CEBU CITY -- Since “the city has more money now,” City Hall will hire more students for the summer job program this year, with the number of beneficiaries increasing to 2,200, or more than thrice as many as last year’s batch.

The City Government’s Special Program for the Employment of Students (Spes) will take in students 18 and older, who will have to be endorsed by any city councilor, the vice mayor or mayor before they can qualify.

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The Spes is designed to help poor but deserving students by giving them summer jobs at City Hall. It is the city’s way of helping them gain experience and earn some cash they can use when they go back to school in June.

City Councilor Eduardo Rama Jr. said the only reason the number of beneficiaries increased is that the city has more funds to spare for the program, which is open to urban poor high school and college students who are residents of the city.

The beneficiaries do not have to be registered voters, as some of them have just turned 18. Their parents, though, will have to be registered voters and failing that, should show proof that they are residents of the city, said Rama.

For businessman Jonathan Guardo, the mayor’s opponent in the south district congressional race, this year’s Spes program is part of the mayor’s “vote-buying spree.”

The increase in the number of beneficiaries and budget for the program prompted Guardo to raise some questions.

“Is there anybody out there whom the mayor has not doled out any money to yet? He’s on a vote-buying spree. Everybody is in his shopping list. Kon wala ko modagan, dili gyud na mohatag ug kwarta (If I was not running for office, he would not be giving this much money away),” Guardo told Sun.Star Cebu.

In 2004, also an election year, the budget for 3,000 Spes beneficiaries was P12 million. This was reduced to 300 beneficiaries in 2005, 2007 and 2008. Last year, there were 681 beneficiaries, with a budget of P3 million.

This year, a total of P11 million was allocated for the Spes, a larger amount compared to last year’s P3-million allocation. The budget will fund the honorarium of students who will each get P267 a day.

“We are hiring more this year because we have more funds. When I learned that we have a P1-billion supplemental budget, I asked for a bigger allocation so we can help more students,” Rama said.

He said each councilor will be allowed to endorse up to 100 students to become beneficiaries, while the vice mayor and mayor can endorse 200 to 300 students to be assigned in the different City Hall offices.

The hiring will be done immediately to beat the March 26 deadline for the hiring of new employees in relation to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) ban.

Councilor Rama said the increase in this year’s budget is partly because of the reduction in the counterpart funds of the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) in Central Visayas.

When before the Dole shouldered half of the honorarium, he said the agency will only be taking care of a smaller portion this time.

“Due to budgetary constraints on the part of Dole, we are going to have to shoulder a larger portion of the students’ honorarium, that’s why the budget increased,” Rama said.

He argued that the election has nothing to do with the increase in the number of beneficiaries, and the Spes should not be misconstrued as an election project of the administration party.

Mayor Tomas Osmeña already approved the budget and the number of beneficiaries for the program, as well as the selection process.

Instead of identifying the beneficiaries himself, he has delegated the task of choosing some of the beneficiaries to the Cebu City Task Force on Street Children, which his wife Margot heads.

“I didn’t know how many we had last year. I have not been recommending anyone these past years. I let Margot’s task force fill up my quota,” he said, when asked if the increase has anything to do with 2010 being an election year.

To qualify for the program, a student who is at least 18 years old and a resident of the city must be endorsed by any of the City’s elected officials to the Department of Manpower Placement and Development (DMDP).

Students between 18 and 24 years old will have to pass an exam to be administered by DMDP before they can be admitted as Spes beneficiaries and given their assignments.

“We have to be sure that they are Cebu City residents because we want to be able to help only those who are from here,” said Rama.

The guidelines will be finalized Tuesday. As initially planned, beneficiaries will be employed in two batches, one in April and the other in May. (LCR/Sun.Star Cebu)