The Department of Education’s inclusion of P150 million for confidential funds in its 2023 budget seems inappropriate at this time when the country is still recovering from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
More importantly, the DepEd leadership must prioritize addressing perennial problems in the public school system such as lack of school buildings, classrooms, books, and other logistics that need urgent funding.
We don’t contest the justification made by DepEd when it said confidential funds are permitted for civilian offices. What bothers us is that this might just be a waste of people’s money, as the purpose for such funding is already inherent in the functions of the police and military, including offices and agencies that comprise the intelligence community.
Such request, if granted by Congress, will also set a precedent for civilian offi-ces to find ways to justify their need for confidential funds in the future.
It might be interesting to dig deeper why Vice President Sara Duterte, who also sits as DepEd secretary, has also requested for a separate P500M for confidential funds, the first time that the Office of the Vice President has proposed such huge amount in its annual budget.
In justifying the confidential funds of P150M, DepEd claimed the funds can be used to address violence including sexual abuse, graft and corruption, illegal drugs, insurgency, terrorism, and child labor, among others.
The request for P500M for the OVP, on the other hand, can be used to fund livelihood projects in conflict areas and basic social services, and financial subsidies.
We have reservations on how the funds will be used, as DepEd officials and personnel are trained to improve the country’s quality of education specially in the public school system and make our learners globally competitive, not on intelligence gathering and surveillance activities, which are the expertise of the police and military.
DepEd and the OVP are not intelligence-gathering offices.
There is danger in the use of confidential funds by DepEd, especially that the specific disbursements and use of these funds are not spelled out and the Commission on Audit only relies on what the agencies themselves submit to state auditors.
It does not take rocket science for DepEd officials led by the Vice President to realize there are more urgent concerns the agency needs to attend to such as the perennial lack of school buildings and classrooms, especially when the number of learners per classroom have to be limited to avoid overcrowding.
It would be wiser if DepEd will allocate the P150M to purchase additional 150,000 armchairs and three million textbooks or close to 5,000 laptops for teachers, which a group of teachers has projected to be lacking in public school system.
We also support the call for DepEd to prioritize sourcing out funds for the agency’s special education program (SPED), which has zero budget in the 2023 National Expenditure Program due to lack of sufficient documentation on the part of DepEd.
A zero budget for SPED from its proposed P532M fund for 2023 means depriving thousands of learners with disabilities from access to quality education.
Some quarters likewise claimed the confidential funds might result to incidents in schools when teachers and students might be subjected to red-tagging; trampling on basic rights to privacy, to organization, and free expression.
It is our wish that Congress, in the course of approving budget proposals for agencies particularly DepEd, will make the wise decision based on the dictates of their conscience towards better quality education and globally-competitive Filipino learners.
There is no better substitute to transparency, not confidentiality in the disbursement of taxpayers’ money.