MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health and the Department of Education are finalizing plans to reopen at least 100 schools soon, over a year after the government ordered the closure of all schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We just had a meeting with the Department of Education officials and we are finalizing the joint issuance between the Department of Health and the Department of Education,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told lawmakers on Thursday during the House appropriations panel’s hearing on the DOH’s proposed P242.22-billion budget for 2022.
Vergeire added that DepEd will be meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte’s office next week to propose guidelines for limited face-to-face classes that they will implement together with the DOH.
She added that the DepEd requested to add 20 more schools to the 100 schools that would reopen first once their proposal is approved by Duterte.
The DOH did not give a timeframe as to when these schools will reopen and did not specify which schools will be first reopened, although Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said that these would be in areas at low risk for COVID-19 infections.
DepEd has long been pushing for the reopening of schools in some areas, particularly those with low cases of COVID-19, but Duterte has consistently rejected these proposals, citing the danger posed by the virus.
Duque said that he recalls Duterte approving limited face-to-face classes in pilot areas but gave not further information.
The Philippines is one of five countries where schools remain shuttered due to the pandemic, according to the United Nations Children's Fund, along with Bangladesh, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov said the continued closure of schools would lead to learning loss, mental distress, missed vaccinations, and heightened risk of drop out, child labor and child marriage.
Classes will resume in the Philippines, albeit virtually, on September 13.