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Senators seek to grant Duterte authority to move opening of classes beyond August

Several senators on Tuesday lobbied for the passage of an amendatory measure which would give President Rodrigo Duterte the authority to reschedule the opening of classes in the country beyond August during states of calamity, emergency, or similar occurrences.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who sponsored Senate Bill No. 1541, said the proposed amendment to Republic Act 7797 is timely as the threat of COVID-19 still lingers.

Under the existing law, schools must open not later than the last day of August.

"The proposed opening of the 2020-2021 school year on August 24 has been opposed by those who fear that the physical opening of our schools may cause a spike in COVID-19 cases among school-aged children," Gatchalian said in a statement.

"Marami pong mga magulang ang nangangamba na baka ‘pag pinayagan nilang pumasok sa eskwelahan ang kanilang mga anak ay hindi malayong mahawa sila ng peligrosong sakit na ito," he added.

The proposed measure would empower the President, upon recommendation of the Secretary of Education, to move the opening of classes in the entire Philippines or in selected affected areas at any date.

"The immediate effect of this legislation would be to empower the President to move the start of the school year 2020-2021 to September or even later, in the event that public health authorities would recommend the postponement of the school year in order to contain the spread of COVID-19," Gatchalian said.

Senator Joel Villanueva also underscored that there are 27 million students and 1.2 million employees in over 61,000 public and private schools who will be involved once the classes open.

"I sincerely believe that we must allow some flexibility in our laws. We have no choice but to let hard science and not public opinion surveys or guesses call the shots," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri likewise supported the bill and stressed that the extraordinary situation calls for measures that are responsive to the people's needs.

"We need a proactive stance now more than ever because this concerns a very important and vulnerable demographic of our population, our children…this country’s future," he said.

Despite the Department of Education's previous announcement that the school year will start on August 24, President Rodrigo Duterte said he will not allow the opening of classes until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes locally available.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque later clarified that this only means physical classes won't resume yet.

“Ibig sabihin po niyan, habang wala pang bakuna at habang wala pa tayo sa new normal, ‘yung wala na pong community quarantine, hindi pa rin po tayo magkakaroon ng face-to-face classroom na mga klase,” Roque said in a televised briefing.

“Kung hindi talaga dumating ang new normal at hindi mai-lift ang mga community quarantines hindi naman po ibig sabihin na hindi na mag-aaral ang ating mga kabataan," he added, noting that television and radio may also be tapped as alternative platforms for the delivery of lessons. — BM, GMA News