A public hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Local Government tackled a bill which seeks to expand the application of the proceeds of the Special Education Fund (SEF) tax to other needs of the public education system.
Filed by Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Senate Bill No. 396, “Expanding the purposes and application of the Special Education Fund,” provides for the expansion of the application of the additional one percent SEF tax to other items relating to education, such as the construction and repair of libraries, payment of salaries, allowances, and other benefits of teaching and non-teaching personnel.
Go reiterated the government’s “solemn task to ensure that our education system is made accessible to every Filipino so that they can reach their full potential and play a more productive role in nation-building.”
Go cited the fact that unlike richer local government units, poorer ones depend heavily on the SEF to fund their public education needs. “LGUs may provide support to public schools and their students, chargeable to their SEF. However, not all LGUs are created equal. Hindi naman pantay-pantay ang IRA at kita ng lahat ng mga LGU. Kung maliit ang IRA, maliit din ang SEF.”
He also said that “some of the richer LGUs do not rely on their SEF and can provide for public education services and support through their general fund.”
“Alam niyo, sa kakaikot ko po ng buong bansa, napapansin ko lang na hindi talaga pantay-pantay. May mga munisipyo, mga 4th class municipalities na kulang talaga ang kanilang pondo, ni notebook, ballpen, o lapis ay hindi po nila kayang bumili,” said Go.
“Napaka-unfair po noon. Hirap na nga sila sa access, sa mga magagandang classroom o kumpletong kagamitan, they were deprived po sa mga education materials, such as notebooks nga po, dahil di nila kayang bumili, iyon pong mga kanilang local government units,” he added.
While the SEF is accessible to poor LGUs, Go said that “the scope of the expenses for which the SEF may be spent is limited,” forcing these LGUs to “gamble on the use of the SEF for education-related matters.”
“Under the law, the SEF may be used only for the ‘operation and maintenance of public schools, construction and repair of school buildings, facilities and equipment, educational research, purchase of books and periodicals, and sports development’,” Go said.
Go said that “the flexibility afforded by this measure to LGUs will facilitate the country’s ongoing transition to the digital age, where there is a growing need to provide our students with modern tools to remain globally competitive.”
He added that the measure will “render the public education system more flexible to implement alternative modes of learning or blended learning.”
“It will likewise be very useful for LGUs in dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely strained local finances,” he said.
As for the long-term Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program of the government, Go envisions the bill to complement the public cause. “Alinsunod din po ito sa layunin ng Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program. Sa katunayan, maraming mga taga-probinsya ang dumadayo sa Metro Manila, Cebu, at Davao, kasi nalalaman nilang may mga libreng school supplies o hindi kaya naman libreng tuition fees.”
Go clarified, however, that the bill does not provide LGUs with more money, but flexibility to use the SEF.
“In return, what we ask from our LGUs is to ensure that every peso from the SEF counts and to make sure that the funds from the SEF are spent wisely for our children and the public,” he added.
He added that the goal of the education system should not stop at ensuring that students are enrolled. “Sa ngayon, libre na ang tuition fees. Pero ang layunin nito ay hindi lang para dumami ang pumapasok na estudyante kundi para dumami ang nakakatapos.”
The Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) expressed its support to the measure during the virtual hearing. Quirino Governor and ULAP President, Dakila Carlo E. Cua said that flexibility is, indeed, what LGUs need to cope up with unpredictable situations such as pandemics.