MANILA, Philippines — Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Monday called on the Department of Education (DepEd) to uphold the safety and welfare of teachers, non-teaching staff, and other school personnel amid the persisting threat of COVID-19.
Gatchalian made the appeal as more than 24.6 million learners resume home-based learning at the opening of the school year 2021-2022.
Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts, and Culture, stressed that giving this assurance to the country’s education frontliners is the “best way to thank them for their hard work and sacrifices” to implement DepEd’s distance learning program.
“Nagpapasalamat ako sa ating mga guro, mga kawani, at mga school officials dahil kung wala ang kanilang sipag, dedikasyon, at patuloy na sakripisyo, hindi natin maipagpapatuloy ang edukasyon sa gitna ng pandemya. Ngunit dahil patuloy ang banta ng COVID-19, dapat nating tiyaking protektado sila at meron silang matatakbuhan kapag sila ay tinamaan ng sakit,” he said in a statement.
Gatchalian noted that even without in-person learning, activities such as the printing and distribution of self-learning modules still expose teachers, staff, and school officials to the coronavirus disease.
While DepEd personnel who get infected with COVID-19 are covered by the package of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Gatchalian said that some of them still need to spend money out of their pockets before receiving reimbursements from the state insurer.
He urged DepEd to work with PhilHealth in creating a “special lane” to ensure the faster provision of financial aid to personnel who fell ill with COVID-19.
Gatchalian also reiterated the need to vaccinate both teachers and learners to ensure safety in the gradual reopening of schools, which should start with pilot testing in low-risk areas.
Based on the estimates of the National Economic and Development Authority, last year’s school closures will cost the country P11 trillion in the next 40 years.
Because of the learning and economic losses resulting from yearlong school closures, Gatchalian said that the country cannot handle another year without face-to-face classes.
The senator has been pushing for the pilot implementation of face-to-face classes in low-risk areas for COVID-19.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier expressed “openness” to proposals to allow resumption of in-person classes in some areas but health safety should be assured to protect students from the threat of coronavirus infections.