Group scores DepEd for buying vehicles as teachers struggle with daily needs
Group scores DepEd for buying vehicles as teachers struggle with daily needs
Christian Deiparine (Philstar.com) - October 26, 2020 - 4:16pm

MANILA, Philippines — Education officials on Monday defended the agency's purchase of service vehicles for its field engineers, in what a teachers group scored as an "insensible" use of funds amid challenges in blended learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Some 166 new units of Mitsubishi Strada GLS 4x4 MT were recently turned over to DepEd per a report by TopGear Philippines last week. 

This was on top of the 88 that the agency received in December 2019, which brings the total to 254 vehicles, figures matching with those in an October 1 memo by Undersecretary for Administration Alain Pascua.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers in a statement questioned the deal, calling it the agency's "own kind of dolomite scam" pertaining to the environment department's criticized multimillion-peso artificial sand project in Manila Bay.

"We were anguished with this insensible use of education money," said ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio, "especially when our teachers shoulder the costs for bond paper, ink, devices and internet connectivity needed just to make modular and online learning happen amid the pandemic."

DepEd: Vehicles were bought before COVID

In a message to reporters, Pascua said the vehicles were bought before the onset of the COVID-19 in the country. Its distribution, he said, was only delayed due to the hard lockdowns imposed by government in the previous months. 

"When we were about to distribute them, the [Enhanced Community Quarantine] was announced so these were only distributed recently," he said. " those vehicles were used by DepEd to help transport frontliners. There were no public transport back then and we used that to respond to frontliners' needs."

Pascua added that the vehicles are meant to reach school building projects in far-flung areas for inspection.

Bidding documents from the agency showed that a combined P526 million were sourced for the said purchases from the government's spending plans or the General Appropriations Act in 2018 and 2019. 

Officials have yet to say how much each of the Strada vehicles cost, but the TopGear report had put the price tag at over P1.4 million.

Palace: Purchases planned in 2016

Malacañang, commenting on the matter, backed the agency for the purchase and said such plans had already been "in the drawing board" even before. 

"DepEd's plans for buying new vehicles were already identified in 2016.," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in Filipino at a press briefing. "(This was not decided during the pandemic. The budget for it was already approved before COVID-19."

The teachers' group, however, pointed out that teachers have had transportation problems long before the pandemic.

"‘Our teachers who were assigned in far-flung areas have long been climbing mountains on foot or on-board risky motorbikes," Basilio said. "Today, they do this to deliver modules to learners’ houses, why hadn’t DepEd thought of alleviating their plight first?”

There are now over 25 million Filipino students enrolled amid DepEd's push for continuing classes amid the pandemic. But groups said both teachers and students are still facing challenges in the new setup, such as availability of gadgets as well as internet connection. 

"DepEd already owes so much to our teachers who were assigned to especially difficult posts," Basilio said. "As such, this capricious expense is unacceptable."

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