It’s always the same, year in and year out. The opening of the new school year in the Philippines never fails to make headline news. The figure now is twenty million. That’s the number of Filipino school kids who trooped to their classes today — a number just short of the population of Australia. Their plight, as the reports on mainstream media would have it, makes them akin to “heroes”. What with the floods, traffic, crooks, withering temperatures, and the creepy crawly predators that infest Philippine streets, these reports make it sound like the average Filipino student is lucky to make it to their classrooms alive.
And that’s even IF (in all caps) there actually are classrooms to get to. In a stroke of incredible timing, Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III reportedly released today one billion pesos to repair state universities and colleges (SUCs) in areas devastated by super-typhoon Haiyan which struck central Philippines in November 2013. That’s right — right smack on the first day of school.
It sucks to be a SUC in the Philippines, doesn’t it?
The order to release the funds came just as classes were about to start, which means some students would return to damaged facilities and would have to wait for repairs to be completed.
Earlier, Sen. Francis Escudero expressed frustration that much of the huge amount that Congress had allocated for various rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts remained unreleased and unused.
The Commission on Higher Education submitted the fund request for the school repairs to the Department of Budget Management (DBM) in March, in the hope they could begin repairs in the summer before classes resume. It was told that budget officials were waiting for the guidelines for the fund release.
What exactly where these guidelines for the release of these funds?
Who was formulating them?
Why did they take so long to formulate and issue?
Because there is no freedom of information in the Philippines, we will probably not find out anytime soon. But suffice to say, many students won’t be getting the right facilities to learn their lessons for many months this school year. As early as mid-November 2013, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had already issued a situation report indicating that almost USD24.7 million would be needed to fully rehabilitate schools damaged by Haiyan. That was a full six months ago.
Other foreign aid agencies have also pleaded their cases to the government to put priority on restoring education infrastructure in the disaster zones. “We need to get children back to schools… to bring back a sense of normalcy in their lives,” said Carin van der Hor of Plan International in a press conference held in late November 2013 shortly after Haiyan struck.
The Inquirer reported back in the 21st of May that the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) had submitted their funding request to the Department of Budget Management headed by Secretary Butch Abad in March 2014 following a damage report issued by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). Two months had gone by with no response from the DBM.
Nobody seems to know what caused the delay. Senator Pia Cayetano is reportedly furious and asked the same obvious question again just a week ago: “But what’s holding up its release, considering that the school year is just about to start?”
“I understand that plans and budget proposals for rehabilitation have to be reviewed. But summer has come and is almost gone, still we have yet to see the funds released to our SUCs,” she added, noting that Congress allocated more than P100 billion for the rehabilitation of the areas devastated by the twin calamities.
This is aside from a P14.6-billion supplemental budget.
“And yet, according to the DBM, only P32.2 billion had actually been released,” Cayetano noted.
Still, that question was asked just a week ago. One wonders, though, why no such questions were asked over the six months following the disaster. Yet Malacanang had yesterday issued a statement to the media saying that “all efforts had been made to ensure a smooth start to the school year, including the deployment of policemen to ensure students’ safety.” Empty words as usual.
[Photo courtesy Norwegian Capacity.]
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