THE Department of Education (DepEd) has a whopping P98 billion budget for the construction of additional classrooms but the money remains unspent, Education Secretary Armin Luistro admitted Monday.
Luistro said his department had a P44.6 billion budget for new classrooms in 2014 and an additional P53.8 billion for this year. However, these allocations have not been touched.
“Sites for school buildings have been identified, but I must say it has been difficult because of the sheer volume [of requirements]and lack of engineers on the field. But as of this quarter, this [P98 billion] has been obligated already under the DPWH and undergoing procurement processes,” Luistro told members of the House Appropriations panel during the presentation of the DepEd’s proposed P433 billion budget for 2016.
But with the upcoming 2016 elections, the construction of additional classrooms to meet he burgeoning student population may still be derailed because of the election ban.
Luistro however is hopeful that biddings for classroom projects will be speedy so that construction will immediately proceed.
“The classroom construction budget allocated in 2014 and 2015 will be implemented in time before the election ban, in the hope that there will be no major failure in the bidding process,” he told lawmakers.
The Commission on Elections bans the release, disbursement and expenditure of public funds, as well as construction of public works, delivery of materials for public works and issuance of treasury warrants and similar devices 45 days before an election to prevent state officials from using their positions to win votes.
This would mean that the bidding for public works projects should be done before the election ban.
Luistro admitted that his department would have to come up with a “catch-up plan” if the construction of classrooms gets delayed by the election ban or for some other reasons.
“If there will be major failure in bidding, we would need a catch up plan for the classrooms to be built in time for the next school year,” he said.
He added that the DepEd has started identifying sites for classroom construction in 2016 so that work can immediately start once the proposed 2016 budget is approved in December.
“We are already doing work for the 2016 classroom [building]requirements, and we are also looking at the sites we identified in 2014 and 2015 so we don’t have to go back to these schools for ocular inspection,” Luistro said.
“We have also identified those which did not meet the requirement for safety so there won’t be a waste of government resources,” he added.
But the League of Filipino Students (LFS) said the proposed budget is not enough to address problems such as the lack of classrooms, teachers, textbooks, and water and sanitation facilities.
Charisse Bañez, the group’s spokesperson, said only P73.18 billion is allocated for the construction of 47,553 classrooms and workshops. Classroom shortage stood at 209,539 as of school year 2014-2015.
Meanwhile, only P3.4 billion and P4 billion are appropriated for the procurement of school desks and furniture and school repairs respectively.
Bañez said a bigger DepEd budget does not guarantee that young Filipinos will get free basic education.
She pointed out that the budget for the Government Assistance for Students and Teachers in Private Education (Gastpe) rose from P8.4 billion in 2015 to P9 billion in 2016. The Aquino government also allocated an additional P12.8 billion for the K-to-12
senior high school (SHS) voucher system, also known as e-Gastpe (extended Gastpe).
“The P21.8 billion combined Gastpe and SHS voucher budget is a clear proof that the Aquino government is abandoning basic education to big businessmen operating private schools. This is a gross violation of the government’s constitutional duty to provide free and mandatory basic education,” Bañez said.
About two million students are expected to enroll in senior high school in 2016. However, only 800,000 to 1 million will be accepted in public high schools because LFS claimed that only two out of 10 public schools in Metro Manila will offer senior high. The remaining 1 to 1.2 million students will be forced to enroll in private schools using DepEd’s vouchers.
WITH NEIL A. ALCOBER