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Bills on access to education for undeserved sector okayed

A panel in the House of Representatives on Wednesday consolidated four measures that would boost accessibility to education of underserved sectors of the country such as out-of-school youths, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, and senior citizens by institutionalizing the alternative learning system.

The House committee on basic education and culture, chaired by Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo, consolidated House Bill 1586, 4392, 917, and 1586 filed by Tingog Party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Kittilstvedt Romualdez and House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez; San Jose del Monte City Rep. Florida ”Rida” Robes; Deputy Speaker and Pampanga Rep. Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales; and Pangasinan Rep. Tyrone Agabas, respectively.

The committee will prepare the final draft of the measure after it granted the motion of Negros Occidental Leo Rafael Cueva to consolidate the proposed measures.

Romulo then designated Yedda Romualdez to head the technical working group that will harmonize the consolidated version and ensure that it will capture Grades 11 and 12 and Technical Education Skills Development Authority curriculums.

In her sponsorship speech, Yedda Romualdez underscored the need to provide a viable learning alternative to the formal education system that will address all learning needs of the marginalized learners.

“This bill intends to strengthen the ALS by defining it as the other lung of the Philippine educational system and by clearly defining its role within the education system of our country,” said Yedda Romualdez, the chairperson of the House Committee on the Welfare of Children, in her sponsorship speech.

Rep. Romualdez, who previously chaired the House Committee on Accounts, recalled that thousands of out-of-school youth and persons in disadvantaged situations, including those who cannot afford formal schooling for reasons of poverty, employment or other pressing circumstance, have benefitted from ASL when it was first introduced in2001 with the enactment of Republic Act (RA) 9155, otherwise known as the Governance in Basic Education Act.

The 17th Congress under the leadership of Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo approved on third and final reading Rep. Yedda Romualdez's bill on ASL.

“I hope that with your support we can expedite the passage of this bill and thus realize this long- overdue improvement in our educational system.

In understanding the government’s ALS program and in processing and crafting the bill I proposed, I realized that many of these ALS learners are determined individuals who faced challenges or made sacrifices, which led them to stop formal schooling,” said Rep. Romualdez who was accompanied by her husband, Rep. Martin Romualdez during the hearing.

ALS is a parallel learning system that provides an alternative learning arrangement to learners, who, for acceptable reasons to be determined by the Department of Education, cannot be admitted to the existing formal basic education. It includes both the non-formal and informal sources of knowledge and skills.

The ALS shall cover out-of-school children, youth and adults, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized sectors of society, who either have none or limited access to formal schools, and who are usually located in far-flung communities, including those in areas with armed conflict.

The bill aims to guarantee equal opportunity for learners in every barangay, including residents of unreached, underserved and conflict-affected communities, to avail of systematic and flexible alternative basic education program outside of the formal school system.

It also promotes lifelong learning in all streams of education to ensure the learners’ sustainable future.

The bill proposes to institute a mobile teacher program especially in far-flung, unserved, underserved, and conflict-affected communities.

Under the proposed measure, Secretary of Education, through the appropriate DepEd officer, shall exercise general supervision and administration over the ALS programs.

It also mandates the DepEd to strengthen the implementation of Non-Formal Education and Informal Education programs.

Meanwhile, House Minority leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. said that while more Filipinos are getting advanced in age due to the decline in birth rate, there is no separate hospital for them although the young have several pediatric hospitals.

Abante is pushing for the establisment of a National Geriatric Health and Research Institute, a full service hospital focused on caring for the elderly.

Abante added that the country currently has 8.6-million senior citizens or 8.2 percent of the population, and “yet there is no hospital that specializes on their almost permanent aches and pains.”

The elderly, Abante said, are as vunerable to health problems as the very young and yet the country has the National Children's Hospital and the Lungsod ng Kabataan, both of which are in Quezon City, to address the needs of the young.

Abante, who represents the Sixth District of Manila, recently filed House Bill 3939, that provides for the conversion of the National Center for Geriatric Health into the National Geriatric Health and Research Institute, to make it a fully operational hospital that will cater to health services for the elderly.

On Thursday last week, he visited the NCGH in San Miguel, Manila, and found that “the NCGH is just an outpatient department of the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center.”

"Unfortunately, this hospital is not operational because of the absence of a law that allows for its operations."

Abante pointed out that the latest data from the Commission on Population and Development revealed that 8.6-million Filipinos are aged 60 and older.

"By 2030 to 2035, that percentage is expected to hit 14 percent. Our population is aging, and we must work to develop infrastructure and institute policies that will enable us to properly care for the nation's elderly," he added.

"Given how much our senior citizens have contributed to our country, they deserve our care. Benefits like senior citizen discounts and the like are helpful, but we should not stop there. Steps must be taken to improve geriatric health services because health care is the top concern of our elderly."

House Bill 3939, or "The National Center for Geriatric Health and Research Institute Act," establishes the NCGHRI, a 100-bed hospital that will be attached to the Department of Health. Under the measure, not less than 40 percent of the NCGHRI's hospital beds shall be allocated for indigent patients.

The NCGHRI shall, among others: (1) equip, maintain, administer, and operate an integrated medical institution that specializes in geriatric health services; (2) provide and maintain affordable, quality, and timely hospital care through an efficient health service delivery system that prioritizes the need of the elderly; and (3) coordinate the various efforts and activities of other government agencies and local government units for the purpose of achieving effective approaches to the delivery of geriatric health services.

Funding for the NCGHRI shall be sourced from the DOH under the General Appropriations Act. Aside from these funds, the NCGHRI will also have its own trust fund composed of contributions from taxes, donations, and income from its pay wards.

Donations to NCGHRI shall be exempt from donor's tax and will be considered an allowable deduction from the gross income of the donor consistent with the provisions of the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997.

Topics: House of Representatives , Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo , Tingog Party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Kittilstvedt Romualdez and House Majority Leader , Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez , Jose del Monte City Rep. Florida ”Rida” Robes , Deputy Speaker Pampanga Rep. Aurel
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