By Merlina Hernando Malipot
The Department of Education (DepEd) is eyeing a P4 billion Quick Response Fund (QRF) annually to address the repair, rehabilitation, and reconstruction of classrooms and other infrastructure damaged by calamities in the last three years.
Undersecretary Alain Pascua said the DepEd has already proposed to Congress the additional budget for the QRF. “We suggested to Congress to give us more than P2 billion in annual amount for the QRF, we’re looking at about P4 billion a year [because] we are experiencing more than 1,000 classroom damages in a year,” he explained.
Pascua pointed to insufficient funds for calamity-damaged schools as the reason why DepEd is pushing for additional budget. “It keeps on piling up because the P2 billion is not enough,” he explained.
The amount needed to repair schools damaged by calamities, he added, is also expected to become “bigger because this cannot be included in the regular school building funds since it has been programmed already.”
DepEd, he said, remains optimistic that government funds will be realigned to address the needs of the schools damaged by calamities in the past three years. “We have talked about this during an earlier Senate hearing and when we saw the damage in Mindanao, we are again raising the alarm that we might not be able to cope with replacing and repairing the damages because the cost is high and the damages are of a larger quantity,” he added.
Pascua noted that a bigger budget for QRF would also help ensure that infrastructure damages in schools would be addressed more quickly. “When I visited Cotabato and Davao Del Sur, I really told the teachers and principals that we will be building temporary learning space (TLS) but we have to be ready that these TLS that we will be constructing or establishing will be there until June or December next year,” he added.
Since 2017, Pascua noted that there are still infrastructure damages in calamity-stricken schools that have not been addressed. “We still have schools damaged by calamities way back in 2017 and if the damages pile up, the queue will become longer,” he added.
To date, Pascua said DepEd lacks about P6 billion to fund the repair and reconstruction of schools that were damaged by calamities in the past two to three years. “For the matter to be resolved, Congress should give us a bigger budget in QRF or even budget in the regular funds so we can already program those that cannot be included in the QRF fund,” he explained.
Pascua noted that DepEd has already discussed these issues with the members of the House of Representatives, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and also the Senate. With the budget hearing still ongoing, DepEd remains optimistic for a higher budget allocation in the 2020 national budget.
DepEd, Pascua said, is defending the President’s budget and “whatever the DBM has approved and submitted to the Congress, we will have to defend that and we would make sure that whatever budget is given to us by Congress, we will realign our programs.”
Pascua appealed to the Senate to increase the DepEd’s budget. “Maybe with the realization that we have so much damage in Mindanao, we can realign some and put some funds on classroom building and also for the repair and replacement of facilities damaged in the last two to three years,” he added.
Increasing DepEd’s budget
Pascua explained that if DepEd’s budget will be increased, it can realign funds for other projects. For instance, he noted that if DepEd’s Basic Educational Facilities Fund (BEFF) fund will have an additional fund of P10 billion, “then we can already cover the P6 billion [and] If they will give us additional P2 billion [to make the QRF P4billion], then we can be ready for 2020.”
Meanwhile, Pascua noted the need to correlate higher QRF to the funds of DepEd for school buildings. “We have to correlate that in the last two years, our school building funds are not that high – it has been reduced because the government also has other top priorities that the funds for educational facilities are re-channeled for these projects,” he said.
Pascua noted that for 2020, DepEd asked for 64,000 classrooms “because we would like to fulfill the requirement for classrooms for the next two years” wherein DepEd would need 156,000 to 200,000 classrooms for public schools.
“For 2020, since it’s cash-based, our proposal is 64,000 classrooms,” Pascua said. “So far, the approved is only for the construction of 8,000 classrooms – there’s a big difference,” he added. “We will be needing more so we can address this in the next three years,” he stressed.
DepEd, Pascua said, is in constant discussion with Congress on the needs of the education sector. “We are positive that aside from the national budget, there are other measures that can be used as alternatives to address all these funding requirements,” he said.