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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Flawed priorities

It is baffling how the current Philippine Congress has taken speedy action to pass the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which has enormous potentials for creating more harm than good to the general public. But even more baffling is that a very important bill to promote inclusive education among children with special needs remains pending up to now since it was filed on July 10, 2019, almost a year ago.

Authored by Sen. Sonny Angara, Senate Bill No. 329 or the proposed Inclusive Education Learning Resource Center Act of 2019, remains in “pending” status, according to the records of the Senate. It has been pending in the committee since July 31, 2019.

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In contrast, Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s anti-terrorism bill (ATB) was certified urgent by President Duterte. For Mr. Duterte’s allies, like those who interpret and explain (and even spin yarns) on anything that he says or does, this quick reaction is one of the hallmarks of the President’s decisiveness and timely responses to legislative proposals.

Interestingly, both houses of Congress passed the bill hastily during virtual sessions due to the COVID-19 physical distance requirements.

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In contrast, SB 329 hardly elicited a response even from the committee to which it was assigned. Yet, it was filed at a time when there were no restrictions on face-to-face interactions, which could have facilitated more meaningful deliberations and a much responsive decision on the need for providing adequate funds for children with special needs through a government-funded inclusive education system envisioned in SB 329.

On Jan. 27, 2020, Education Secretary Leonor M. Briones announced that for the first time, the national government has allocated a budget of P107 million to support the country’s more than 600 Special Education (SPED) schools. While admitting that the amount is way below the SPED funding requirement of around P500 million, it is considered a landmark allocation from the General Appropriations Act this year.

This very minimal support is indicative of the very low priority that government puts on the education of children, especially those with special needs, like all the differently abled, disabled, and disadvantaged children across the country. Such low regard for the development needs of the future generation of Filipinos is also reflected in Congress’ inaction on Senator Angara’s bill.

Some may argue that prioritizing national security legislation like the Lacson-proposed ATB ensures the safety and security of the greater number of people because it will stem the threats against government functionaries and facilities. And this should be the top priority of any government.

But this argument begs the question of whether a “strong” legal instrument like this one will finally put an end to terrorism, since it assumes that draconian laws and policies will do the job. In other parts of the world, where more drastic tactics have caused the deaths of several leaders of terrorist cells like Osama bin Laden and his ilk, terrorism and violent extremism are still very much the source of daily insecurity for many people, who have to suffer the consequences of a war they did not wage.

It is sad that many of our legislators do not see the wisdom in prioritizing investment in children’s education, especially in making educational services available to all who are marginalized and disadvantaged due to certain distinctiveness in their identities, abilities, ethnicities, religion, and emotional and behavioral traits.

Giving priority to providing inclusive education could be a game changer for the future development of this country. And it could be a gentle but strong persuasion for those who are seduced with the pecuniary prospects of engaging in terroristic acts, or in fomenting violence for mercenary purposes, to change their lives’ course.

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TAGS: anti-terrorism bill, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, government priorities, Kris-Krossing Mindanao, Rufa Cagoco-Guiam
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