MANILA - Ako Ilokano Ako Partylist Rep. Richelle Singson on Thursday reiterated his call on the House leadership and members to collectively show their concern for the special children, or learners with disabilities (LWDs), by restoring the PHP560 million budget for their education in the proposed 2023 budget of the Department of Education (DepEd).
In making the call Singson said "it is inconceivable that there is zero budget for LWDs or children with special needs in the proposed FY 2023 DepEd budget" considering the various legal mandates for the budgetary allocations for LWDs and the continuing appropriation in the DepEd budget in the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA) since 2019 until 2022.
The legal mandates referred to by the neophyte lawmaker include the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Republic Act (RA) 1053 (Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013), RA 10410 (Early Years Act of 2013).
These legal mandates were reinforced further by RA 11650, also known as "Instituting a Policy of Inclusion and Services for Learners with Disabilities in support of Inclusive Education Act."
Based on the GAA, PHP50 million was allocated for LWDs in 2019, and PHP100 million each for 2020, 2021 and 2022.
During the briefing of the 2023 DepEd budget on Sept. 14, 2022, the DepEd requested PHP560 million for LWDs but there was zero budget for the purpose in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted to Congress.
"Considering these legal mandates, it is inconceivable that there is zero budget for LWDs or children with special needs in the proposed FY 2023 DepEd budget," Singson said.
"To agree to the zero budget would be tantamount to accepting that all the aforesaid compulsory laws, which Congress painstakingly passed, are 'dead letter laws," she said.
The situation prompted Singson to write an impassioned plea Wednesday to Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Elizaldy Co, and other House leaders and members "on behalf of our special children and their parents."
"I empathize with our special children not only for the sake of being a mother myself, but because, as Representatives of the people, it is our moral and legal duties to help and care for them because they need more attention compared with other children," she said.
Several lawmakers took up the cudgels for Singson during the plenary deliberations of the DepEd budget.
Camarines Sur 3rd District Rep. Gabriel Bordado suggested "a Congressional initiative to give special education the budgetary allocation" it needed.
Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman said he fully supports "this request, this advocacy."
"We are hoping that there will be an adequate budget for the education of special children. And I am informed that there is an increasing population of special children in the Philippines and the DepEd is in the process of gathering the data," he said during his interpolation of the DepEd budget.
But other than congressional initiative, the veteran lawmaker said there is another way of doing it.
"And this is for the DepEd to voluntarily realign its items of expenditure considering that it has PHP74.5-billion increase compared to its current level so that they can produce the amount necessary for the education of the special children," Lagman said, pointing to the PHP150 million in confidential funds of the Department as a starting point.
The DepEd, meanwhile, assured the lawmakers that the Department continues to do its role and mandate in serving special learners despite the absence of the approval of its proposals in past NEPs, specifically by realigning funds as suggested by Lagman.
"In the past years, DepEd has been doing several realignments based on its internal own sourcing of funds just to be able to deliver the services for special learners. We assure that the DepEd has been doing this yearly. The DepEd family is committed to source out within its organization so that the program will be ensured and supported," said Davao de Oro 1st District Rep. Maria Carmen Zamora, who sponsored the DepEd budget.
Zamora also assured that "DepEd will soon submit to the Committee on Appropriations their proposal on how they will realign all their other proposals and ensure that special education be given its allocation." (PNA)