By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
Even before its calamity fund for 2019 could be approved, pending the passage of this year’s national budget, the Department of Education (DepEd) said that there may no longer be enough funds to repair and rehabilitate public schools that were damaged by calamities.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones, in a recent press briefing, noted that the P2-billion Quick Response Fund (QRF) of DepEd might soon be depleted.
The allocation, she explained, is funded by reenacted budget. However, the said fund might be used up already by the end of this month to repair damaged facilities of schools affected by landslides and flooding in the aftermath of Tropical Depression “Usman.”
“We have already used up the 2018 allocation and the 2019 budget has yet to be approved, but it will be used definitely because of those that have to be repaired after the 2018 disasters,” Briones explained. Aside from “Usman,” she noted the need to repair schools that were affected by typhoons “Ompong” and “Rosita” in 2018.
In the aftermath of “Usman,” Briones explained that one of the immediate concerns of DepEd was the lack of sufficient budget to cover repairs in damaged schools. “Definitely, not enough,” she said when asked if there is enough budget to assist the affected schools.
Briones noted that the QRF – which is used for repairs of schools affected – is nearly depleted. For the repairs alone, the Php 2 billion QRF for 2018 and even for 2019 are not enough. “We’re talking about repairs alone, this doesn’t include possible relocation of schools,” she said. “If we consider that we need to prepare for floods and landslides, we won’t have enough funds for it and even if we don’t consider these, funds are not enough because it will be used up for ‘Usman’ alone,” she added.
With its calamity fund almost depleted, Undersecretary Annalyn Sevilla said that the DepEd might ask the DBM for other sources of funds to be able to repair and rehabilitate schools that have been damaged by calamities.
Sevilla said that DepEd might ask the DBM if it will be possible to get funding from the calamity fund lodged with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). She also expressed hope that the Congress – which is still deliberating on the 2019 national budget – considers increasing the QRF allocation for DepEd this year.
Aside from increasing calamity funds for repairs of damaged schools, DepEd is pushing for the need to “rework” the system of disaster response to include consideration of flood and landslides. “What I am advocating for is that we have to prepare for landslides and flooding even without winds because it is already happening – many times already,” Briones said. “We only prepare for effects of typhoons but now, we have to anticipate or prepare for damages even without storms,” she added.
However, Briones noted that reworking disaster response will have very strong budget implication and it will incur more costs. “We saw that if there are floods and landslide, it would mean that we have to have more slope protection,” she said. Vulnerable schools such as those located at the foot of hills or beside the roads would need more funding because there might be a need to relocate them. The effects of flooding and landslide, she noted, are “irreversible” so “even if we put up temporary shelters, it will not work that way – that will be so much more expensive.”
According to Briones, President Rodrigo Duterte, Briones has already been apprised of this concern and he has already given his assurance that the government will look for fund sources to help rehabilitate the disaster-stricken schools.