Schools’ mental health services, oversight on drugs bills passed

By Jose Cielito Reganit

January 31, 2023, 8:22 pm

MANILA – Voting 272-0 with no abstentions, the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed on third and final reading a proposed measure seeking to strengthen the promotion and delivery of mental health services in basic education through the hiring and deployment of mental health professionals.

House Bill 6574, or the proposed Basic Education Mental Health and Well-Being Promotion Act, is a consolidation of House Bills 929, 3691, 4162 and 4194 authored by Reps. Roman Romulo (Pasig City), Rex Gatchalian (Valenzuela City 1st District), Harris Christopher Ongchuan (Northern Samar 2nd District), and Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro City 2nd Distruct), respectively.

The authors urged for the passage of the measure to ease the severe shortage of mental health professionals in the basic education system, and properly addressing the emotional, psychological and mental health well-being of both learners and teachers, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The measure also seeks to enhance their classroom and learning preparedness, including learners identified as children in conflict with the law, students at risk of dropping out, learner-victims of Violence Against Women and Children, and learners-victims of other related forms of child abuse and criminal acts.

Under HB 6574, a Mental Health and Well-being Office, under the administration and supervision of the Department of Education (DepEd), shall be established in every school division.

It also mandates the hiring and deployment of mental health professionals within five years from the effectivity of said law, such that each public elementary and secondary school, vocational institution, and offices in the central, regional, and schools’ division governance levels of the DepEd shall have mental health professionals or mental health service providers.

The Mental Health and Well-being Office at the school’s division level shall be headed by a qualified Mental Health Professional with the position of Guidance Services Specialist V with Salary Grade 24.

To lure more mental health professionals in the basic education system, HB 6574 also provides for the hiring of a sufficient number of mental health professionals with salary grades not lower than Salary Grade 16, including guidance associates and psychometricians at the entry level of Salary Grade 11.

The measure likewise allows public schools to hire graduates with relevant background in psychology or similar fields, who may not yet qualify as mental health professionals, to provide school-based mental health services, provided that they undergo training on capacity building as determined by the DepEd.

Mental health professionals in the DepEd shall enjoy the rights and privileges provided for in the Magna Carta for Public Health Workers, Mental Health Act and other pertinent laws.

The DepEd shall provide for sufficient resources for mental health programs and projects designed to maintain and address the mental health and well-being of learners and personnel.

Congressional oversight panel on drugs

Citing the need to continuously monitor and ensure the proper implementation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drug Act of 2002, the House also approved on third and final reading a joint resolution seeking to extend the life of the Congressional Oversight Committee on Dangerous Drugs for another 10 years.

House Joint Resolution (HJR) No. 14, which was approved with an overwhelming 274 votes, mandates the extension of the life of the panel from July 4, 2022 to July 4, 2032.

If enacted into law, this will be the second time the life of the oversight committee will be extended. The first time was in 2012, or the year the Dangerous Drug Act marked its 10th year of implementation.

The Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 that was signed into law on June 7, 2002 and took effect on July 4, 2002.

“The House of Representatives felt the need to extend the life of our powers of oversight as the implementation of the law needs to be reviewed from time to time,” Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said.

Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, one of the principal authors of HJR 14 and chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs, added that “addressing the drug problem in our country requires our laws to be constantly attuned to the changing times.

The Congressional Oversight Committee on Dangerous Drugs is currently chaired by Barbers in the House of Representatives and Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa in the Senate. It is composed of seven members from each chamber. (PNA)