One of the significant challenges the country’s education sector faces today is the lack of adequate school infrastructure. A 2022 study on “School Infrastructure in the Philippines” conducted by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies shows the need to construct additional classrooms to address congestion and meet quality and safety standards.

As Chair of the Senate Health Committee, this is a cause for concern as the safety and health of our people, especially the youth, must be prioritized. According to the Basic Education Report 2023 released by the Department of Education (DepEd) early this year, the country has 327,851 school buildings. Still, only 104,536 of these are in good condition.

As vice chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance and a member of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, I am pushing for the construction of more school buildings and improvements of existing classrooms across the country.

Whenever I visit public schools or have engagements with teachers, they always mention the need for more classrooms, especially in far-flung areas. During last month’s barangay and SK elections, I witnessed the disrepair of our educational facilities, even in our hometown of Davao City. This condition adds to the burden of students and teachers who are already readjusting to face-to-face learning after easing restrictions caused by the pandemic.

Based on our discussions in the Senate, there is a need to construct around 159,000 classrooms to bridge the current gap. Hence, I have reiterated my stance to prioritize the construction of classrooms during the Senate plenary deliberations for DepEd’s 2024 budget on 9 November. I also continue to express my full trust and support for our Vice President and Education Secretary, Sara Duterte, who I know can fulfill her mandate in addressing our country’s problems today.

Although I represent a single vote when it comes to decisions to be made by the Senate, especially when it comes to the budget, my stand is firm that any amount removed from DepEd’s budget must be reallocated back to the education sector to address gaps, especially in addressing the backlog in classroom shortages. Ultimately, the poor and the needy must benefit from the available government funds, particularly regarding education.

Despite our busy schedule in the Senate, my office continues to reach out to communities in need and bring government services closer to those facing various crises and hardships.

The past week, we assisted fire victims by providing immediate aid to 50 affected residents in Quezon City; 87 in Zamboanga City; 63 in Las Piñas City; and three more in Cordova, Cebu.

There were also 25 recovering fire victims in Brgy. Manresa, Quezon City, who received separate forms of assistance from my office, in addition to the aid provided by the NHA for purchasing house repair materials under their program that we advocated for.

We also aided 590 indigents in Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro, and 440 in Buruanga, Aklan. Qualified beneficiaries also received separate assistance from the national government.

We also helped displaced workers, including 323 in Libon, Albay, in partnership with Mayor Das Maronilla; 147 in Pasay City with Mayor Emy Calixto Rubiano; 174 in Tigbauan, Iloilo with Congresswoman Janet Garin; 146 in Brgy. Paligsahan, Quezon City with former congressman Bong Suntay; 233 in Guinobatan, Albay with Mayor Paul Garcia; and 148 in Brgy. Bonbon in Catarman, Camiguin with former barangay captain Toping Rodriguez. The DOLE also provided temporary employment to qualified beneficiaries.

We also assisted small entrepreneurs, such as 293 in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan; 136 in Malolos City, Bulacan; and another 23 in Siaton, Ayungon, and Mabinay towns in Negros Oriental. Separately, the DTI also extended livelihood kits to qualified beneficiaries through its program that we advocated for to help small businesses overcome crises.

Meanwhile, on 8 November, I participated in a reunion dinner with fellow and former senators in celebration of the 107th anniversary of the Senate. Senate President Migz Zubiri led the occasion.

On 9 November, I visited Batangas to check on projects I had earlier supported to benefit my fellow Batanguenos. One of which is the Super Health Center in San Juan, funded through the collective efforts of DOH, fellow lawmakers like Congresswoman Lianda Bolilia and the LGU led by Mayor Ildebrando Salud. We hope this endeavor will improve primary care, early disease detection, and access to medical consultations for the community. We also distributed grocery packs to indigents there. As an adopted son of CALABARZON with familial roots in Batangas, since my family from my mother’s side is part of the Tesoro clan, I assured them of my commitment to help them to the best of my abilities.

Also, in San Juan, we attended the inauguration of the newly built multi-purpose building in Brgy. Calublub would also serve as an evacuation center in times of calamity. This aligns with my vision to establish Mandatory Evacuation Centers nationwide in strategic locations, as embodied in Senate Bill No. (SBN) 2451, or the Ligtas Pinoy Centers Act. I am one of its co-sponsors and authors, having filed its earlier version entitled Mandatory Evacuation Center Bill to establish permanent, well-equipped evacuation centers nationwide.

On 11 November, I went to the Island Garden City of Samal to visit Task Force Samal to give some support and thank them for keeping the area peaceful and safe. I was also invited to join their situational briefing and inspect the multi-purpose hall there, which we earlier advocated for to be funded. I also witnessed the turn-over of ten motor banca engines to fisherfolks on the island.

We then went to the Limao Gym, where we also attended the opening of the Samalenyo Cup, a sports competition sponsored by the Philippine Sports Commission that I supported as Chair of the Senate Sports Committee together with Mayor Al David Uy, Councilor Sonny Lanorias, and other local officials. This is one of my many initiatives to promote grassroots activities that highlight the role of sports in nation-building. As I have always advised the youth, ‘get into sports, stay away from illegal drugs!

As the Senate continues to tackle the national budget, we must prioritize public interest and ensure that public services reach those who need government attention the most

As I said during my manifestation, “unahin po natin sana ang trabaho, unahin natin ang pagserbisyo at pagtulong po sa mga Pilipino lalo na ang pinakamahihirap nating kababayan (Let’s prioritize work, let’s prioritize serving and helping Filipinos, especially our poorest compatriots).”

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