By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
THE GOVERNMENT on Monday said the coronavirus pandemic would no longer be an excuse to suspend face-to-face classes, as Filipino students endured heavy traffic on their way to cramped classrooms on the first day of school.
“We can no longer keep COVID-19 as an excuse to keep our children from schools,” Vice-President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte-Carpio said at an event marking the new school year. “Our commitment to basic education must never falter.”
“There were calls to suspend the opening of classes and move it to September or October,” she said. “But we are talking about the future of Filipino youth.”
President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has said learning would be much more effective inside classrooms, where students can fully interact with their teachers and classmates. “I welcome the return of our children to full face-to-face classes after two years of online learning due to the pandemic,” he said in a statement.
“Since the threat of COVID-19 is still in our midst, it is important that our teachers and students continue to observe the minimum health protocols to ensure that they remain healthy while learning new things.”
Students and teachers were greeted by overcrowded classrooms and heavy traffic on the first day of school.
“When we asked our students to return to classes amid the pandemic, all systems should have been in place to ensure that public utility vehicles are available, traffic flow is manned efficiently and health protocols are observed,” Senator Mary Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares said in a statement.
Ms. Poe, a former pre-school teacher, said students should be sitting in chairs, not on the floor.
“Our students deserve a safe and comfortable experience as they brave going back to school amid the lingering pandemic,” Ms. Poe said.
“We hope concerned agencies will make up for the hitches encountered on Day One of face-to-face classes and make the coming days pleasant for our learners.”
Media reports showed traffic congestion across the country, especially in Manila, the capital and nearby cities.
John Paul S. Tanyag, a commuter, worries that the situation will worsen as more schools enforce five days of face-to-face classes in the coming weeks.
It took him one-and-a-half hours to get to his office in Taguig from his house in Muntinlupa City — triple the usual travel time in smooth traffic.
“It will get worse for sure,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “There were missed opportunities to plan ahead while we were on lockdown.”
“The traffic situation that we have seen needs special attention,” Ariel E. Inton, a former board member of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), said by telephone. “The government has to do something about this as soon as possible.”
Mr. Inton, a lawyer advocating commuter safety, urged the government to hold meetings with various sectors and other agencies, including the Interior and Local Government and Education departments.
“Right now, we are not yet implementing full face-to-face classes,” he said. “The problem will be bigger once the full implementation is seen in November. We have to prepare the concerned agencies.”
ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France L. Castro noted that as many as 50 students were cramped in one classroom in Quezon City, which she said poses health risks.
The Education department should limit students per classroom to avoid transmission of the coronavirus, she told the ABS-CBN News Channel.
Polen Austria, a parent, worries that coronavirus infections could surge as health protocols are ignored in her child’s public school.
“I’m quite confident because my child is already fully vaccinated,” she said by telephone. “But others might get infected and the disease could spread.”
Some teachers held a protest rally near the presidential palace before going to school, hitting the government’s unpreparedness. They also decried their meager salaries.
“Instead of being able to focus on teaching, they have to address classes that don’t have classrooms, or students that don’t have chairs and books or modules,” Vladimer Quetua, chairman of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), said at the rally.
Teachers should not carry the burden of solving the gaps in Philippine education, he said. “This is the responsibility of the government, which continues to deny adequate support for education.”
Meanwhile, the Kabataan Party-list group denounced the confiscation by police of donations during a relief drive at an elementary school in Quezon City.
“The Kabataan Party-list condemns this act of police brutality that did not only deprive young students of safety equipment and other necessities on their first day but also inflicted trauma on children who witnessed such violence,” it said in a statement.
A video of police officers forcefully confiscating school materials and other goods in front of President Corazon C. Aquino Elementary School in Quezon City went viral on social media.
In a Facebook post, the Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, which started the relief drive, called the police move despicable.
Police officers said the group did not have a permit to distribute the goods.
Kabataan urged the Philippine National Police to pull out policemen in schools to prevent violent incidents in front of children.
In a statement, the PNP reported a smooth implementation of security and minimum and public health protocols during the opening of the school year.
A total of 23,653 police officers were deployed across the country to maintain order, national police chief Rodolfo S. Azurin said.
Kabataan said the number of cops deployed for the reopening of schools was excessive.
COVID CASESThe Department of Health (DoH) posted 23,883 coronavirus infections in the past week, with the daily average falling by 15% to 3,412 cases from a week earlier.
In a bulletin, the agency said it had verified 321 more deaths, 90 of which occurred from Aug. 8 to 21. Of the new cases, 101 were severe and critical cases.
DoH said 699 of 2,586 intensive care unit (ICU) beds in the country had been used as of Aug. 21, while 6,677 of 22,076 non-ICU beds were occupied. There were 811 severe and critical admissions, it added.
The government has fully vaccinated 72.31 million Filipinos DoH said. It added that 17.42 million people have received booster shots.
Meanwhile, key coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) indicators in the capital region continue to drop, the OCTA Research Group said.
The virus reproduction number in Metro Manila had fallen to 1.03 as of Aug. 18, from 1.11 a week earlier, OCTA fellow Fredegusto P. David tweeted. The capital region’s positivity rate had fallen to 14.6% as of Aug. 20 from 16.3% a week earlier, he added.
Mr. David said the region’s healthcare use rate for COVID-19 was 37%. “The National Capital Region remains at moderate risk at this time.” — with John Victor D. Ordoñez