Extreme heat, transport strike force Philippines to call off in-person classes

Jeoffrey Maitem and Jojo Riñoza
Manila and Dagupan, Philippines
Extreme heat, transport strike force Philippines to call off in-person classes A teacher arranges papers in an empty classroom at the Justo Lukban Elementary School in Manila, April 29, 2024, after millions of students in all public schools across the Philippines were ordered to stay home Monday due to a scorching heat wave.
Aaron Favila/AP

The Philippines suspended in-person classes at all public schools on Monday and Tuesday due to a wave of extreme heat that coincided with a nationwide transport strike against the phasing out of the country’s colorful and ubiquitous jeepneys.

With temperatures rising to between 30 and 40 degrees Celsius (86 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit) in many parts of the Philippine archipelago, the education department called off classes at all levels, saying it would be dangerous for students to troop to school.

“In view of the latest heat index forecast ... and the announcement of a nationwide transport strike, all public schools nationwide shall implement asynchronous classes/distance learning on April 29 and 30, 2024,” the department said.

The heat index measures what a temperature feels like to the human body, factoring in air temperature and humidity.

Private universities and schools are not covered by the suspension order, although nearly all of them followed suit, education officials said.

In-person classes were suspended after the Philippine capital region recorded its hottest day on record, 38.8 degrees Celsius (101.84 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday. 

In northern Dagupan City, where the average temperature hit 42 to 45 degrees Celsius (107.6 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit) at midday, teacher Shelamine Ayala said she had tried to ease the discomfort of her students by using electric fans. “But the air the fans produce is also warm,” she told BenarNews. “We expect more of the same in the coming days.”

“Suspending classes due to the extreme heart is important for the safety and well-being of the learners and our staff,” said Ayala, a fifth-grade teacher. “The classrooms are really not designed for this kind of weather.”

She said the school staff had tried to battle the elements, by opening all the windows, removing heavy curtains, and encouraging everyone to wear clothes made from light material.

A supporter of drivers of passenger jeepneys displays a banner along a street in Manila, April 29, 2024, the first day of a strike by jeepney drivers ahead of the deadline on April 30 for operators to join a cooperative and gradually replace their fleet with modern vehicles. [Ted Aljibe/AFP]

Many parts of the Philippines are currently suffering from extreme heat caused by the El Niño phenomenon. Thirty-six areas across the country were in possible danger from extreme heat on Monday, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said.

The agency warned that the Philippines might even experience hotter weather next month. The country’s hottest temperatures are usually recorded in May, officials said.

The suspension of in-person classes highlights the growing challenges posed by climate change in the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable countries to its effects. In 2023, the World Risk Index ranked the Philippines as among the countries with the highest disaster risk due to extreme natural events and climate change’s negative impacts.

School season

In Manila, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri urged the education department to fast-track the return of the academic calendar to June to March from the current August to May. 

The government had changed the academic calendar before the COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines.

“Aside from exposing our students and teachers to the dangers of extreme heat, I honestly believe that the prevailing weather conditions during summer are not conducive to learning,” Zubiri told reporters. “Let’s not wait for the school year 2025-2026.”

“In an ideal world, we do want to be in sync with international school calendars, to give our students a better chance at getting into programs abroad,” he said. “But the reality is that the August calendar has proven to be disruptive to our education system, and even dangerous to the health of our children and school staff.”

Data from the education department showed that some 4,000 schools nationwide had to suspend face-to-face classes on April 4 and switch to distance learning modes. This figure increased to about 7,000 schools a week later, affecting more than one million students, Zubiri said, citing official figures.

Zubiri noted that in many parts of Manila and nearby suburbs, classes are automatically called off when the heat index reaches 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

Transport strike

On Monday, the situation was exacerbated by the start of a three-day transport strike organized by various groups, including PISTON or the Coalition of Drivers and Operators Nationwide.

Ruben Baylon, the group’s deputy secretary general, said they expected around 100,000 protesters to join in the protest action on Tuesday and Wednesday to force the government to abandon the plan to phase out jeepneys, utility passenger vehicles that are a lifeline for commuters, especially in Metro Manila.

PH-strike-weather 3.jpg
People take to the beach at Tondaligan Beach in Dagupan City, Philippines, on April 29, 2024 to relieve themselves of extreme heat. [Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews]

The jeepneys – the country’s most popular form of public transportation – are mini-buses originally fashioned out of World War II-era American jeeps left behind from the conflict. They are regarded as part of the Philippines’ cultural identity, similar to the tuktuk in Thailand. 

But the jeepneys are considered pollutants, because they are often powered by second-hand engines that belch out thick black smoke. 

The government wants them phased out in favor of modern buses that are powered by “cleaner” engines.

“Jeepney drivers and operators stand to lose their livelihoods with the consolidation deadline that the Department of Transportation and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board will implement,” Baylon said.

“We will protect our source of livelihood and we will ask for what is due to us,” he added.

Last week, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he would not extend the April 30 deadline for the old jeepneys to join the government’s modernization program.


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