(UPDATED) President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, July 27, 2020, took back the approval he gave for limited face-to-face learning starting January 2021 and warned telecommunications companies that they will be shut down if they don’t improve their services by December.
Efficient telecommunications are vital to government efforts to provide multiple learning modalities, including online learning, and migrate processes to online platforms.
In his fifth State of the Nation Address (Sona), Duterte reverted to his earlier statement that he will not allow face-to-face learning until a vaccine against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) becomes available.
“I cannot and will not put at risk the health and lives of our students and teachers,” he said.
When he approved the Department of Education (DepEd) program to allow face-to-face learning in areas with few to zero Covid-19 cases, Duterte said he was thinking that a vaccine would be available by September 2020.
He said he asked China President Xi Jinping four days ago to grant the Philippines credit for the acquisition of the vaccine as soon as this becomes available.
In lieu of face-to-face learning, DepEd is implementing multiple learning delivery modalities, including online learning platforms.
Online learning, however, is constrained by the slow internet speed in the country.
Duterte, frustrated over the current state of telecommunications in the country, told Smart Telecommunications, wireless unit of the Pangilinan-led Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT), and the Ayala-led Globe Telecom Inc. that he will shut them down if they don’t improve their services by December.
“Smart, pati itong Globe, ilang taon na ito? Ang sagot palagi sa akin, the party cannot be reached. Eh, saan pala pumunta ‘yung ‘y..a’ na ‘yon?” Duterte said in his fifth State of the Nation Address (Sona) Monday.
(How many years have Smart and Globe been operating? The answer that I usually get is “the party cannot be reached”. So where did that damn thing go?)
He said telecommunications companies should boost their capitalization and improve their services, or government will be “forced to take drastic steps”.
“Alam mo, itong mga nagbibigay ng public services, you better improve. H’wag naman ninyo kaming pahintayin ng sampung taon bago kami makakamit ng mga services that the other countries are enjoying,” he said.
“It is just a question of added capitalization, or the infusion of money. Go and look for it. Maghanap kayo because if you are not ready to improve, I might just as well close all of you and revert back to the line telephone. At kukunin ko ‘yan (frequencies), i-expropriate ko, sa gobyerno,” he added.
Duterte said “the patience of the Filipino people is reaching its limit” and he will articulate the public’s anger over “half deals, half-cooked transactions, lousy service”.
“Tell us now if you cannot really improve on it because I will work by December. I have two years. The next two years will be spent improving the telecommunications of this country without you. I will find a way. I will talk to Congress and find a way how to do it,” he said.
Duterte also said television frequencies that are reverted to the government for whatever reason shall now be used to provide uninterrupted quality education to the children.
He directed Cabinet members to craft a program to ensure that government gets first option to use television frequencies.
He mentioned Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Peña, Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio Honasan, Education Secretary Leonor Briones, Budget Secretary Wendell Avisado and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.
Public Education Network
Also in support of the DepEd’s learning continuity program through blended learning, Duterte said the government plans to increase the number of schools with ICT (information and communications technology) equipment.
He vowed to implement the proposed Public Education Network (PEN), which will connect all public schools and DepEd offices nationwide.
The government will prioritize the connection of all “last mile” schools via satellite and those with no electricity supply energized via solar panels.
“By 2022, before I step down, the PEN shall be realized. I’m referring to the program. I will, I will do it,” Duterte said.
Under the Public Schools of the Future Digital Rise Program, DepEd is rolling out the DepEd Commons, an online platform containing learning materials to support the continuous delivery of basic education.
DepEd Commons was originally conceptualized in response to the 2012 Paris Open Educational Resources (OER) Declaration, but is now being used to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic which has shut down schools in the country since mid-March.
Briones earlier said DepEd Commons, which went live in March 2020, now has more than four million users, mostly learners from public and private schools, including those under the Alternative Learning System (ALS).
Since late April 2020, Briones said access to DepEd Commons has been free for Globe and TouchMobile subscribers as well as for Smart, Sun, and TalkNText subscribers.
Efficient telecommunications are also needed to support government’s transition to online transactions.
Duterte directed the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Budget and Management, and the Anti-Red Tape Authority to make all services available online.
“The national government shall lead the way in our transition to online systems. I reiterate my call for all government instrumentalities to implement systems that shall make physical queuing a thing of the past,” Duterte said.
“We need to adjust to and adopt a paper-less type business and work performance. We need e-governance [to provide] our people with the services they need [from] the comfort of their homes or workplaces. It will enable our bureaucracy to better transition into in the 'new normal' and cut or minimize red tape,” he added.
Duterte’s frustration with the current telecommunications services in the country led to the entry of a third telecommunications company, Dito Telecommunity Corporation (formerly known as Mislatel).
Dito, a joint venture between Davao businessman Dennis Uy’s Chelsea Logistics Holdings Corporation and China Telecommunications Corporation, had targeted to start operations in mid-2020.
The completion of its infrastructure facilities, however, has been delayed by the pandemic. (Marites Vilamor-Ilano/SunStar Philippines)