Gatchalian calls for staggered payment of electric bills amid COVID-19 crisis

Robie de Guzman   •   April 15, 2020   •   985

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Wednesday called on the government to come up with a solution to ease the payment terms of consumers whose electricity bills are expected to pile up after a month of reprieve following the extension of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

The Manila Electric Company (Meralco), among other utility firms, in March gave a 30-day extension to consumers in pay their bills following the enforcement of enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila, which was later expanded to include the entire island of Luzon.

But the lawmaker expressed his concern that ordinary Filipinos, especially those belonging to the marginalized sector, might not have the financial capacity to pay their two-month worth of electricity bills in full, and therefore risk having their electricity disconnected.

Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy, suggested for the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to stagger the payment of two months of electricity bills for not less than three months.

“Dahil nga marami sa ating mga kababayan ang hindi nakakapagtrabaho ngayon, lalo na yung mga ‘no work, no pay’, ang panawagan natin sa ERC ay gumawa ng hakbang para hindi sila maputulan ng kuryente,” he said in a statement.

He also appealed to Meralco to temporarily waive its convenience fee so that consumers may be able to pay their electricity bill using the company’s mobile app without extra charges.

According to Meralco, consumers who pay via the said app will have to pay an additional P47 convenience fee.

“For humanitarian reasons, let’s think of ways that will make the lives of our kababayans better and alleviate their suffering as we face this pandemic,” he said.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases on Wednesday announced that “lifeline consumers” or households consuming less than 50 kilowatt per hour will not be paying for electricity charges for the billing period of March to April.

The directive is part of the Pantawid Liwanag program, a subsidy program for the electricity needs of the poor amid the COVID-19 crisis, which aims to help 3 million poor power consumers.

The subsidy is on top of the initial 30-day grace period extension granted by power firms for payment of bills from March 1 to April 14.

Gatchalian seeks accountability for vulgar learning module

Robie de Guzman   •   June 17, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian wants those involved in the creation and clearance of a self-learning module that includes an obscene word to be held accountable.

Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate committee on basic education, arts, and culture, was referring to a now recalled module that was recently flagged for containing a vulgar description of a mythical creature “aswang” which means sexual intercourse when translated to the English language.

The senator said that since the meaning of the word is clear and obviously not appropriate for young learners, he suspects that the inclusion of the word in the material was “intentional.”

What’s worse for Gatchalian, however, is how these materials still get through DepEd’s quality assurance process.

“Obviously the system failed. And we also need to investigate this matter and hold the quality assurance mechanism or those people who are implementing the quality assurance to account. But more importantly, look for that person who wrote that,” Gatchalian said in a statement.

DepEd Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio earlier said that the module was recalled last February and already rectified by the division office concerned. Based on the DepEd data, the module was used by Grade 10 students in Pampanga for the second quarter.

According to DepEd, 155 errors were found in learning materials from October 2020 to June 2021, of which 104 were from locally developed materials, 25 were reviewed by DepEd’s Central Office, 19 were from unknown sources, five from DepEd TV, one from a privately-developed material, and one from a DepEd textbook.

Gatchalian said he will look into DepEd’s quality assurance process in the upcoming Senate inquiry on the preparations for School Year 2021-2022.

Senate Resolution No. 739, which Gatchalian filed, aims to assess the capacity of basic education institutions to deliver quality education for next school year, whether through face-to-face classes or distance learning.

BIR urged to suspend imposition of tax hike on private schools

Robie de Guzman   •   June 9, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Wednesday called on the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to suspend the imposition of a 25 percent corporate income tax on private schools, warning that the added burden on struggling institutions amid the coronavirus pandemic could lead to more school closures, job losses, and a more restricted access to education.

In a statement, Gatchalian said BIR’s Revenue Regulation (RR) 5-2021 runs counter to the intention of the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act or the CREATE Act (Republic Act No. 11534) which seeks to impose a one percent tax rate on proprietary educational institutions for a three-year period.

The law also provides that these institutions have to pay ten percent tax on their taxable income, he added.

Under the CREATE Law, ‘proprietary’ means a private hospital or private school maintained and administered by private individuals or groups. These institutions should have an issued permit to operate from the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

But based on RR 5-2021, proprietary educational institutions have to be non-profit to avail of the reduced tax rate.

“If these rules are imposed, private schools’ income tax rate would increase by 150 percent,” said Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.

In an earlier statement, Gatchalian called the tax rule “ill-timed” considering how private schools are trying to stay afloat.

The senator cited the March 2021 Labor Force Survey, which showed that the education sub-industry had the largest decrease in the number of employed persons from February to March 2021 at 248,000.

He noted that last February, DepEd reported that 929 private schools did not operate for the school year (SY) 2020-2021. The Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) also said in a statement that enrollment in private K-12 schools dropped by over 900,000 compared to the previous school year.

“Sa panahong karamihan sa ating mga private schools ay nahihirapang magpatuloy ng operasyon sa gitna ng pandemya, hindi napapanahon at hindi tamang patawan natin sila ng karagdagang buwis bilang dagdag pasanin,” Gatchalian said.

The senator likewise said that he is mulling to file a resolution that would urge the BIR to suspend the imposition of the tax hike on private schools.


PH gov’t urged to inoculate ‘willing’ public amid vaccine hesitancy

Robie de Guzman   •   May 25, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Tuesday called on the government to allow “willing” individuals from the general public to be vaccinated amid vaccine hesitancy among those in the priority groups.

Citing a recent Social Weather Stations survey, which showed that only 32 percent of the National Capital Region’s (NCR) 26 million population want to get vaccinated, Gatchalian said the government should start with those who are willing to get the jab to speed up the government’s vaccine rollout.

“We’re now in the third month of our vaccination program, and from my observation, it’s about time to move the general public up in the priority program as early as June,” he said in an interview with ANC.

“So meaning, allowing the general public, anyone who is willing to take their vaccine to be vaccinated as early as June,” he added.

The Philippines is expecting to receive 21 million COVID-19 vaccines in June, which he said would be “more than enough” to vaccinate 8 million residents in Metro Manila who want to be immunized.

“By June of this year, we will have 21 million vaccines in inventory and if you do the simple math in the NCR cluster, that’s about 26 million in population. And the clincher here is the recent SWS survey where it said that only 32 percent want to be vaccinated. The vaccine acceptance rate is only 32 percent. So if you multiply the 25 million by 32 percent you get about 8 million,” he said.

“So 8 million is less than the 21 million inventories so we have more than enough vaccines for people who want to be vaccinated,” he added.

The national government is currently vaccinating persons belonging to the priority sectors – healthcare workers, senior citizens, persons with co-morbidities, and economic and government frontliners.

Since the vaccination rollout last March, more than 4.09 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country.

The government is looking to vaccinate around 70 million individuals this year to achieve herd immunity against coronavirus disease.


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