By Victor Reyes and Wendell Vigilia
INTERIOR Secretary Eduardo Año yesterday criticized senators for recommending the resumption of face-to-face classes and warned of a possible spike in new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases if students are allowed to attend classes in person.
“Pag sinabi mong face-to-face na ‘yung mga studyante, you’re talking of millions of students, so wala ka nang control d’yan (If you say face-to-face classes among students, you’re talking of millions of students, so you’ll lose control),” Año said.
During a Senate hearing on Friday, Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Imee Marcos urged the Department of Education to consider resuming face-to-face classes.
Gatchalian said the COVID-19 situation in the country has improved, notwithstanding more than 1,000 new cases daily. Marcos, meanwhile, wondered why schools are still not accessible to students when cockpit arenas are now allowed to operate.
Año said President Duterte has long declared that there will be no face-to-face classes until the end of December this year. “Sundin na lang natin ang utos ng Pangulo (Let’s just follow the order of the President),” he said, adding: “By January, there are going to be a lot of changes. So what we are saying is let’s not rush (things).”
Año also urged the public to report to authorities malls violating health protocols.
“Kung merong mga mall na ganyan, ipagbigay alam nyo sa amin, ibigay nyo na kaagad ‘yung detalye. Ako mismo aaksyunan ko ‘yan. (If there are malls doing that, report it to us, give to us the details immediately. I will act on it). If we have to close the malls because of rampant violations we will do that,” he said.
‘BLINDLY TAKING ORDERS’
Vice President Leni Robredo reminded Education Secretary Leonor Briones that it is her duty to side with the students by supporting the Office of the Vice President’s community learning hubs project instead of blindly taking orders from President Duterte.
Robredo said Briones should remember that as education secretary, she is supposed to look after students and teachers who are her “real bosses and not (the) President.”
“Totoo na si Presidente ‘yung nag-appoint sa kanya pero sana naman ipagtanggol niya iyong mga bata na nangangailangan ng tulong, ipagtanggol niya iyong mga teachers na nangangailangan ng tulong. Hindi naman dito puwede iyong blind obedience. (It’s true that the President was the one who appointed her but I hope she (Briones) defends the children and the teachers who need help. Blind obedience won’t work here,” Robredo said on her radio program Biserbisyong Leni aired over RMN.
Robredo said Briones should not try to please the President, who is against the holding of face-to-face classes, “at the expense of students who need help.”
The OVP earlier launched a project that aims to help those without internet access or study areas to continue attending distance learning classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The project, which was set up in select areas in the country, is also meant to help children whose parents are working or do not have the capacity to teach, especially children who are classified as “difficult learners.”
Briones last week disowned the project, saying that without the President’s approval, it could not allow the return of face-to-face learning, a claim which the OVP has denied, saying there are no face-to-face tutorials being conducted in the learning hubs.
Robredo’s spokesperson Barry Gutierrez has said the Dep Ed was informed every step of the way before the launch of the learning hubs, with the assurance that safety protocols will be strictly implemented.
The Vice President, who was the target of the President’s recent meltdown, slammed Malacañang for insisting there will be face-to-face classes in the community learning hubs when there are none.
“Wala tayong face-to-face classes, kasi wala naman tayong teachers. Wala tayong teachers. Ang mayroon natin, Ka Ely, tutors na kung may batang nahihirapan, puwede siyang pumunta siya sa center para siya matulungan (We have no face-to-face classes because we have no teachers. What we have are tutors who can help slow learners by going to the centers),” Robredo said.
Robredo said most of those who avail of the free tutorial services in the leaning hubs still do not know how to read despite having reached the fifth grade.
She said the project should be insulated from politics, pointing out that Briones’ statements might shoo away the OVP’s partners, donors and even teachers and local officials who are backing it.