Students mental health bills reach both Senate and House level
MANILA, Philippines — Two separate bills proposing to institutionalize mental health in schools were discussed in both lower and upper chambers of Congress on Tuesday, one of which passed through the House of Representatives with a majority vote.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian filed Senate Bill (SB) 79 in July 2022 and it pushed to strengthen the promotion of mental health services in schools, which senators discussed during the bill’s public hearing.
Another Gatchalian authored the bill’s counterpart in the House, with the senator’s brother Valenzuela City 1st District Representative Rex Gatchalian serving as one of the authors of House Bill (HB) 6574, which passed the third and final reading with a majority vote of 272 representatives approving it, said House Speaker Martin G. Romualdez.
Both bills have the same proposed name of the “Basic Education Mental Health And Well-Being Promotion Act,” and they also share the similar definitions of terms.
However, the bills diverge in the suggested means of implementation of mental health promotion in schools. For example, SB 379 directs the Department of Education to create a Mental Health and Well-Being Center “in every public basic education school as well as ensure their establishment and maintenance in private basic education schools in the country.”
“The Center shall be equipped with functional physical facilities, located within an adequate space, and provide privacy and accessibility to the learners, the teaching and non- teaching personnel, and parents,” the bill stated.
For HB 6574, it similarly proposes a dedicated mental health unit called the “Mental Health and Well-being Office” for every school division rather than every school.
Moreover, the senator’s bill already had specific proposed salary raises for every level of guidance counselors, with Guidance Counselor I having a salary upgrade from 11 to 16, Guidance Counselor II going from 12 to 17 and Guidance Counselor III going from 13 to 18.
HB 6574 mandates that “the entry level of Mental Health Professionals shall not be lower than Salary Grade 16. Guidance Associates and Psychometricians shall have as entry level Salary Grade 11”.
During the hearing, Gatchalian lamented how mental health was downplayed in the country, even after the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the mental health of students.
“That goes to show that a lot of our constituents have a shallow understanding of this disease plaguing our country,” Gatchalian said.
“The lawmakers said the proposed law will help students in the classroom and learning preparedness, especially learners identified as children in conflict with the law, students at risk of dropping out, learner-victims of violence against women and children, and learner-victims of other related forms of child abuse and criminal acts,” according to a statement from Romualdez.
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