Deartment of Education spokesperson Michael Poa (PNA photo by Alfred Frias)

MANILA – The Department of Education (DepEd) on Monday defended that it had proposed around PHP532 million budget for the Special Education (SPED) program under the proposed 2023 budget but it was not considered in the National Expenditure Program (NEP).

DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa said that although the circumstance has been “recurring,” the department has been coordinating closely with lawmakers to ensure internal adjustments.

“This is a recurring circumstance every year, and DepEd is not at a loss because we always work with members of Congress to find other ways to fund DepEd programs… This means that in order to support the program, internal adjustments are made, be it in the available MOOE (Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses) of schools or other programs, in order to fund SPED,” he said.

These adjustments include efforts inside the DepEd to secure adequate funding for SPED.

The NEP is submitted to assist Congress in the review and deliberation of the proposed national budget for the legislation of the annual appropriations measures for the next fiscal year. It contains the details of the government's proposed programs.

“Despite our earnest efforts to advocate for our learners with special needs, it was not considered in the National Expenditure Program (NEP)... This statement is released with the hope of clarifying and addressing malicious and misleading reports that DepEd deliberately excluded funding for the Special Education Program,” the DepEd said in a separate statement.

Poa cited several instances including the funding of SPED under the General Appropriations Act (GAA), amounting to PHP329 million for 2021, instead of having it under NEP.

“For FY 2022, it was funded under NEP (PHP297 million) and eventually increased to PHP560 million under GAA,” Poa said.

These adjustments would ensure that SPED learners will not be deprived of opportunities and that the DepEd is “not at a loss," he added.

Confidential funds

Apart from the criticism hurled against the SPED budget, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) group insisted that instead of allocating funds for “dubious activities,” the DepEd must respond to existing lapses.

“Instead of spending such a huge amount on ‘dubious activities,’ the agency would be better served using the money to purchase 150,000 armchairs, 3 million textbooks, or 4,286 laptops for teachers at PHP35,000 apiece,” the group said.

In a separate statement, the DepEd said the current educational situation is not merely pressed by matters concerning access, equity, and quality education.

The confidential fund has a “solid legal basis,” especially now that there are significant threats to the “learning environment, safety, and security,” the agency said.

“Sexual abuse and all other forms of violence, graft, and corruption; involvement in illegal drugs of learners and personnel; recruitment to insurgency, terrorism, and violent extremism; child labor; child pornography; and recruitment to criminal activities, gangsterism, and financial and other scams, are just some of the pressing issues, which by their nature of being unlawful, need the support of surveillance and intelligence gathering to ensure that projects of DepEd are target-specific and will result in the broader protection of our personnel and learners,” the DepEd said.

In child exploitation alone, the administration, particularly the current cabinet members, declared an “all-out war” against the perpetration of child pornography last month.

Data show that the Philippines has alarmingly increasing cases of child porn online, shooting up as high as 280 percent.

During the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) lockdown last 2020, cases of online child exploitation increased to over 279,000 from March to May, significantly higher than the pre-pandemic level.

Alleged sexual harassment in various educational institutions has been also circulating online, although the DepEd has been persistent in urging victims to send their complaints.

Other complaints like physical abuse as well as a threat to security have been raised in some areas, hence the intensified coordination of DepEd to the Philippine National Police, as well as the move to fund having at least one security guard per school. (PNA)