MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The Department of Education (DepEd) denied Monday claims that it deliberately excluded funding for programs catering to learners with disabilities under its proposed 2023 budget as it also defended the "confidential funds" item.
In a statement, the department said it initially allocated P532 million for special education (SPED) programs in its proposed 2023 budget.
"Unfortunately, despite our earnest efforts to advocate for learners with special needs, [the proposed allocation] was not considered in the National Expenditure Program (NEP)," the DepEd said.
The agency originally asked for an over P800-billion budget for 2023 but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) allotted P710.6 billion in the proposed NEP.
The cut led to zero funding for several projects and programs, such as engineering activities for basic education facilities, school health facilities, and the SPED program.
The lack of allocation for SPED "is a recurring circumstance every year," DepEd said, adding that it would work with Congress "to find other ways" to fund the program.
In a message to reporters, DepEd Spokesman Michael Poa said the SPED program also had no allocation under the 2021 NEP but was eventually funded under the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
In 2022, the program had a P297-million allocation in the NEP, which eventually rose to P560 million in the GAA.
In a statement, the DBM said that while the DepEd suggested to retain the SPED item in the proposed 2023 budget, "no sufficient documentation was provided to support the same."
The DBM added that as of June 30, the SPED program under the 2022 budget "has an obligation rate of 1.13 percent or only P6.35 million out of P560.202 million allocation."
"This funding provision will still be valid until December 31, 2023," it said.
The budget department also considered a P1.2-billion surplus under the DepEd's School Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses.
"We deemed that the program support or additional allocation for the smooth implementation of the SPED may already be accommodated within the same program, and that a separate budget for the purpose may no longer be necessary," it said.
Agencies can realign items "to accommodate the requirements of any program that is in dire need of additional resources" even during the budget's execution, the DBM explained.
In a separate statement, the DepEd defended the P150-million confidential expenses under its proposed 2023 budget, saying such item was "allowed for all civilian offices" and had a legal basis under a 2015 joint circular issued by the DBM.
At a budget hearing at the House of Representatives last week, Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte said the funds were intended to address illegal activities targeting students.
The latest DepEd statement enumerated these "threats," including sexual abuse, involvement in illegal drugs, and recruitment into insurgency and terrorism, among others.
A similar "confidential" fund is included under the Office of the Vice President's proposed 2023 budget, which Spokesperson Reynold Munsayac said was intended for security-related programs.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) has said the confidential funds could be used to "fill in the many shortages" in public school supplies.
"P150 million can already procure 150,000 armchairs, or about 3 million textbooks, or 4,286 laptops for teachers at P35,000 per unit," ACT Chairperson Vladimer Quetua said in a statement.
"It can go a long way in providing for the lacking learning and teaching materials that hamper education recovery. At a time of a grave learning crisis, apportioning such amount for dubious activities purportedly to ward off the entry of supposed enemies of the State in the education sector is highly unjustified," Quetua said.
If the intent is to keep schools safe, the DepEd can use the funding to hire school security personnel "which right now are sorely lacking," he said.
Quetua also expressed concerns that the confidential funds would "only be used to fund red-tagging seminars that attack our legitimate unions, or subject our teachers, employees and students to profiling and surveillance."
"Our schools are not battle grounds. They are supposed to be safe spaces for learning which are now embattled with deep crisis. We call on the government to address our concrete problems that hinder education recovery and bring its wars elsewhere," he said.