DepEd may face largest budget cut for 2019

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 29) — The Education Department received the lion's share of the proposed 2019 budget, but it actually had the biggest cut.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives resumed its deliberations on the proposed ₱3.7 trillion budget for 2019 after more than two weeks of suspension.

Despite huge cut in the budget for key programs of the Department of Education (DepEd), its officials stand by the cash-based budgeting system proposed by the Duterte administration.

Lawmakers grilled Education Secretary Leonor Briones over issues in the agency.

ACT Teachers Partylist Representative Antonio Tinio said, "In the field, palagi po sa aming ipinapaabot ng teachers na abunado pa sila kasi nagpi-print out sila ng instructional materials. Tapos ngayon, pinoprose ninyo 40 percent reduction of budget."

[Translation: When we go out in the field, we are always told by teachers that they have to pay out of pocket for instructional materials they have to get printed. Now you're proposing a 40 percent budget reduction?]

Education Secretary Leonor Briones said there was nothing she could do.

"Wala ako sa poder na magjustify ng policy. Mismo natatamaan kami at lahat ng agencies. 'Yun ang nangyayari," she said.

[Translation: I am in no position to justify the policy. We and other agencies are affected as well. That's what's happening.]

The agency's budget was cut by ₱51 billion, from over ₱580 billion in 2018 to ₱528 billion in 2019.

With this lower budget, the DepEd will hire fewer new teachers, construct a limited number of classrooms, and reduce the number of textbooks for printing.

From 47,000 new classrooms in 2018, DepEd's 2019 budget could fund the construction of more than 4,000 classrooms only.

The agency could hire only about 10,000 new teachers from more than 80,000 in 2018. From more than 39 million textbooks this year, the agency would be able to print only about 8.9 million textbooks in 2019.

These significant budget cuts alarmed lawmakers. 

Tinio said, "'Yung budget for sports, 'yung budget for alternative learning, lahat 'yun binawasan din sa ngalan ng cash-based budgeting. Kahit hindi necessarily angkop, o hindi makakabuti sa department. 'Yan ang tinututulan natin. At dapat ibalik sa dating level at dagdagan pa nga."

[Translation: The budgets for sports and alternative learning were also reduced because of cash-based budgeting. Even if it was not necessarily appropriate, or right for the department. That is what we're protesting. The budget should be reverted to the original level, and should be raised.]

Tinio said the cash-based budgeting would also cause complications in the DepEd's expenditure schedule, which Briones agreed.

The Secretary explained, the DepEd's academic year straddles two years.

The first year begins in June – the opening of classes – until December. The academic year extends until March the following year.

Herein lies the conflict. Under cash-based budgeting, agencies are mandated to spend funds and deliver projects within the fiscal year it was approved.

Briones said the DepEd will take a huge hit.

Tinio asked the Secretary, "Categorically will it be better, to just katulad ng dati isang budget, isang buong school year, o gusto niyo ganito, two GAAs?"

[Translation: Categorically, it will be better to before when there was one budget, one whole school year?]

"'Yun nga ang pinapaliwanag namin last year na kakaiba ang academic year namin, hindi naka-align sa fiscal year, financial year ng pamahalaan... 'Yun nagko-complicate sa amin kung cash budgeting ang gagamit. Pero siguro, medyo siguro ang DBM (Department of Budget and Management) ang kayang maka-explain kung ano ang advantages at kung ano ang makakabuti," Biones said.

[Translation: That's what we were trying to explain last year that our academic year was different and not aligned with the fiscal year and financial year of the government... It will be complicated for us if cash-based budgeting is used. But the DBM could explain what the advantages are and which would be better.]

While Briones concedes there are so many complications, she refused to admit the cash-based budgeting would be detrimental to her agency.

Most lawmakers who attended the hearing said the budget cuts in the DepEd, health and other social services, magnify their opposition to cash-based budgeting.  

DILG seeks additional budget

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) is asking for additional 30 percent of its 2019 budget, as it is proposing for an allocation of ₱224 billion next year.

The bulk of the budget would go to the Philippine National Police (PNP) with ₱172 million — an increase of ₱40 million from its allocation in 2018.

The PNP explained it needs to recruit 10,000 additional police personnel.

Aside from human services, which also include the salary increase of the police force, the budget would be spent for the procurement of basic equipment and vehicles, and the maintenance of police stations, the PNP said.

Lawmakers encouraged the DILG to allocate more funds for the capital outlay allocation of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology to reduce congestion in jails.

Congestion rate is currently at 500 percent, but Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said with the proposed budget for jail management, they are hoping to reduce the congestion by 200 percent.

CNN Philippines' Triciah Terada contributed to this report.