DepEd still hopeful 2019 national budget would be passed before end of March

By Merlina Hernando-Malipot

As it awaits the final decision on the 2019 budget, the Department of Education (DepEd) on Monday said that the next two weeks before this month ends would be "very crucial" to the agency.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones (DepEd / MANILA BULLETIN) Education Secretary Leonor Briones

In a press conference at the Don Alejandro Roces Sr. Science and Technology in Quezon City, Education Secretary Leonor Briones noted that the "battle of the budget" has greatly affected the agency's personnel, as well as education stakeholders, in general.

"We are so fascinated by the political dimensions," Briones said. However, with both Houses debating on the 2019 budget, she noted the need to "shift our focus to those who are deprived and suffering."

Briones noted that the delay in the passage of the 2019 budget has had an overall impact on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Given this, DepEd, which is considered the largest bureaucracy with around 800,000 personnel, stood to "suffer the most" because "we have projects which we cannot initiate and accountabilities which cannot be settled."

DepEd Undersecretary for Finance-Budget and Performance and Monitoring Anne Sevilla also shared updates on the 2019 budget concerning the agency.

She noted that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) was still in the "process of reviewing" DepEd's proposal.

Despite this, Sevilla said that DepEd remained "hopeful" that the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) will be passed before the end of the month. "We are hopeful because there are a lot of budget items that we expect to include in the 2019 GAA," she explained.

Among these, Sevilla said, was the provision for funding of newly-created positions.

To date, around 74 newly-hired teachers have not yet been paid from January to March mainly due incomplete requirements.

However, she explained that there were about 100,000 newly-hired teachers that have been paid despite lack of funding due to the delayed approval of the 2019 budget. The funding was sourced from "internal arrangements" within DepEd regions and divisions.

"We would like to reiterate that it's not a big problem as of now," Sevilla said. But, if the 2019 budget remains unapproved, DepEd might face a "big problem" because it also needs to hire at least 80,000 new teachers for 2019.

"After March, we expect that the 2019 GAA will be approved and operational," Sevilla said. Among others, this will ensure the provision of salary differential of DepEd employees as well as of other benefits - particularly for teachers.

Sevilla noted that the proposed coverage of annual medical check-up for teachers, amounting to P500, as well as the additional incentive for teachers on World Teachers' Day celebration every October 5, amounting to P1,000 each, were also lodged in the 2019 budget.

"Until we get assurance that the 2019 GAA is final, these two items will remain to be a proposal for 2019," she explained.

Sevilla noted that DepEd, by the end of March, will be anticipating two scenarios: a reenacted budget for the whole year or the approval of the 2019 GAA.

Meanwhile, Sevilla assured that programs and projects of DepEd "will still push through" noting that the agency will have to make necessary adjustments in its planning parameters.