TESDA hounded by debts

By Tarra Quismundo, Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Inquirer Visayas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:54:00 08/07/2010

MANILA, Philippines—The well had already gone dry but still the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) promised to provide P1 billion worth of technical and vocational scholarships to the unemployed across the country, burdening the agency with debts under a new President.

What’s more, newly appointed Tesda Director General Joel Villanueva said he had also received numerous reports that the Pangulong Gloria Scholarship (PGS) went to fly-by-night schools and ghost scholars.

“This is not our obligation,” Villanueva told the Inquirer Friday. “In the first place, it’s not part of the budget allocated for us. It’s not even appropriated in the General Appropriations Act.”

Villanueva disclosed that the P1-billion unfunded allocation was on top of some P5.6 billion in scholarship funds already awarded from 2008 to 2009, curiously among the top recipients of which were Region 3 and Region 6, the constituencies of former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Iloilo Representative Augusto Syjuco, former Tesda director general.

Villanueva found out about Tesda’s many payables on his first day as Tesda chief on August 4. Among them was P112 million in questionable procurements he readily canceled. He ordered his legal department to look into the procurements and the scholarship “debt.”

He said schools, using influential people as channels, had been asking him for the disbursement as soon as his appointment to Tesda was announced a month ago.

“You could just imagine, the training schools are actually right now bugging me every day asking me, ‘Pay me, pay me,’” Villanueva said.

Villanueva’s predecessor at Tesda, former Magalang, Pampanga Mayor Pastor Guiao, meanwhile sought to clear his name, saying he never approved any contract in the agency during his four-month stay that ended just last month. He said he even canceled a P200-million contract, but did not provide details.

According to Villanueva, around 5 percent of the unfunded P1 billion were promised to be set aside to bankroll scholarships under a Tesda-Congress co-financing program, where the agency would match funds that lawmakers would allot for their constituencies.

The rest were grants supposed to go directly to partner-schools and Tesda training centers across the country. Scholarships awarded since 2008 totaled P5.66 billion, funding the education of almost 750,000 recipients.

Villanueva also called attention to numerous but yet unconfirmed reports that some scholarships went to bogus scholars’ lists and illegitimate schools.

“You have two situations. One, you have a school with funding but they just use false names, ghost scholars. Second, there are scholars, they sign for the claim, but the schools cut their allowance. Those are the initial reports we’ve been getting,” Villanueva said.

A financial report of the scholarship program showed that among the top recipients of the grants were the densely populated National Capital Region, Calabarzon (Region 4-A) and Central Luzon, and Western Visayas.

In Iloilo City, the government employees group Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLink) said former Tesda head and now Iloilo Rep. Syjuco’s alleged mismanagement of the agency should be included in the investigations of the Truth Commission, which was created by President Aquino to investigate alleged corruption scandals during the Arroyo administration.

“We welcome the commitment and resolve of Director General Villanueva to investigate the anomalies under Syjuco,” PSLink General Secretary Annie Geron told the Inquirer.

Syjuco has repeatedly denied allegations of mismanagement and corruption during his term, saying the charges were the handiwork of his political rivals.

In an earlier interview, he dismissed the complaints as “ridiculous” and “harassment,” claiming that all transactions of the agency and his expenses were accounted for.

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