MANILA, Philippines--Education experts urged local officials to refrain from using their localities' special education fund (SEF) in financing projects and programs that would just promote themselves.
In a forum on local governance in Makati City on Tuesday, education experts said local officials should prioritize spending their SEF on projects that will improve the standard of education and education facilities instead of coming up with projects that are implemented to advance their political careers by increasing name recall among voters.
University of the Philippines College of Education dean Dina Ocampo-Cristobal said that it is common practice among local officials to distribute school supplies and bags bearing their names to students before the opening of the classes. In some cases, the SEF has been used to finance these projects.
"We want to shield education from politics." Cristobal told abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak on the sidelines of the presentation of the study of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), the United Nations Children's Fund, and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) on the delivery of health, education, and other basic services at the local level.
The Local Government Code allows local government units (LGUs) to impose yearly a 1% tax on the assessed value of real property, in addition to the basic real property tax. That constitutes the SEF.
Section 235 of the Code reads: "A province or city, or a municipality within the Metropolitan Manila Area, may levy and collect an annual tax of one percent (1%) on the assessed value of real property which shall be in addition to the basic real property tax. The proceeds thereof shall exclusively accrue to the Special Education Fund (SEF)."
The SEF is automatically released to local school boards, which is composed of local officials and local Department of Education (DepEd) officials. It can be used in the maintenance of public schools, construction and repair of school buildings and facilities, educational research, purchase of books and periodicals, and in sports development.
"Education should be not be attributable to a person but to the state." Cristobal said. "The SEF has become a political tool."
Rosario Manasan, a senior research fellow at PIDS and an AusAID consultant, told abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak that they have gathered reports that local officials play favorites with local school boards in their areas of jurisdiction.
Some local chief executives, she added, tend to pour SEF-funded projects and programs to localities that deliver votes to them during elections instead of following the School Improvement Plan that details the problems and needs of the schools in their localities.
Manasan said that, through the years, the SEF has become a significant source of financing for basic education. SEF income, she said, grew from P8.5 billion in 2001 to P15 billion in 2008, or an average of 0.23 % of the gross domestic product from 2001 to 2008.
Manasan, however, said that there is unequal distribution of SEF among different levels of local government. "Distribution of SEF income and expenditures favors city school boards relative to provincial and municipal school boards."
SEF collected by city governments go to the city school boards alone. SEF collected by municipalities are shared by the municipalities and the provinces, however.
"Property values are higher in cities which are more urbanized," she added.
Data presented by Manasan showed that, on the average, around 60% of SEF income and expenditures are distributed to the cities, while the remaining portion is shared by the provinces and the municipalities.
The study also showed that that around 40% of the SEF of most LGUs go to maintenance and other operating expenditures (MOOE), which may include payments for salaries of teachers, utility workers, and security guards hired on a job order basis. Around 32% goes to capital outlay or investments on new equipment while 29% goes to personnel salaries.
The study also noted "large allocation" received by sports and other activities despite the passage of Republic Act 9155 or the Basic Education Act of 2001, which has a provision abolishing the Bureau of Physical Education and School Sports and transferring of personnel, programs and activities to sports competition to the Philippine Sports Commission.
Manasan said that there is distrust between local officials and Deped officials because of SEF. Both of them, she said, should provide each other of information about the total amount of SEF collected and how they are going to spend it. - abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak