EDCOM 2 convenes Technical Working Group to review Anti-Bullying IRR

The Second Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM 2) convened the Technical Working Group (TWG) on July 3rd, tasked to review the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of RA 10627  or the Anti-Bullying Law of 2013, issued through DepEd Order No. 55 s. 2013. 

EDCOM 2 Technical Secretariat, Standing Committee Focal for Home and School Environment PDr Allan Bernardo, lead offices of the Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Health (DOH), and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Technical Panel for Teacher Education comprise the said TWG. Partners from the Child Stairway Foundation and the Research Institute for Teacher Quality were also present as resource persons during the first meeting of the TWG. 

The TWG was created after EDCOM 2’s public hearing on bullying, following De La Salle University’s research recommendations to amend the IRR and strengthen the provisions related to the Child Protection Committee, improve systems for reporting bullying cases, and clarify the structure and systems of DepEd related to bullying. 

“We know for a fact that we have an alarmingly high incidence of bullying in Philippine public schools and our local research further confirms that. Bringing together movers of anti-bullying reforms is needed now more than ever. We already have existing policy mechanisms that can provide our learners with a safe and protected environment, and it is our shared responsibility to ensure that these are responsive and well-implemented,” says EDCOM 2 Executive Director Karol Mark Yee. 

Lack of manpower to help address bullying, mental health concerns 

During previous EDCOM 2 discussions, the discrepancy between the data reported by DepEd and data released by international assessments such as PISA was pointed out, including structural and manpower concerns that affected the underreporting of bullying cases. 

Data also indicates that the country produced a relatively low number of graduates with Masters in Guidance and Counseling from 2018-2021, compared to the available or unfilled guidance counselor positions. This poses a big concern regarding the supply of professionals who could help address or provide relevant services on bullying and mental health in schools. 

In contrast, data from DepEd shows that as of March 2024, there are 4,460 vacancies for guidance counselor positions that could not be filled. For example, in Region 6, there are 484 vacancies, but only 15 graduates in guidance and counseling since 2018. Meanwhile in Region 8, DepEd has 297 vacancies, but not a single graduate since 2018 to 2021 based on data from the Commission on Higher Education.

“The DLSU study shows that the prevalence of bullying is highest in areas with high student-to-teacher ratios; we also know that guidance counselors play a critical role in this effort. However data shows we are severely lacking in such personnel in schools. Meanwhile, there are too few graduates of our guidance counseling programs. Worse, CHED data shows that most providers are private. What is the role of our public HEIs in this?,” asked ED Yee. 

In response, DepEd Assistant Secretary for Operations Dr Dexter Galban highlighted how these positions are becoming unappealing. “Probably we have to go beyond the promotion of MA [in Guidance Counselors], because the profession itself is becoming unappealing in light of its current status and salary grade. We need to start from there, alongside the human resources that we need to address the problem.” Currently, the starting salary of guidance counselors is at Salary Grade 11 or PhP 27,000  per month, despite being required to complete a Masters degree and to pass a licensure exam. 

“Considering the high prevalence of bullying in our schools and the rising mental health concerns in the country, it is crucial that we strengthen our interventions to support learners and build their resilience. Improving the quality of basic education should go hand in hand with providing a safe  environment for our learners,” EDCOM 2 Co-Chairperson Senator Gatchalian said.

Amendments to the Anti-Bullying IRR, MHA Act

According to the group, the current policy is not as responsive to the current forms of bullying being experienced by learners. A more in-depth understanding of the nuances of bullying from the perspectives of different stakeholders is needed. 

“One of the considerations that we have is the fact that a major component of this discussion on bullying would be the family and home life of our learners. As it is, DepEd cannot directly interface and provide interventions for parents and guardians. These are noted to be the primary mandate of DSWD. We work with them through PTAs, but we do not directly fund their operations. So that is one of the considerations that we are looking into that makes our direct intervention on family and home life of learners a little bit complex,” explained ASec Galban. 

While this primarily concerns the social welfare sector, the Anti-Bullying law specifies parents as part of the school community. “Maybe this is a way to address the concerns of ASec Galban. It might then warrant adding new provisions to the IRR that would make it now a DepEd mandate,” says EDCOM 2 Standing Committee Member Dr. Allan Bernardo. EDCOM 2 and the TWG will closely look at these limitations and identify opportunities through the proposed amendments. 

Consultations and focus group discussions with experts, schools, teachers, learners, parents, guidance counselors, mental health service providers, and other relevant stakeholders will be conducted in the coming months. The TWG will also look into the best practices being implemented by schools to further complement the policy recommendations. 

“We will definitely gather more insights from the ground. Bullying is inextricably linked to many other equally important concerns such as the mental health and wellbeing of our learners, and their school and home environments. EDCOM 2 and the TWG will do these consultations and come up with a comprehensive package of reforms that we can put forward,” added ED Yee. 


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