Realignment of budget ongoing but there are procedural considerations - DepEd to Robredo

Education Secretary Leonor Briones, in a virtual press briefing on Monday, explained that DepEd has been reviewing its existing budget in an effort to ensure that the  Basic Education - Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP), will be implemented successfully. 

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

Vice President Leni Robredo, in a letter addressed to Briones dated Aug. 10, suggested for DepEd to realign its P29.5 billion budget originally intended for the rehabilitation of school buildings for the procurement of gadgets and other equipment for distance learning as well as the hazard pay of teachers.

As a response, Briones maintained the DepEd has been doing this but that “there are procedural and the Vice President is aware of that when you place one expenditure over another - some needs approval of the President."

DepEd Undersecretary for Finance Annalyn Sevilla also explained that starting April “we immediately reviewed programs, activities, and projects” and that at least P27 billion “has been realigned and modified and we will continue doing this because there’s a continuing assessment, review and monitoring.”

Meanwhile, DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan noted that there are many considerations when it comes to realigning the budget. 

“It’s not mechanical to defund a certain program for a certain need for learning continuity, there are policy considerations,” he said.

Malaluan noted that DepEd is very careful when it comes to realigning the budget because there are other considerations especially in terms of preparing for in-person classes once deemed safe by the government. 

“We were even asking for a supplemental budget to repair the ceiling of classrooms in preparation for the eventual resumption of face-to-face classes,” he added.

While funds may be realigned, Malaluan said that DepEd’s consideration is not just for this year. 

“There are other strategic and policy considerations in determining how we will best utilize the funds and which funds can be realigned or discontinued just for this year to implement LCP,” he added.

Even without physical classes, Sevilla said DepEd is also monitoring various infrastructure considerations. 

“There are modifications in schools - especially in  health and sanitation - because these priorities are also part of being responsive to COVID,” she added.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines has also been urging DepEd and President Duterte to “provide needed resources for the safe re-opening of schools.” 

The group also echoed Robredo’s call for health protection and provision of learning needs ahead of the Oct. 5 school opening.

In an “ideal scenario,” DepEd said that it would be able to provide almost all the needs and demands of teachers and students. However, the agency noted that there is just not enough budget.

“The law of economics says resources are never enough for your needs and that law has not been repealed or amended - it exists globally. It’s a basic, fundamental concept in economics: there is never enough resources,” Briones said.

Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, Sevilla admitted that the budget that was being given to DepEd was not enough. 

“It is more challenging now because we have to do additional things,” she said. “At this time, resources - especially finances - are limited so even if the budget is not enough, we will have to make do with what is enough.”