to the plight of our less fortunate. Don’t wait for higher authorities to decide your case.

Myanmar: Religious event or pagoda renovation?

In Myanmar, Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein and Naing Ngan Lin, chairman of the COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee, are both accused of breaking the law by attending a Botataung Pagoda festival while the country is observing a ban on religious gatherings.

Photos uploaded on the chief minister’s Facebook page showed dozens of individuals congregating at a riverside site to observe a Buddhist rite.

Social media reactions focused on the clear breach of government guidelines, which include a prohibition on gatherings of four or more people.

Phyo Min Thein denied that the activity was a ceremony, insisting instead that it was a pagoda renovation and that the other people in the photographs were mere onlookers.

Many commented that while the government has been consistent in jailing Muslims and Christians for holding religious activities during lockdown restrictions, it has been less decisive in probing activities connected to Buddhism — the country’s most widely observed religion.

Kyaw Phyo Tha, news editor of the English edition of The Irrawaddy, criticized the chief minister’s actions:

Whatever the case, the chief minister’s actions were unacceptable. They have put the Union government in an awkward position, as its orders have been undermined by a senior official. Due to U Phyo Min Thein’s shortsightedness, Myanmar will have to pay the price internationally by being accused of religious discrimination.

Phyo Min Thein may yet pay for his lockdown scandal — a growing number of Yangon regional legislators are seeking to file an impeachment case against him for breaking the rules. #

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Kodao publishes Global Voices reports as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Busina para sa balik-pasada, isinagawa ng PISTON

Isinagawa ngayong umaga sa iba’t ibang lugar sa Metro Manila ang Busina para sa Balik-Pasada ng mga dyipni sa pangunguna ng Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide o PISTON. Matapos ang dalawa’t-kalahating buwan na hindi nakapaghanap-buhay dahil sa COVID-19 lockdown, tinututulan ng mga tsuper ang desisyon ng pamahalaan na ipagbawal ang pamamasada ng mga tradisyunal na dyip.

Ayon sa PISTON, isang kahig, isang tuka ang mga drayber ng dyip na lalong magugutom kung hindi pa rin papayagang mamasada. Iginiit rin ng grupo na mahihirapan ang mga manggagawang makabalik sa trabaho kung walang dyip na masasakyan.

‘Farmers are seeking for urgent production subsidy’

“Farmers are seeking for urgent production subsidy to aid them in cropping and food production. However, DA chose to channel the budget to projects that are vulnerable to corruption.

The projects listed by DA under ALPAS-COVID all have lump sum budget without specific details on the actual implementation and target beneficiaries. We demand full transparency on the utilization of funds as well as the list of beneficiaries who have received cash aid, loans, and other assistance from DA and its agencies.”

Danilo Ramos
Chairperson,
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas

Carlo Francisco

Reporting the people’s demands is not a crime

Altermidya.net

Information is of utmost importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Reporting the people’s grievances and demands is the solemn duty of the media; it is not a crime.

The Guimba municipal council’s Sangguniang Bayan Resolution No. 52 s.2020 last May 11 empowered the mayor of the Nueva Ecija town to file criminal charges against radio network Radyo Natin Guimba (RNG) for alleged violations of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020 (Republic Act 11469) by reporting the complaints of residents over the implementation of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP).

Prior to the resolution, RNG reported that a municipal councilor and son of the incumbent mayor confiscated RNG field reporter Lina Villaflor’s media identification cards issued by the Presidential Communications and Operations Office.

Earlier, on April 22, the mayor had written the station requesting a copy of the radio broadcast aired that day, stating that the “false and malicious” statements made by the commentator could be a basis for his legal action against the station.

This is a form of censorship meant to intimidate the media into either silence or reporting eventually and issues in a manner acceptable to local government officials.

Subsequent direct attacks against the station have been reported, among them the barring of RNG reporters from covering the sessions of the Guimba Sangguniang Bayan. On May 19, the local police again barred an RNG reporter from covering the distribution of rice seeds to farmers.

All these are in violation of press freedom, and were apparently in response to RNG’s reports on the problematic implementation by the Guimba local government of the SAP.

RNG reported that several residents had trooped to their station to air complaints on the “selective” manner in which the cash aid is being distributed—that the municipality and its barangay officials were prioritizing rich farmers over small tillers.

RNG also reported that the local police have prevented them from taking photos and videos of people who trooped to the municipal hall to complain about the SAP implementation.

As much as it is the constitutional right of the people to air their grievances, it is also the constitutional right – and the primordial duty – of the press to report on these issues.

Local government executives should keep in mind that that the current national emergency does not empower officials to silence dissent and curtail press freedom, both of which are essential to a functional democracy in which elected officials are duty-bound to defend the Constitution.

‘Government is fighting the COVID-19 with blindfolds on’

“The absence of mass testing, isolation, and contact tracing describes the Duterte administration’s lack of concrete plan. The idea of shifting to modified lockdown and passing the fate of millions of Filipinos to the private sector demonstrates how government is fighting the COVID-19 with blindfolds on.”

Daryl Angelo Baybado
National President,
College Editors Guild of the Philippines

Jo Maline Mamangun

To give or not to give SAP tranche 2

by Xandra Liza C. Bisenio

How many mothers have been forced to leave their little ones at home, walk far, and stand in long lines for ayuda only to go home empty-handed? How many senior citizens and persons with disability (PWD), despite their frailty and limits, still tried to get support but in vain?

What can government say to people asking: “Paano na kami, ano nang kakainin namin sa sunod? Kung ano-ano nang ginagawa sa itlog – nilalaga, sinisigang, inaadobo.”, or “Itinutulog na lang ng mga anak ko ang agahan at tanghalian, kasi pang-isang kain na lang ang meron kami.” There are countless, grimmer accounts of such despair.

As of May 16, exactly two months after Luzon and some parts of the country were put under a lockdown to contain COVID-19, the official count of beneficiaries that have not received the first tranche of social amelioration was still quite a number – 811,193 families or some 4 million people. Even if everyone gets served eventually, the point is that millions of Filipinos were made to wait that long for the much-needed aid to come. Yet the Duterte administration dilly-dallies about distributing the second tranche of the social amelioration program (SAP), as if it is an option to give or not to give.

Those who are in modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) areas unarguably need continued support from government. The lockdown has caused two months of difficulty in terms of jobs, livelihood and incomes.

But the over 13 million families who now fall in the category of general community quarantine (GCQ) also still need continued support. They were also under lockdown for six to eight weeks and, at best, only got a small amount of support under the first tranche. Moreover, data as of the exact second month of the lockdown showed that there were even 659,850 households in GCQ areas who have actually not yet received their first tranche. This included 189,467 households in the new GCQ areas.

There should be no question that the second tranche needs to be distributed not just in the remaining MECQ areas but in the GCQ areas as well.

Bayanihan is explicit about it

The SAP targets 17.7 million beneficiaries. The National Capital Region, Region III except Aurora and Tarlac, Laguna, Mandaue City and Cebu City are under MECQ until the end of the month, covering about 4 million beneficiaries. Erstwhile ECQ areas Benguet, Pangasinan, CALABARZON except Laguna, Ilo-ilo, Cebu, Davao City and Bacolod City now join the rest of the country under GCQ – bringing the number of SAP beneficiaries in GCQ areas up to 13.7 million.

The usual economic activities can resume in GCQ areas. There are still minimum health requirements such as physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and bodily protection because the battle against the coronavirus continues. MECQ areas meanwhile maintain restrictions on mobility outside the home, as well as on non-essential activities.

Malacañang initially announced that only MECQ areas will get the second tranche of social amelioration. Soon after, the president gave orders to not just give it all 18 million families but to actually add 5 million more, earning him additional popularity points. Yet is this really something for the president to give or not give according to how generous he is feeling?

The Bayanihan to Heal as One Law or Republic Act 11469 is actually clear. Section 4 (c) of explicitly states that the government shall “Provide an emergency subsidy to around eighteen (18) million low income households: Provided, That the subsidy shall amount to a minimum of Five thousand pesos (P5,000.00) to a maximum of Eight thousand pesos (P8,000.00) a month for two (2) months.”

Making the people wait

At the onset of the Bayanihan law, the government promised Php250 billion for social amelioration and health response. It acknowledged the huge task of strengthening the country’s health system to contain the coronavirus and to save lives. It also recognized that the lockdown would result in widespread displacement of jobs and disruption of livelihoods, badly hitting the majority of the country’s low-income households.

Two months later, there is still no consensus among scientists and medical professionals on whether or not the pandemic curve is flattening. The number of confirmed cases continues to rise, now exceeding 12,700, and also deaths at over 830 already. Our health workers and frontliners are holding the line as best as they can. But they are also the first to take the brunt amid a private sector-dominated health system that is itself ailing from a gross lack of equipment, facilities, infrastructure and manpower to  deal with the pandemic.

The government owes the health sector a grand boost, in the same way that it owes the people in the GCQ areas the second tranche of SAP.

To what end

Is the administration’s dilly-dallying part of a script where, to be able to give help to now 23 million SAP beneficiaries, the government will now be forced to sell public assets to fund social amelioration? Who is buying – China?

Time and again, Malacañang has said that it doesn’t have enough funds, and that it’s only thanks to the president’s prudence that the government has found money to spend. Still, resources are limited so the people have to wait. Or even sacrifice – social welfare secretary Rolando Bautista even once said that not receiving the second tranche is perhaps actually in the spirit of Bayanihan, in freeing up resources for others.

Yet there are funds that can be tapped without the government selling off its assets. IBON estimates a universe of Php3 trillion worth of funds that can be explored and tapped. This includes: realigning Build, Build, Build and confidential and intelligence funds; realigning debt service payments by pushing for a debt moratorium, restructuring or even cancellation; and raising new revenues from issuing COVID-19 solidarity bonds and higher income taxes and wealth taxes on the super-rich.

This would indeed mean a big shift for the Duterte administration whose economic managers already have their minds set on a recovery program that pushes instead of thwarts those business-biased measures, for example, big-ticket infrastructure, tied debts, lower corporate income taxes, and tax incentives for investors. But there should be no second thoughts either about doing everything necessary to help the people survive the crisis.

Some Metro Manila local government units (LGUs) did not make people trapped in the lockdown wait for too long. They defied the apparent limitations of the bureaucracy by tapping internal funds to distribute assistance to their constituents early in the ECQ. They combined technology and people’s volunteerism to deliver help as expediently as they could.

The people have been at the center of these LGUs’ emergency relief operations. This does not seem to be the case with the Duterte administration or even its predecessors. Because, if they were, why is our health system still at a loss with COVID-19? Why can’t the government drop everything to make sure that all vulnerable households get the first and second tranche of social amelioration immediately?

Why are more hapless citizens arrested than are tested? Also, why are relief volunteers, community leaders, mobile kitchens, and even journalists – who are merely trying to fill in gaps in emergency assistance – being harassed, arrested, or even killed by law enforcers?

The huge health and economic crisis that the country is facing now can only be hurdled, humanely and effectively, if the people were heeded and not hindered from actively participating. #

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Xandra heads IBON’s Media and Communications Department. She loves to write songs, listen to her panganay’s music and play chess with her bunso on the side.

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

‘Government will only be putting millions of children, teachers, education support personnel and their families at risk’

“Addressing classroom shortages, large class sizes, lack of adequate water supply, working comfort rooms, ensuring health, and (hiring additional) utility personnel in schools (must first be accomplished). The lack of gadgets and access to a strong internet connection for the new modes of teaching under the ‘new normal’ for schools would require additional budget for education, not cuts.

Without addressing these safety measures and lack of infrastructure for education, government will only be putting millions of children, teachers, education support personnel and their families at risk of getting the COVID-19 virus.”

Rep. France Castro
ACT Teachers’ Party
Assistant Minority Leader,
House of Representatives

Jo Maline Mamangun