MANILA (UPDATE) — The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) said Thursday it is eyeing the "100-percent enrollment" of over 200,000 scholars by the end of the year to spend unused funds.
During the Senate hearing on TESDA's proposed 2021 budget, Sen. Nancy Binay said she noticed that the agency has yet to fully utilize its budget from last year.
Citing data from the Department of Budget and Management, Sen. Joel Villanueva, who previously headed TESDA, said the agency only spent 75 percent of its 2019 budget, leaving some P3.6 billion unspent.
"Our catch-up plan is, by the end of 2020, we will be able to utilize... by mobilizing a total of 215,387 scholars. By the end of December 2020, we will have a 100-percent enrollment for this," Lapeña told senators, asked about his catch-up plan.
Lapeña said delays in spending the 2019 budget were due to the national elections while the utilization of this year's funds slowed down because of the pandemic.
Binay, however, expressed doubts on whether TESDA would be able to meet its catch-up plan due to constraints, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Kaya pa ba magastos iyong pera, or talagang a certain portion of the budget ay magre-revert back na lang to the [Bureau of the] Treasury?" Binay asked Lapeña.
(Can we still spend this money, or will a certain portion of the budget be reverted back to the Treasury?)
"Just being realistic, kasi nga, alam natin hanggang ngayon, naka-lockdown pa rin tayo at mahirap, walang face-to-face classes," she added.
(Just being realistic because we know up until now, we're still on lockdown and it would be difficult because there are no face-to-face classes.)
Lapeña expressed confidence that the agency would utilize the funds.
"There is a slow down in the utilization of funds because of the COVID pandemic. But we are confident that we can use these funds para sa ating mga kababayan (for our fellow citizens). Ang daming nangangailangan ng training (Many are in need of training)," he said.
At present, around 12,393 are enrolled in TESDA, according to Lapeña.
Villanueva noted how TESDA cut its target number of scholars for 2020 to 158,000 from over 300,000.
As parts of the country remain under lockdown due to COVID-19, TESDA has been training its students under a flexible learning scheme.
TESDA only allows face-to-face training in areas under modified general community quarantine, with 50-percent site capacity.
The government started placing areas in the country under quarantine in mid-March, over a month after a Chinese tourist who arrived from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the new coronavirus is believed to have first emerged, was declared as the Philippines' first confirmed COVID-19 case.
Increase in travel funds questioned
Sen. Imee Marcos, meanwhile, questioned the 10-percent increase in the TESDA's 2020 travel budget, considering that movement was limited due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
Lapeña explained TESDA officials continued to travel around the country to provide training assistance, especially after the lockdowns were relaxed.
"TESDA had been going around even during this time of pandemic to deliver training assistance in the different areas in the hinterlands of the country," he said.
"This is where we have started our training, going around. In the case of the regional directors, they go visit the provinces, project sites," he added.
Some P13.7 billion is allotted for TESDA under the government's proposed 2021 budget.
But Lapeña said at the hearing that the agency would need an additional P14.18 billion to fully implement its priority programs next year, including scholarships.