Not all Cabinet men to openly support Mar

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Not all Cabinet members will openly support Liberal Party presidential bet Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, like Education Secretary Armin Luistro who opts to remain politically neutral. 

Luistro said he could not side with any candidate because his agency – the Department of Education (DepEd) – works with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to ensure credible polls. 

“Among the Cabinet (members), I should be the one who is colorless. We partner with Comelec because of our election duties. I think it is more important that we, together with the Comelec and the public, ensure that the elections will be clean and credible,” Luistro told reporters on the sidelines of a national health summit in Pasay yesterday. 

“I decided not to appear in political gatherings so that our election duties will not be colored. Our elections – to be viewed as fair,” he added. 

Luistro said those performing poll duties including public school teachers should not favor any politician or political group. 

There have been speculations that President Aquino’s cabinet is not solid behind Roxas, who announced his presidential bid last July 31. Malacañang also previously said that cabinet members are free to support any candidate since Aquino does not have the habit of forcing anybody against his will.

Luistro said the provision of social services should not be affected by politics. 

“If we stop building classrooms because we fear that it might be interpreted as politicizing, the people will be shortchanged. Maybe other government programs can wait but health, education and social services should be beyond politics,” the education chief said. 

Luistro said he wants to hear the candidates’ stand on the K to 12 program, which is now being questioned before the Supreme Court. 

“I would like to (hear from) whoever will run for president if he intends to continue K to 12 because this is an issue in the education sector. I think the issue should be part of the agenda of whoever will seek the presidency,” he added. 

The program covers 13 years of basic education and will revise the college general curriculum by removing some subjects. Education officials believe the program is necessary because the Philippines is the last country in Asia and one of only three countries worldwide with a 10-year pre-university cycle. They said a 12-year program is the recognized standard for students and professionals globally.

Critics of the program believe the new curriculum violates constitutional provisions on national language, Philippine culture, nationalist education and labor policy and have raised the issue to the court. They also warned that curriculum changes would threaten the job security of around 85,000 college workers.

‘No lump sum’

Meanwhile, Luistro yesterday maintained that the multibillion-peso budget for the construction of school buildings is not a form of lump sum appropriation.

“That is not lump sum. It is categorized under classrooms. You cannot remove that (and use the money somewhere else),” Luistro said in Filipino.

For 2016, the Department of Budget and Management proposed a budget of P80.067 billion for “buildings and other structures” in 2016, up from the approved P54.274-billion budget this year.

According to Luistro, the proposed 2016 budget is for the construction of 43,000 classrooms that will be used by Grade 12 students starting June 2017. The budget for the Grade 11 classrooms, he added, is already lodged in the 2014 and 2015 budgets and that the procurement and construction phases are ongoing.

Asked if the 2016 proposal identified the schools where the new buildings will be constructed, the secretary said that is “not prudent as projections on student population change every year.”

He noted a two-year gap, at least, between the budget call and the actual year in which the classrooms will be used, citing as example the 2016 budget where the proposal is made this year for actual classroom use in 2017.

He said the education department’s initial projected need is 30,000 classrooms, but decided to propose 43,000 in case the enrolment in public senior high schools – which will be determined next year – surpasses initial data.

In case of low turnout, Luistro said they will not use all of the funds to construct senior high school buildings but would, instead, use it to replace old and dilapidated classrooms.

Luistro also clarified that the proposal submitted to Congress already identified the school divisions where the classrooms are to be constructed.

“What we will ask in the 2016 budget is to put funds in the region (instead of the divisions). We want an elbowroom,” he said, explaining that this would enable them to construct classrooms according to the specific demands of a region.–with Janvic Mateo

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