Senate allots P5.9B budget for DICT’s broadband program in 2021

Robie de Guzman   •   December 8, 2020   •   374

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Grace Poe has announced that the Senate is moving to increase the government’s first-ever planned spending on telecommunications infrastructure to PHP5.9 billion.

This is to speed up the rollout of services in underprivileged areas now that connectivity has become a basic necessity.

“I am happy to announce that with the help of my fellow senators, we pushed for the increase in the budget allocation for the national broadband because the NEP (National Expenditure Program) only gave about P900 million which is actually quite laughable,” Poe said during Monday’s hearing of the Senate committee on public services that she chairs.

“We increased that to at least PHP5.9 billion for 2021. This is just for the first phase. We have to contend with the DICT’s absorptive capacity which is why we didn’t go all out,” she added.

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) admitted that the government has not invested a centavo for the development of internet services in the country and that investments in internet infrastructure have been made by big businesses.

According to NTC data, the Vietnamese government has invested $820 million in internet development. It added that Malaysia also invested $233.6 million, Thailand $343 million, and Singapore$1.7 billion for quality internet infrastructure.

Poe said that the problems stemming from the lack of internet connectivity are felt in education and the toll there is heavy and will be felt for generations to come.

“We need to look at internet connectivity as a basic necessity and government should ensure access to it especially for the underprivileged if only to make education accessible to the poor,” she added.

Senate probes distance learning quality, deferment of proposed resumption of in-person classes

Robie de Guzman   •   February 24, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – A Senate panel will conduct an inquiry on Wednesday on the quality of distance learning, other psycho-social concerns, and the implications of postponing the resumption of face-to face classes amid the threat of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairperson of the Senate committee on basic education, arts, and culture, said that during the hearing, he will urge the Department of Education (DepEd) to use all available tools and resources to avert a looming ‘learning crisis’ as part of its next steps in mitigating the “pernicious effects” of distance learning.

Gatchalian earlier expressed fears that a huge chunk of more than 25 million learners in the basic education sector might end up “unprepared” for their next level of schooling.

While DepEd has exhausted all possible steps to provide for continued education amid the pandemic, Gatchalian stressed that several challenges still hound the rollout of distance learning, including the inadequacy of connectivity, lack of enough guidance from teachers, and the quality and effectiveness of self-learning modules, among others.

“Dahil ipagpapaliban muna nating muli ang pagkakaroon ng face-to-face classes, mahalagang magkaroon tayo ng kaliwanagan sa kung ano ba ang magiging pangmatagalang epekto nito sa ating mga mag-aaral, lalo na’t hinaharap nila ang maraming mga hamong may kinalaman sa epektibong pagpapatupad ng distance learning,” Gatchalian said in a statement issued on Wednesday morning.

“Ang ating layunin sa pagpapatuloy ng edukasyon sa gitna ng pandemya ay masigurong natututo ang ating mga mag-aaral at maging handa sila para sa susunod na antas ng kanilang pag-aaral,” he added.

Duterte earlier thumbed down fresh proposals to resume face-to-face classes in areas classified as low-risk for COVID-19 transmission.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque relayed the president’s decision not to allow any in-person classes until the vaccination program has been rolled out in the country.

Roque, however, said that face-to-face classes may be considered in August this year after the launch of the immunization drive.

A pilot test of limited face-to-face classes was supposed to be held by the government last January but was ordered suspended by Duterte due to increasing COVID-19 cases.

Senate approves proposed COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act

Marje Pelayo   •   February 23, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate of the Philippines approved, on third reading, the proposed COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act that seeks to expedite the process of vaccine procurement in the country.

Twenty two (22) senators voted in favor of the measure.

Under Senate Bill 2057, local government units (LGUs) may procure COVID-19 vaccines for 75% of their target population.

Also, the LGUs will be allowed to make advance payments to the vaccine manufacturer.

The bill also provides a COVID-19 national vaccine indemnity fund or payment for damages should the vaccinee experienced serious side effects.

The House of Representatives on Monday (February 22) approved its own version of the bill after President Rodrigo Duterte certified the proposed measure as urgent.

Senate approves Labor Education Act on third and final reading

Aileen Cerrudo   •   February 23, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—The Senate has approved the Labor Education Act on the third and final reading.

Senate Bill No. 1513 or the Labor Education Act seeks to mandate all public and private higher education institutions (HEIs) to integrate labor education as part of an elective course.

Under the bill, HEIs and tech-voc training institutes shall hold a Labor Empowerment and Career Guidance conference which graduating students shall attend.

Senator Joel Villanueva, the principal sponsor of the Senate Bill, said around 700,000 students graduate from HEIs every year.

However, these students have little knowledge of their labor rights and access to legal aid or assistance. This makes them vulnerable to labor exploitation, according to the Senator.

“At present, the regions that have the highest number of students enrolled in higher education institutions are also the regions where establishments record dismal compliance to labor laws. Unfortunately, there is no clear core subject in the higher, technical, and vocational education sectors where labor education is comprehensively covered,” he said.

Villanueva also noted the enactment of the bill would ensure that every Filipino worker would be aware of his/her rights which include labor issues such as unemployment and underemployment, problems concerning fair wages, job security, safe workplaces, social protection, and unfair labor practices. -AAC

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