By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
Some vital programs, projects, and other initiatives of the Department of Education (DepEd) remain in limbo as the government agency struggles to meet its financial obligation due to the impasséover the 2019 national budget.
Being the largest bureaucracy in the country with over 800,000 personnel, DepEd likely “suffers the most,” especially in terms of the economic impact of the budget impasse, said Education Secretary Leonor Briones.
Briones, the country’s former national treasurer, said the delayed approval of the 2019 national budget brings about many consequences – from tight funding sources to a lower Gross Domestic Product (GDP). On the part of DepEd, she noted that without the 2019 budget, there are projects that “we cannot initiate” and accountabilities that “cannot be settled.”
Finding temporary solutions
Undersecretary for Finance and Spokesperson Annalyn Sevilla said that one of the implications of the delayed approval of the 2019 budget is the lack of funds for newly hired teachers. Since the salaries and allowances of teachers hired after May, 2018 are covered by the 2019 budget, she said that this has become a challenge for DepEd.
But since the DepEd is operating on a re-enacted budget, Sevilla explained that salaries of over 100,000 newly hired teachers are paid through “internal arrangements” with various regional offices. “We are constrained to use our 2018 budget which does not include the newly created positions,” she explained.
As of March 18, DepEd said there are about 74 teachers who remain unpaid but not due to lack of funds but because of incomplete documentary requirements.
While DepEd is still able to cover the salaries for newly created positions, Sevilla said that “this is just temporary.” She noted that “if this will happen for the entire year, then there is really a big problem for DepEd because we are also hiring new teachers.” She said DepEd is set to hire additional 80,000 teachers for 2019.
Sevilla said that DepEd is anticipating the approval of the 2019 budget or the proposed General Appropriations Act (GAA) to ensure the continued payment of salaries and allowances of its newly hired personnel. “The 2019 is higher in funding allocation so we will not need to make internal arrangements anymore,” she explained.
Aside from the funds to pay for newly created items, the Productivity Enhancement Incentive (PEI) and midyear bonuses of around 300,000 employees – to be released by April – also hang in the balance. To prepare for the school opening in School Year (SY) 2019-2010, Sevilla said that public teachers will also need to get their cash allowance also called “chalk allowance” so they can buy school supplies needed when classes open in June. Teachers will also need their clothing allowances. But the funding for these are all lodged in the 2019 budget.
With less than two months before the 2019 midterm elections, DepEd is also concerned that the proposed P50-million school maintenance fund will not push through. “If the 2019 budget will not be signed and approved, then we will not have that fund,” Sevilla said.
The election task force fund will help DepEd to ensure the “cleanliness and security” of public schools to be used as polling precincts. It will also be used to ensure that “all the facilities and properties of the schools” are protected. “It will be more beneficial for the Department if we will get that additional amount so that we will be more prepared and responsive for other needs that are related to the election,” Sevilla explained.
Sevilla also 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 – are all covered by 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 said.
Another consideration, Sevilla said, is the “source of funds for other projects and priority programs” for DepEd. This, she explained, will now be “the call” of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). “The DBM will have to set the policy direction because we cannot move on our own,” she ended.