Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed a measure proposing to exempt educational applications, gadgets, computers and e-books from value-added tax (VAT) for the principal use of teachers and students in online and distant learning.
De Lima, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, filed Senate Bill (SB) No. 1872 amending Section 109 (1) of the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997, as amended, to encourage learning amid the current global health crisis.
“COVID-19 is one of the most disastrous pandemics in recent human history. It wreaked havoc among nations of the world – putting life as we know it to a grinding halt. With the sudden pause, the pandemic posed unprecedented challenges even to education systems,” she said.
“The State, while overburdened with the gargantuan responsibility of shielding the nation from the harms of the vicious virus, remains to carry the task of balancing its resources and capabilities to protect and promote this right to quality education,” she added.
A World Bank study revealed that more than 1.7 billion students have been affected by the unprecedented educational crisis.
As a primary step towards adapting to the new normal, the Department of Education (DepEd) instituted a blended learning approach, which is a fusion of “online distant learning or e-learning” and “in-person” delivery of learning modules and interactive facilities to the homes of the students through the barangays for those who are without internet access.
Another mode of learning that the DepEd introduced as an attempt to bring education closer and more accessible to all is “E-learning,” which utilizes computers, smartphones, tablets, and the internet.
“This novel learning mode is considered as an indispensable approach in today’s educational system with the indefinite suspension of face-to-face classes,” said De Lima.
While DepEd maintained that E-learning will work, citing their survey showing that more than 80% of teachers have laptops and desktops in their homes, De Lima said the reality shows that a huge fraction of those who will facilitate E-learning and their students do not have the necessary tools.
In filing this measure, De Lima said exempting the abovementioned educational tools from VAT for the principal use of students and teachers can make a difference because many Filipinos still live in squalor and poverty.
“Clearly, the inequality to the access of these tools and technologies is a reflection of the country’s socio-economic gap and the ‘digital divide’ worsened by the pandemic. Many households are forced to share their gadgets; between parents who need them for work and the students who use them for education,” she said.
“In exempting educational tools and gadgets that will be utilized by the students and teachers [f]rom VAT, prices of these essential commodities which we can now consider as essential, will be reduced significantly therefore making them cheaper and more obtainable,” she added.
Guided by the principle that laws must always reflect and respond to the changing times, De Lima said her proposed measure will be an important instrument in encouraging students to remain in the journey of learning.
“While the educational landscape has drastically evolved during this pandemic, the State must also come to the aid of this sector which has likewise been badly hit by the changing times,” she said. (30)