Gatchalian to lead an inquiry on DepEd readiness for school opening

The Senate will assess the Department of Education’s (DepEd) readiness for a scenario where distance learning is prolonged said the chair of the Senate committee on basic education, arts and culture. 

“Now that we are preparing for the opening of a new school year, we want to ensure that the DepEd would be able to provide quality education in the midst of the pandemic,” said Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian in Filipino in a press release. “We should have already learned from our experiences last year, in order to avoid the problems that occurred when implementing distance learning.”  

The Commission on Audit (CoA) earlier flagged deficiencies amounting to P8.1 billion in the implementation of the Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP), which was supposed to cover the essential requirements of education during the coronavirus-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Lapses in budget utilization, non or incomplete submission of required documents, disbursements and procurements, among other issues, were revealed in the CoA report. 

The flawed and delayed procurement, reproduction, and delivery of self-learning modules (SLMs) — the backbone of distance learning — deprived learners of better learning opportunities and hampered their learning process said the report. The COA report also said that five regional offices were unable to fully adhere to prescribed specifications for the SLMs, which resulted in poor printing quality. The delays were attributed to deficient planning, poor monitoring of deliveries, and suppliers’ failure to complete the requirements on time. 

In response to this, the DepEd said that “none of the initial findings pertained to corruption, malversation of public funds, negligence, or the betrayal of public trust.” It added that in 2019, the Audit Observation Memorandum Task Force was created to help improve the addressing of audit concerns. 

Mr. Gatchalian filed Senate Resolution No. 739 in June to assess if basic education institutions can deliver quality education for the next school year, whether through face-to-face classes, distance learning, or other alternative delivery modes.  

SENATE SCRUTINY OF COVID-19 2022 BUDGET 

Meanwhile, Senator Mary Grace Natividad S. Poe-Llamanzares assured scrutiny by the Senate of allocations for the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) in the 2022 budget. 

“Underspending, delayed and wasteful spending of COVID-19 response fund must have no room in the 2022 budget. Budget that is unspent means services undelivered especially to the poor in dire need during this pandemic,” she said in a press release on Friday. 

“Rebooting an economy dampened by the virus calls for vibrant spending up to the last peso authorized by the law,” she added. 

The Department of Health failed to spend P2 billion allocated for COVID-19 response after leaving it with the Department of Budget and Management – Procurement Services for future use, letting the funds expire. 

Ms. Poe emphasized the people’s reliance on government provisions for essential services, so “government disposition of funds should be efficient, on-target and prompt.” 

MAKABAYAN BLOC SEEKS TO INVESTIGATE TESDA 

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the Makabayan Bloc, a progressive group of House lawmakers, has filed a resolution seeking to investigate fund transfers by government agencies to programs under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)  

House Resolution 2147 seeks an inquiry by the House Committee on Public Accounts on “irregular” fund transfers by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to the task force to end the communist insurgency.  

“There is an urgent need to expose and investigate NTF-ELCAC’s devious practice of reallocating existing appropriations of its member agencies as this potentially constitutes technical malversation and misuse of public funds,” the group said.  

The CoA reported that TESDA’s transfers worth P160.08 million to its regional offices for the NTF-ELCAC have a lack of legal basis that could expose funds to possible misuse.  

Auditors reported that in their initial review, P6 million provided by TESDA to the NTF-ELCAC in the Soccsksargen region was used for “questionable activities.”      

These activities include monthly meetings of the regional task force (P1.7 million), security escorts for various activities (P600,000), a communication allowance (P20,000), and accommodations (P700,000).    

CoA also flagged the DILG for unliquidated fund transfers to its field office in the Soccsksargen region worth P2.9 million.   

The transfers were 73% more, or P1.2 million, than the initial allocation remitted to field offices to provide support for activities under the NTF-ELCAC.  

Auditors added that the decision to modify the allocation of the budget was “allegedly due to the mandate of the DILG Central Office to allocate funds from NTF-ELCAC to support another additional 40 barangays in the [Soccsksargen] region.”  

“On this note, it should be emphasized that even with such immediate instructions, [DILG] Management is nonetheless required to substantiate any modification on their budget for monitoring, accountability, and transparency,” CoA said. — Russell Louis C. Ku and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan 

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