"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Is DepEd Going to Be the New Hiding Place for the 'Pork' of the Pork Barrel?

The title as well as the main body of this post comes from Joy Rizal. Joy worries that with the incompetence and corruption within DepEd and the rallying cause of improving basic education, DepEd can well serve as an excellent conduit for political patronage and corruption. In fact, the fast tracking of DepEd K+12 sounds eerily similar to Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Acceleration means fast. Unfortunately, fast or acceleration both have nothing to do with efficiency or boosting the economy. It is about timeliness for political ends. Building thousands of classrooms in 2015 certainly mean a lot of walls on which politicians can have their names proudly displayed. It is virtually campaigning with support from public funds except that only those who are deemed as allies by the central government "can eat their cake and have it too".

In dire situations like these, two different solutions have been offered. The "tea partiers" would clamor for "small government". "Starve the Beast" was a favorite slogan from the Reagan era except that now even conservative economists have found that this is simply a myth:

The above chart is copied from Bloomberg.com
"Starve the Beast doesn’t decrease government spending, it increases it."
Another solution which I have heard from well-meaning people is to simply do our best under these circumstances, contribute something positive. Reagan when debating against Anderson said, "Well, if you've got a kid that's extravagant, you can lecture him all you want to about his extravagance. Or you can cut his allowance and achieve the same end much quicker." Simply doing our best under these circumstances and contributing something positive like providing books to the schools is even worse than simply "lecturing an extravagant kid". It tolerates and promotes the extravagance. When charity is expected to replace government programs it can encourage further government waste, incompetence and corruption. Besides, democracy is not about charity. Democracy is about raising funds as a society and deciding how to spend it as a society. Philanthropy is entirely different.

We must neither tolerate nor starve the beast. We must be vigilant, like any good parent who would want a child to become better. We must continue to point out the ills of government and expose the incompetence and corruption that strangle public policy. This is about hitting the problem on its head. Neither relying on charity nor resorting to anarchy addresses the problem at hand.

Before my writing becomes the major part of this post, here is Joy Rizal's "Is DepEd Going to Be the New Hiding Place for the 'Pork' of the Pork Barrel?"
When people start avoiding even simple questions or giving different answers to the same question, one can generally assume something is not quite right with the answers being given. When a group of people make promise after promise year after year yet have failed to deliver much of anything other than excuses, it can generally be assumed that the people will not suddenly become honest with the next set of promised assurances. 
When the school systems refuse to provide a copy of even a summary of the material being covered in the classroom so parents can help their children, claiming they have no time or money to provide any of the material that was supposed to be provided free to each child, one should start wondering what is really being planned behind the scene. 
Is it strange for a person to start wondering what is really going on when The Department of Education has a 300 billion peso budget yet says it can not deliver promised copies of the same student learning material it gives each instructor to each student? The student learning materials (LMs) that DepEd promised would be given to each student, is available to the instructors but the copies for the students are not available because of (according to DepEd) copyright issues, printing issues, and bad weather. Why at the national level did DepEd state material will be provided yet at the local level DepEd refuses to provide anything, unless parents pay for copies of the material themselves? 
Should we perhaps start wondering if this is the setup process for DepEd to become the new hiding place for funds that will eventually be rerouted to shall we call them “special government projects” with the excuse constantly being we need more money for the K-12 conversion? While at the same time lowering the standards of education in the Philippines rather than improving them? 
Does it seem unreasonable to start wondering about such things when DepEd clams that non-existing (or perhaps more correctly stated non-delivered and apparently non-printed) books/materials will be used for the next three years? Does it not make a person wonder what DepEd is planning to do with funds for books that are to be used for the next three years but apparently has no plans of delivering? (At least we cannot get a date or even an estimated delivery date of the material that was to be delivered months ago.) 
Doesn’t it seem strange that even basic questions seem to fall on deaf ears? 
It sounds nice that so many of our officials want to move the “pork” funds that are currently being blatantly wasted into the Department of Education for the improvement of our nation. However with the past history and current failures of DepEd to keep even basic promises should we believe the officials are really moving funds into the DepEd departments because they want to help our children or should we wonder if they are doing it because they know that with the current rules funds placed into the DepEd system will become almost impossible to follow and trace? Not to mention currently there seem to be very few enforced rules with any “teeth” used when DepEd employees blatantly refuse to do much of anything that has been promised. 
According to the [REPUBLIC ACT NO. 10533] http://www.gov.ph/2013/05/15/republic-act-no-10533/
There are now a lot of departments and agencies associated with the Department of Education a few of these groups are:
Commission on Higher Education (CHED),
Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA),
Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE),
Professional Regulation Commission (PRC),
Department of Science and Technology (DOST),
Information Technology – Business Process Outsourcing (IT-BPO) industry association. 
Then there are the various consultants, mysterious writing groups, copyright validation groups, proof readers, digital formatting groups, and graphic artists all of which already seem to have a LOT of issues that need to be resolved. 
It seems a lot of funds get shuffled around to groups that do not make good on promised deliveries, with apparently the only penalty being that more money is paid to the groups for their mistakes supposedly “attempting” to get the promised material delivered. One has to wonder why year after year people and groups continue to be paid when they seem to be unable to make good on much of anything? 
However, a possibility that will make the situation very difficult to track down funds not being used as promised is when we get down to the local levels. With so many areas to validate, it would take a massive undertaking to independently verify each area. (Not just writing to the heads of an area to ask if they are doing everything correctly or simply looking at the reports sent to the main offices.) How easy would it be for local groups in many of the areas throughout our nation to submit a report saying they are doing one thing but actually something very different is being physically done? If they are careful to keep the reports in a “half-truth” format how long would it take to actually uncover potentially serious problems? 
We already know very few parents will speak up about the local schools not providing proper services for fear of their children being failed, kicked out of school or worse. Nor will most instructors or principles speak up for fear of loosing their jobs. We also know that DepEd’s idea of an investigation is to simply ask the very people accused of wrong doing if they did anything wrong, without even attempting to gather any additional information from other sources, which makes reporting an issue useless and to be blunt dangerous. 
I keep reading about more and more people and politicians wanting to put more and more money into the education system. Unfortunately even with the growing budget DepEd has received in recent years, it is still unable or unwilling to deliver even the basic Learning Materials it has promised for each student. Not to mention being unwilling or unable to even produce basic photocopies of an out line of the material being covered in class for the students that are having difficulty with their studies; so that parents can assist their children. (In this case we are referring to the classes that have no books, no learning material, or anything else for the students to use.) 
Should I dare mention that at least in the Malaybalay City area DepEd is also unwilling or unable to give parents quarterly report cards? Yes, six months in to the school year, in the third quarter, and no report cards have been given to students for this school year. 
I have to wonder is it wise to keep throwing money into a system with such a LONG and continuing track record of not delivering on promises. Is it wise to keep putting money into a system that currently seems to be doing everything it can to sabotage the K-12 system, without also including some very serious verifications that funds are being used properly and that deliveries are being made as promised, on schedule or earlier, without excuses. 
I would also suggest that those verifications be a lot better than simply having DepEd submit a report to Congress as to the status of implementation of the K to 12 program. Seriously, honestly, does anyone really expect that any report given to the supervisors or to congress will say anything other that everyone expects and wants to hear in order to get more funding? 
Remember, just a few months ago DepEd proudly assured everyone that: 
-Each Grade 2 and Grade 8 student will be given LMs which are basically "worksheet cum textbook" type that contain the topics to be discussed for the entire school year. For the elementary level, LMs come in a textbook form and will be in their Mother Tongue. For the secondary level, LMs will be compiled in loose sleeves or module-type. 
-and that those materials would be delivered by July. 
Yet we have received nothing and apparently DepEd has no intentions of making good on their promise despite having over a 300 billion-peso budget. 
Apparently, as it was implied in one of DepEd’s responses, the common person in the Philippines is incapable of understanding the English language, for I have a very different idea of what section 2 of REPUBLIC ACT NO. 10533 says than what DepEd apparently thinks it means.
SEC. 2. Declaration of Policy. — The State shall establish, maintain and support a complete, adequate, and integrated system of education relevant to the needs of the people, the country and society-at-large.
. . .
For this purpose, the State shall create a functional basic education system that will develop productive and responsible citizens equipped with the essential competencies, skills and values for both life-long learning and employment. In order to achieve this, the State shall: 
(a) Give every student an opportunity to receive quality education that is globally competitive based on a pedagogically sound curriculum that is at par with international standards;
(c) Make education learner-oriented and responsive to the needs, cognitive and cultural capacity, the circumstances and diversity of learners, schools and communities through the appropriate languages of teaching and learning, including mother tongue as a learning resource. 
I have the ‘silly’ idea that a complete, adequate, and integrated system of education that is at par with international standards and is learner-oriented, would mean that our children should among other things receive at least some type of hands on material that they can use not only at school but also at home so that parents know what is being taught to their children and so that the parents can help their children with areas that seem difficult to the children. 
Apparently, DepEd knows of countries with higher standards that do not use books or hands on student learning material. According to officials of Malaybalay DepEd we should simply accept the fact that we are NOT going to get ANYTHING and SHUTUP and if we do not like that option we can transfer our children to other schools. 
Between the local DepEd attitudes about no books, poor teaching, no information being given to parents about what is being taught in the classroom, even to help children that are failing their classes, and the National DepEd response to each of our emails . . . both groups basically saying they are not going to do anything or provide any of the materials promised . . . both, in essence, saying that it is not their job or responsibility to even try to provide a reasonable education for our children . . . You will have to forgive me if I find it somewhat foolish to give DepEd even one peso without far more assurance than DepEd’s word, promise, assurance, etc. that the money will be used the way they proudly assure everyone it will be used and that they are seriously trying to educate our children closer to the levels of quality other countries. 
If we do not enact some serious checks (with serious enforcement backing it), as well as independent checks and “Ghost Checks” on DepEd, with all the money being given to the department(s), it does not take a lot of imagination to see the potential for a far worse problem of fund misuse, fund misappropriation, fund embezzlement as well as it being far more difficult to prove any wrongdoing than anything we have seen with the current Pork Barrel scandals. 
As a very simple hypothetical example, let us suppose DepEd shows one type of book (with a higher price tag) that it claims it will print and deliver throughout our nation, yet all the areas outside those “normally watched”, are delivered a much cheaper version of the material, with the excess funds going ??????????. As long as all the production paperwork looks correct and the “correct” sample books are always shown to reviewers. Without a check to see what the students in a particular area are actually given, how would anyone sitting in an office far away ever catch the switch? 
Unlike our current real life example where DepEd is flat out not printing or distributing anything in some areas (but remember according to DepEd all those invisible materials are good for three years and the funds used for printing of all that invisible material are . . . umm . . . somewhere safe.)

- - - - -
For those unfamiliar with the term Ghost Checks.
Ghost Checks are made by officials outside the department in question by people not known by the officials of the local area where the check is being made. “Ghosts” rarely identifies themselves and usually simply observe if projects have been reasonably completed. For instance, if a new roof was billed as having been put on a building, the ghost would check that an actual new roof was put on the building and not simply a patch job of the old material on the roof. Or if new books were to be printed in an area, simply watch the students of the appropriate grade to see if they are carrying the books that they are suppose to have. The “Ghost” then reports to the enforcement division for appropriate action. If the Ghost does their job correctly the local officials will usually never know the check has taken place until the Ghosts reports are filed with the oversight office, regardless of the result being a good report (no issues observed) or a report where “corrective enforcement” needs to take place.

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