MANILA – Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Amenah Pangandaman on Thursday belied allegations that the PHP150-million confidential fund of the Department of Education (DepEd) is a “politicized budget.”

Pangandaman made this remark amid criticism that the DepEd confidential funds were approved by the DBM despite other agencies such as the Departments of Social Welfare and Development and Public Works and Highways receiving budget cuts.

She maintained that Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte identified programs where the confidential funds will be used.

“When we prepared the budget, one of the things that we considered is whether they can really use the money and if they have plans for the money. They have indicated the programs kung saan po nila gagamitin yung mga intel funds (where they will be using the intel funds),” she said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart.

Pangandaman said when the DepEd’s proposed budget was discussed among members of the Cabinet, there was a consensus that the funds were necessary.

“During the Cabinet [meetings], it was also discussed. Nadetalye ng ating mahal na Bise Presidente kung saan gagamitin itong mga tinatawag na intel and confidential funds (Our dear Vice President discussed in detail where these intel and confidential funds will be used). During that time, everyone from the Cabinet naman agreed on it so we approved the request of the Vice President,” she added.

Following criticism that the DepEd's confidential fund is higher than the amount earmarked for the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, which was allotted PHP141.2 million, the DBM chief said Duterte needed “elbow room” to implement projects and programs.

“Mayroon siyang mga programa na gustong iprioritize at kailangan tutukan (She has programs she wants to prioritize and focus on) and she needs some elbow room to be able to implement those projects,” she said.

Opposition senators Koko Pimentel III and Risa Hontiveros have sought to realign the DepEd’s PHP150 million confidential fund to repair schools damaged by Super Typhoon Karding in parts of Luzon or support the indigenous peoples' (IPs) education program, respectively.

On Sept. 29, the Senate Finance Committee approved the PHP710.6 billion DepEd budget, which contains the PHP150 million confidential funds.

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

“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.

SPED program budget

Meanwhile, Pangandaman clarified anew criticism over the zero allocation for the DepEd’s Special Education (SPED) program, saying it was not scrapped.

Citing the 2022 national budget, she said only PHP6.35 million out of PHP560.202 million allocated to the SPED program has so far been utilized so the amount could have been used to fund other equally important DepEd projects and programs.

“When we did the budget, we take into consideration a lot of factors and first and foremost is the utilization of the budget–if hindi po ito ginagamit (if it was not used)–and the fact that the 2022 budget that was passed last year can still be used until 2023 I think they have enough funds,” she said.

The DepEd earlier said it proposed a PHP532 million budget for the SPED program next year, but “despite our earnest efforts to advocate for our learners with special needs, it was not considered in the NEP [National Expenditure Plan].” (PNA)