• Lack of land slows building of new classrooms

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    The lack of land to build classrooms has resulted in classroom congestion, particularly in the National Capital Region, House leaders said on Tuesday.

    Reps. Kimi Cojuangco of Pangasinan and Roman Romulo of Pasig City deplored the congestion in public schools at the opening of classes last Monday.

    The Aquino administration drew flak because overcrowding persisted despite the fact that the Aquino administration had built 66,813 classrooms in the last four years or more than the 66,800 classroom backlog recorded in 2010.

    “By the numbers, it seems that we have addressed the backlog. But that is not really the case since a number [of classroom backlog]dates back to 2010. We have been asking the Department of Education for the figures [of classroom backlog]in 2011 to 2014, but they are still collating [them]. Besides, we don’t have a lot of space to build classrooms on,” Cojuangco, chairman of the House committee on basic education, said during the weekly Ugnayan sa Batasan news forum.

    “The Education department should be more proactive in looking for open spaces that can be [acquired by]the government, coordinating with other department heads, because we can only build classrooms on government-owned lands,” Romulo, chairman of the House committee on higher and technical education, added.

    Of the P336 billion, 15.97 percent was allotted for building classrooms.

    Cojuangco explained that the government has implemented at least two programs to address overcrowding in classrooms, namely the Gastpe and the bussing system.

    Gastpe is the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education—a scheme wherein the Education department will foot the bill of public school students who enroll in a private school, while the bussing of students is a system in which students who cannot be accommodated in their public school of choice are herded to a bus and ferried to another public school.

    Cojuangco and Romulo underscored that much more was left to be done since 60 percent of the classrooms in the country are built on donated lands that the government can lose anytime.

    “We can’t have too much of our classrooms on donated land because once the donors die, their heirs tend to come to claim their property back,” Romulo revealed.

    The Palace has earlier argued that the lingering backlog in classrooms was also due to the unforeseen calamities last year, particularly the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Cebu and Bohol, the Zamboanga siege led by rebels and Super Typhoon Yolanda that hit a score of Visayan provinces before yearend.

    The Aquino administration has alloted P7.2 billion for classroom reconstruction in calamity-hit areas where at least 2,213 classrooms were destroyed.

    Of this number, 1,916 will be built by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation and 397 by external partners.

    Of the government-funded reconstruction, 28 classrooms have been restored and 61 are ongoing.

    Of those funded by private entities, at least 32 classrooms are complete and 111 are unfinished.

    Aside from the wrecked classrooms, 17,335 more classrooms were in need of repair. Repair work on 6,021 were funded by the government and 1,035 by private entities.

    Given such statistics, Rep. Ferdinand Romualdez of Leyte averred that it was clear that the Aquino administration was not doing a good job.

    “What is taking the government so long in repairing our damaged school buildings and classrooms? The government has been trumpeting about the huge amount of budget for the aid of Yolanda victims. Where is such money?” Romualdez demanded.

    “When do they plan to release such funding? When the students are already sick because of too much heat or too much rain? Will they release it by 2016 so that they are pictured the heroes in time for the elections?” he asked.

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