Will education get priority over debt payments?

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When I embraced teaching as a career two years ago, all I had in mind was to have the opportunity to share my basic knowledge and years of experience as a journalist to those aspiring to enter the journalism field.

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There were times when disappointment, frustration and depression hit me because of the poor quality of many students from various universities that I came across with, especially those who went through public schools and were pursuing tertiary courses in state colleges.

There were times I was wondering how some students passed basic English and Filipino subjects in the elementary level and even reached the collegiate level. Was it because of the students’ individual capacity to absorb lessons, or was it about the quality of teachers?

For sure, education will certainly be among the many issues that President Benigno Aquino 3rd will report on when he delivers this afternoon his second to the last state of the nation address (SONA), granting he is not unseated or impeached before July 27 next year.

Every administration has put special premium on education, regarding it as the cornerstone of national development. However, the constitutional mandate for the state to assign the highest budgetary priority to education has not been followed over the years. Having education the top budgetary priority is mere lip service all through the years.

Article XIV, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution explicitly provides: The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels. Section 5, paragraph 5 stipulates: The State shall assign the highest budgetary priority to education and ensure that teaching will attract and retain its rightful share of the best available talents through adequate remuneration and other means of job satisfaction and fulfillment.

The annual budget for education and government’s total education expenditures have been increasing, starting with P79.4 billion in 1991 to P241.4 billion in 1998 and further to P255.9 billion in 2013.

In his budget message to Congress last year, the President said: ”Through the years, we have steadily increased the budget for DepEd to close the critical gaps in the supply of teachers, classrooms and others that we have inherited; and to prepare for increased needs brought about by the K-12 basic education reform program.”

For 2014, the Department of Education (DepEd) alone has a P336.9 billion allocation, the highest among all other government agencies.

Having a huge budget allocation for the construction of school buildings, hiring of teachers, purchase of books and other school paraphernalia should only be secondary to providing quality educators.

Were these enough? Certainly not. The Constitution did not say that education should be given the highest budgetary priority only among government agencies. For as long debt payments eat up a large chunk of the budget pie, the constitutional mandate cannot be considered being followed.

Paying our debts is given more priority than providing quality education. The billions of pesos in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and other monies released through the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) would have been put to better use had those been channeled to education. Even half of those monies going to educators’ training would certainly bring about positive results.

Training programs should be designed to introduce modern ways of teaching the new generation of students, and not as junkets.

What is disheartening is that the government borrows money to pay for its own debts. We may never get out of this vicious debt cycle unless government re-defines its utmost priorities, and education should always be on top.

Last year, Senator Ralph Recto noted that the government’s interest and principal payments on its debts will climb to an all-time high of P791.5 billion this year. This translates to a daily disbursement rate of P2.17 billion.

Recto said total interest payments on national government debts for 2014 were at P352.7 billion, or 15.6 percent of the P2.268-trillion budget. Principal amortization amounted to P438.8 billion.

In 2013, the interest payment was P333.9 billion and P312.8 billion in 2012. The total appropriation for education (from basic to higher education to technical/vocational) pale in comparison at only P255.9 billion in 2013 and P221.4 billion in 2012.

This was already a remarkable improvement compared to about 10 years ago when debt service used to eat up one-third or 30 to 35 percent of the annual national budget.

The government introduced the K to 12 program to improve the dismal picture of the quality of education in the country by institutionalizing pre-school and adding two more years of high school in the basic education cycle.

It is unlikely that the Philippines will meet its commitment under the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to achieve 100 percent net enrolment rate in primary education by 2015.

When the K to 12 goes on full swing by 2016, we would see if DepEd was right in claiming that the 10-year curriculum for basic education was to be blamed for the deteriorating quality of education in the country.

I hope that in my lifetime, I would see the day when improving the quality of education in the country truly gets priority over other concerns.

Somebody said that “until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society.”

Comments are welcome at tvalderama@yahoo.com

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1 Comment

  1. I never saw education as a budget problem before , but this is quite right, if there is not enough money, it makes it so much more difficult. Education is key to so much, so must be given priority. It is an investment in the future. Please keep banging on about it ,and hopefully the government will hear .