Sen. Francis Escudero has blamed Secretary Florencio Abad of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for a classroom shortage that he said was caused by massive government underspending.
“It [underspending]is really worrisome because it affects the economy and delays delivery of basic goods, particularly the underspending on the school building program. Classes have just reopened and there is lack of classrooms. Had it been addressed earlier, the deficit would’ve been smaller,” Escudero told reporters during Monday’s DBM briefing before the Joint Congressional Oversight panel on the national budget at the House of Representatives in Quezon City.
Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, said the DBM has failed to furnish them copies of a list of school buildings for the last three years.
He cited the importance of updates on school buildings in transparency and accountability.
“The reasons for being include geotagging, identifying safe and resilient places, based on enrolment this June. But for me, it should be based on the enrolment the previous year in order to find out the deficiencies and address them next year,” Escudero said.
He added that Abad’s proposal to cut validity of the national budget to one year instead of two years is unsound because the Education department would not be able to spend its budget
for classrooms within a year.
“If we allow his proposal of budget being only valid for one year, then we won’t have school building program for next year because most of the projects implemented this year were funded by the 2014 budget. That can’t be the case,” Escudero said.
The senator, however, stopped short of calling for Abad’s resignation.
“That’s up to the President [Benigno Aquino 3rd] because [Abad] is serving at his pleasure. To be fair [Education] Secretary Luistro, he is trying his best. It’s just that the agency is too big. [The Department of Education’s][construction of]scheme is too centralized in identifying and approving school buildings,” Escudero said.
Abad attributed the lack of spending to birth pains since the government only used to build around 6,000 classrooms yearly–a figure that has increased to 40,000 annually with the implementation of the K-to-12 program.
The K-to-12 program implements additional two years in high school (Grade 11 and Grade 12) and allows the students to choose from five contextualized subject tracks: academic, technical-vocational livelihood, arts/design and sports.
The strategy aims to make senior high-school graduates employable, considering that many families could not afford increasingly costly college education for their children.
“We could not delay the adoption of that policy [K-to-12]. If we do not do it this year, we will be the only country in the world operating with a 10-year education cycle,” Abad said
The underspending issue, he added, will be discussed in a Cabinet meeting on June 9.