STUDENT and youth groups scored the low regard of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III for the education sector as exemplified by the government’s proposed 2011 education budget.

But the Palace already said it is ready to defend the budget.

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With Congress slated to start hearings on the proposed P1.64-trillion national budget for 2011 in September, Malacañang reassured lawmakers of its full cooperation in the process.

Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma said Saturday that they have received the schedules for the hearings and are ready to defend their proposed budget.

“We have received the schedule of the hearings. I think there will be regular hearings starting September. We are ready to defend our budgets before lawmakers to make sure the budget is acceptable not only to Congress but also to the people,” Coloma said over radio interview.

Rain Sindayen, University of the Philippines-Diliman University Student Council chairperson, said the P207.4 education budget presented by the Aquino administration to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) leaves little room to resolve shortages such as classrooms, teachers, textbooks and other educational materials and facilities.

“It leaves the education sector with a ‘major major’ shortage,” Sindayen, who is also the Deputy Secretary General of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP).

He noted the amount is P100 billion short of what former Education secretary Mona Valisno said is needed to address the gap in the basic education sector, especially with the annual influx of enrollees.

“It is impossible to meet the shortage if the proposed budget is P100 billion pesos short of what is needed. If the shortage doesn't exact greater subsidy, then why is the President pushing for the addition of 2 years in basic education that according to his advisers would need a budget of P100 billion? It looks like he is more willing to fund castles in the air rather than the actual shortage in the education sector.”

The Aquino administration is pushing for two more years to add to the current 10-year education cycle with some experts saying the program may cost some P100 billion spread out over five years.

The amount will go to building more classrooms, buying more textbooks, and the hiring and salaries for teachers.

Earlier, Education Secretary Armin Luistro said the government will be able to resolve the shortages in the basic education sector as well as implement a 12-year education program.

This year, the DepEd has a budget of P172 billion, two billion lower than the 2009 funding of P174 billion.

On the other hand, College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) National President Trina Federis mentioned that in the proposed 2011 national budget, military spending received an 81 percent hike.

“The Aquino regime chooses to almost double the budget for the military that is ridden with human rights violations instead of prioritizing the ailing education sector. Also part of its plans is to make Reserve Officer Training Corps mandatory. It is very clear what the priorities of this administration are," said Federis.

The League of Filipino Students National (LFS) through its Chairperson Terry Ridon said that aside from the military, the Aquino administration’s priorities go more international.

“Still topping the list of the government’s priorities in budget allocation is debt servicing receiving P372.1 billion or 22.6 percent of the national budget. The government obviously has enough money to pay foreign creditors but no money to put Filipino kids through school,” said Ridon.

House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte, according to radio reports, said Congress is ready to pass the 2011 budget before end-2010.

The Palace, for its part, is ready to help lawmakers speed up the process that will pass the budget soonest.

“We will help our lawmakers craft a budget that will be an instrument of national progress,” said Coloma.

Last August 24, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III submitted to Congress his proposed P1.64-trillion national budget, which Budget Secretary Florencio Abad termed a “reform budget”.

The proposed budget is P104 billion more or 6.8 percent higher than the 2010 budget, Abad said. (AH/JMR/Sunnex)