Teachers seek congressional probe of textbook fiasco
MANILA, Philippines — Public school teachers urged lawmakers to immediately conduct a congressional probe into the textbook fiasco state auditors highlighted recently, with one group likening the misuse of funds and numerous questions it raised to a “can of worms.”
“This long-drawn-out problem should be effectively addressed,” said Joselyn Martinez, chair of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). “It has caught public attention several times in the past but has never really been settled. It’s high time that somebody be held accountable.”
The Commission on Audit (COA) findings were especially biting for teachers, who have been forced for years to rely on error-riddled textbooks and wait for learning materials that ended up languishing at Department of Education (DepEd) warehouses.
In a statement, the DepEd said it had chalked up some of the COA findings to “late updating of consolidated reports and reconciliation of voluminous records with implementing units.”
“The DepEd assures [the public] that most of the accounts have already been reconciled while some are just completing documentation, hence, these are not yet liquidated,” it said.
It said it had already complied with the state auditors’ request that it submit an explanation for each of its specific findings, while Education Secretary Leonor Briones herself had instructed concerned teams to adhere to strict controls that would prevent the findings from recurring.
Benjo Basas, chair of the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC), said that while he gave the DepEd “the benefit of the doubt,” the group would remain vigilant.
“At the end of the proper procedure, if there are proven irregularities or neglect, both should be dealt with accordingly and those responsible should be held liable,” Basas said. “That is the way the DepEd does it with erring rank-and-file employees and teachers.”
A financial management reforms committee, headed by Briones, has been established, the DepEd said. The department, however, did not comment on the errors found by the COA in its instructional materials.
ACT said the DepEd’s reasoning that the undistributed books were buffer stock did not account for the fundamental question of how a glaring shortage of books spanning grade levels and subjects could exist alongside a surplus of books for other subjects.
The teachers’ union said that after six years of the K-12 program, educators still had “no official and usable textbooks” for araling panlipunan in Grades 1 to 7, 9 and 10; science in Grades 5 and 6; Filipino in Grades 6 to 8; and mathematics in Grades 6 to 8 and 10.
“We have been waiting for years for the DepEd to finally produce these learning materials,” Martinez said. “Aside from the extra time and effort to do additional research, buying our own reference materials competes with our family expenses in our meager salaries.”
Aside from being compelled to spend on extra materials, the additional preparation needed due to the lack of textbooks also meant expenses for internet connectivity, computers and printers, Basas said.
The COA said in its 2018 audit report released last week that the DepEd lost P254.253 million to error-filled textbooks, while instructional materials worth P113.708 million remained undistributed in five DepEd warehouses that were also fire hazards.
Basas said the eye-popping sum of mishandled funds was further proof that there was enough money to provide public school teachers with the compensation they had long sought.
“It’s hard to understand how DepEd can waste funds on error-filled books and other expenses but not give teachers the proper salary,” the TDC chair added.
At this point, Martinez said, neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives could afford to look the other way.
Aside from setting in motion an investigation into the various irregularities disclosed by the COA, she said lawmakers should “involve teachers in a legislative inquiry so that [they] can have a picture of the real situation on the ground.”