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DepEd can function sans P150-million confidential fund, says Poa


The Department of Education (DepEd) can function without the P150 million in confidential funds it is proposed to have in 2024, Undersecretary Michael Poa said on Monday.

At the Senate Committee on Finance hearing on DepEd's proposed P758-billion budget for 2024, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III asked if the department could operate without the confidential funds.  

"Yes, your honor. But of course this will make our jobs easier in protecting our learners and teachers, as well as our non-teaching personnel if we had those funds, your honor," Poa said.

Poa said the DepEd would defer to Congress as regards the proposed confidential funds.

“The reason why we made the request was siyempre po (of course) with our mandate of providing accessible, equitable, quality basic education, kasama po dun ‘yung pagpo-provide din natin ng (this comes with the provision of a) safe and enable environment,” Poa said.

Poa in August defended the P150-million budget for confidential expenses in 2024, saying this would be used to address illegal recruitment activities in schools across the nation.

Citing data from other government agencies, Poa said 12.3% of those involved in recruitment activities from 2016 to 2022 were minors, with 16 high schools within Metro Manila involved in such activities.

“Really the threats nowadays, whether it be recruitment or drug-related activities, is quite alarming in our schools, and that’s why we requested for the confidential funds para naman makatulong tayo sa (so we can help in the) prevention, of course in coordination rin lalong lalo na sa (especially with the) response with law enforcement agencies,” he said.

The budget request came as the Philippines continued to report a shortage of both teachers and classrooms, with the DepEd reporting a backlog of 165,433 classrooms across the country that it targets to lower to 159,000 by the end of the year.

According to DepEd Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III, the country will need a budget of P105 billion a year until 2030 to zero out the backlog, with the average cost of a classroom estimated at P2.5 million.

The P150-million confidential fund was also proposed as the DepEd was given less funds than it requested for new constructions, school furniture, and the school-based feeding program.

Based on the values given, Pimentel said the confidential funds could instead be used to finance the construction of some 60 additional classrooms.

“If you can live without the P150 million in confidential funds, then maybe we can give that amount to these three programs which are sorely lacking in funds,” Pimentel said.

“For the longest time, ang DepEd wala namang confidential funds and then some of those problems there, matagal na ring (have been long) existing. I’m sure there is a mechanism to address them not only within DepEd, but involving other agencies already funded by the government,” he added.

Teacher shortage

In the same hearing, the DepEd admitted that there is a need to catch up with hiring more teachers, as the country currently has a teacher-to-student ratio of 1:40, versus the ideal ratio of 1:30.

For the following year the department targets to hire 20,000 more teachers, compared with the shortage of 86,000 according to DepEd Undersecretary for Human Resource and Organizational Development Gloria Jumamil-Mercado.

“There are still areas that (are) still congested and we admit that, but that’s being responded to in a different program,” she said in the same hearing.

The department earlier this month said it would need around P397 billion to address the current backlog, adding that it was only given P10 billion for 2023 to cover the construction of some 7,100 classrooms.

The DepEd also currently has 51,127 unfilled positions as of August, which Mercado said takes into consideration retirements, promotions, and resignations.

Under the Constitution, the government is mandated to allocate the highest budgetary priority to education. The National Expenditure Program (NEP) allocated P924.7 billion for the education sector, with the DepEd getting P758.6 billion. —NB, GMA Integrated News

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