ARMM governor alarmed by padding of school budgets
ZAMBOANGA CITY—Reforms that could wipe out entire school staffs are being carried out in the country’s only functioning autonomous region to stop the waste of tens of millions of pesos of government money on nonexistent students which a top regional official described as “alarming.”
Mujiv Hataman, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said his administration continued to enforce changes in the region’s school system after the discovery of hundreds of fake enrollment entries that led to bloated school budgets.
“The discrepancy in the numbers is alarming, which is why the regional government is exhausting all efforts toward correcting them,” Hataman said.
He said regional officials were checking reports that “data are manipulated to maintain a certain amount of funding or support from the government despite changes in student population.”
The corruption happens when school heads bloat the number of enrollees when they report to the Department of Education’s Enhanced Basic Education Information System.
With the bloated number of students, school heads receive a higher budget for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE). Funds for MOOE are normally released to school heads.
“Part of our reform agenda is making sure that this does not happen,” he said. “Corruption no longer has a place in ARMM,” Hataman added.
In school year 2015-2016, the region had a total of 733,047 students enrolled in government-funded schools. The government budget for each of the students was P400. At least P293 million was allocated for government schools in the region but thousands of students were found to be nonexistent, according to regional Education Secretary John Magno.
A total of 76,423 nonexistent students were purged from the list of enrollees, saving the government at least P30 million, Magno said.
Hataman said among the ARMM provinces, Lanao del Sur turned out to have the most ghost students.
“We started losing school heads and principals, especially in Lanao del Sur because of charges filed against them over manipulation of school records,” Hataman told the Inquirer in a phone interview.
He said the ARMM government now uses several methods, including actual head count, to determine the exact number of students in government-run schools in the region, which also included Maguindanao, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu provinces.
Hataman said the actual head count was being implemented across the nine school divisions in the region and this was used to validate data earlier submitted to the regional Department of Education (DepEd-ARMM).
Hataman said the regional government continued to carry out reforms but the irregularity was so serious it involved many school officials.
“If I start filing cases against school heads and principals in Lanao del Sur, I am afraid there will be no more principals left or, if there are, just a few of them will remain,” Hataman earlier said.
Since he became ARMM head—first as officer in charge after then Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan was arrested for the Maguindanao massacre—Hataman had already been tackling many “ghosts” in the ARMM, including ghost students and ghost projects.
In 2013 alone, his office reported that close to 80,000 ghost students had also been purged and 40 “ghost teachers” had been removed from payroll.
The purge of nonexistent students had reduced the region’s student population of 785,267 by more than 10 percent in that year alone, his office said.
Hataman’s office said charges had been brought against several individuals involved in the irregularity. None had been publicly identified so far. —JULIE ALIPALA AND JIGGER JERUSALEM
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