The Senate Committee on Finance on Monday grilled the Department of Education (DepEd) over an unspent budget of P21.5 billion last year as it weighed in on the agency’s capacity to fully spend its proposed P613.1 billion budget for 2018.
At the hearing, finance committee chair Sen. Loren Legarda asked the agency to submit a memo listing the programs and infrastructures that were affected when the money was reverted to unappropriated surplus of the government’s general fund and specifying the reasons for incurring such amount.
“Before we even talk about giving you a new budget, we want to know why you returned P21.5 billion. Last week, we were very disappointed, saddened by the Department of Transportation returning P11.5 billion. Now we see DepEd returning P21.5 billion,” said Legarda.
“When we return funds to the Treasury, that means there are people unserved, there are classrooms not rehabilitated, there are books not printed and there are children not helped,” she said.
The DepEd broke down the P21.5 billion as the following: P12 billion for teacher positions; P5 billion for the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (Gastpe); P1.3 billion for the provision and maintenance of basic education facilities, P1 billion for technical-vocational supplies and P3.6 billion for the provision of textbooks and instructional materials.
The P21.5 billion were 2015 allocations that were carried over last year.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones told the panel that the agency had difficulty keeping up with its backlog in 2015 as it was also catching up with the utilization of its 2016 budget.
“Now we are catching up with 2017 and we can only do it in phases,” said Briones, noting that the agency has introduced reforms, restructured its management system and tightened its cooperation with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to address classroom backlogs.
The DepEd also said the DPWH had a remaining balance of P76 billion or 70 percent of the P109 billion in the 2017 budget to be obligated for the construction of classrooms before December 2017. Legarda wondered if it could be done in a span of three months.
“If the DepEd is having hard time with the two-year cycle, now it’s a 12-month cycle. I’m really just worried that you may not be able to spend all. So I am asking you to do an internal housekeeping,” said Legarda.