December 1, 2020 – In line with the celebration of National Children’s Month last November, the Department of Education (DepEd) concluded the virtual Second National Summit on the Rights of the Child in Education with the commitment to uphold every Filipino learner’s right to education.

Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis-Briones welcomed the participants of the two-day summit which happened on November 23-24, 2020, organized by the DepEd-Office of the Undersecretary for Legal Affairs in partnership with DepEd Region X, UNICEF Philippines, Stairway Foundation, Inc., and Save the Children Philippines.

“The DepEd vision states that the Department is committed to being learner-centered. Our efforts, our reflections, our projects, our hard work – are centered on the child. As a public institution, we continuously improve ourselves to better serve our stakeholders, who are the children. With the children at the center, child rights should also be at center stage”, Secretary Briones stated.

One of the highlights of the summit was the “Learners’ Hour – Kwentuhan Kasama si Lola Liling at mga Mag-aaral,” which gave an opportunity for learners to ask questions directly to Secretary Briones or “Lola Liling” about the implemented policies and future plans of the education agency towards upholding their rights in education amidst the current pandemic.

The Summit convened learners from junior and senior high schools in different regions of the country, DepEd officials and personnel, representatives of other government agencies, NGOs, business, media, and other stakeholders in education, who listened to statements of commitment and support of education stakeholders from public and private institutions who work together towards the protection of the rights of children.

Supreme Court of the Philippines Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, in his statement of commitment, emphasized that the state must defend the right of children to assistance including proper care and nutrition and special protection from all forms of neglect, abuse, cruelty, exploitation, and other conditions prejudicial to their development, as provide in the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

“[The 1987 Philippine Constitution] also recognizes the role of the youth in nation-building, [and] thus, mandates the state to promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual and social well-being. These initiatives affirm that the judiciary is fully committed in safeguarding the rights of our children and supportive of the combined efforts of all stakeholders in the juvenile justice system,” Chief Justice Peralta noted.

Officials of the legislature and Office of the President also signified their support and commitment to a whole-of-society approach to upholding the rights of the child in education.  Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Culture and the Arts, mentioned, “My fellow education advocates, the work ahead of us seems a tall order, but I have faith that with all of us working together, the new or better normal in education will leave no Filipino child behind.” In the same spirit, Congressman Roman Romulo, Chairperson of the Committee on Basic Education and the Arts, stated, “Ang importante po, mag-unawaan tayo at magtulungan tayo. Mabuhay po ang edukasyon at mabuhay po ang kabataang Pilipino.” Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Atty. Michael Ong also expressed the commitment of the Office of the President to, “continue fighting alongside you for a safe and friendly environment for our Filipino children.”

“As a support to the Child Rights-Based Education, and to continuously uphold children’s rights in normal times and during the pandemic, the Council for the Welfare of Children will pursue the implementation of the Philippine Plan of Action to End Violence against Children”, Ms. Mary Mitzi Cajayon-Uy, Executive Director of the Council for the Welfare of Children, added.

On the first day of the Summit, participants listened to international lecturers, Dr. Philip D. Jaffé, member of the Geneva-based United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and Director of the Centre for Children’s Rights Studies of the University of Geneva, and Dr. Robert Jenkins, Global Chief of Education and Associate Director of the Programme Division from the UNICEF Headquarters in New York, to provide a global perspective on the effects of COVID-19 on children around the world, particularly in East Asia and the Pacific, and on various responses.

Responses on upholding Rights-Based Education (RBE) of Filipino learners during this time of pandemic were discussed by DepEd officials, Schools Division and Regional officers, and school personnel.  Apart from the lectures, the first day of the summit was also graced by Dr. Diosdado M. San Antonio, Undersecretary for Curriculum and Instruction, Director Ronilda R. Co of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Service (DRRMS), and Ms. Teresita Felipe, education specialist from UNICEF Philippines, during its open forum.

Breakout sessions were held during the second day to discuss different topics on the Rights of the Child in Education. The sessions included talks on the right to development and education such as distance learning, access to quality education by children from indigenous groups, the Alternative Learning System and children who are not enrolled in formal or non-formal education. Children’s rights to survival were also discussed in sessions on the physical and mental health of children as they engage in home-based learning, and conditions for safe schools for limited face-to-face learning. Also included were topics on student governments in adherence to the right to participation, and the right to protection in the context of home-based learning, as well as Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (OSAEC), cyberbullying, home-based sexual violence, and online learning. Meanwhile, an online talk show was broadcasted to the live audience, which focused on the collaboration of parents, guardians, and caregivers with NGOs, educators, and parenting experts on children’s learning during the pandemic.

Atty. Josephine G. Maribojoc, Undersecretary for Legal Affairs culminated the summit, which adapted the theme “Isulong! Karapatan ng Bawat Bata sa Edukasyon sa Panahon ng COVID-19”, with a statement of hope and vision for the Filipino learners.

“We, in the DepEd, the Philippine government, civil society, the private sector, the media, and all sectors of society reaffirm our commitment to respect, protect, fulfill and promote the rights of the child in education in normal times and in emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. It is our hope that children and learners will claim and exercise their rights as children. Our vision is for all Filipino children to enjoy their rights in education regardless of circumstances,” Undersecretary Maribojoc said.