After forging a partnership in March, it is all systems go for the Department of Education, the Government Watch (G-Watch) of the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG), and other involved parties to roll-out nationwide the Bayanihang Eskwela program that aims to minimize corruption and improve effectiveness in the delivery of government services by strengthening project monitoring and evaluation systems of government projects, particularly in school building program (SBP).

Over the years, DepEd has introduced interventions to combat corruption and set up mechanisms to deliver public service ethically and with integrity. And the newest program under the anti-corruption efforts of the department is Bayanihang Eskwela, through the active participation of ASoG. “DepEd welcomes the support and involvement of civil society partnersas this will enable us to conduct more comprehensive monitoring of our projects as well as strengthen our accountabilities to deliver results,” said Undersecretary for Finance and Administration Francis Varela.

This target is supported by a budget of P11.3B, which is an increase of 54% from DepEd’s P6.1B budget for Basic Education facilities in 2010. “The budget increase is quite significant, given that the school facilities budget has been growing by 2.5-5% in previous years. This in itself is a clear signal of the Aquino administration’s strong resolve to address the classroom backlog within two years,” added Varela.

Joy Aceron of G-Watch said that, “the challenges confronting Philippine education call for bayanihan for it is only through bayanihan can we end the seemingly worsening condition of Philippine education. The government alone cannot strengthen and develop the country’s education system. It will require the help of the entire Filipino community.”

G-Watch conducted its first monitoring of school building project in 2001. It noted that more than 50% of DPWH-implemented school buildings were not of good quality because plans, standards, and specifications were often not followed. There was no means to validate reports on completion submitted to the national office, making the system prone to ghost projects and the contractors’ use of sub-standard materials, especially if the projects were constructed in far-flung areas.

Varela said that the department is happy to note that from the 24 sites in 2009, the Bayanihang Eskwela is now going to be implemented nationwide. “The increased involvement of community members and civil society partners is very timely as DepEd has programmed to build about 11,000 new classrooms this year.”

Aceron added that, “it took us four or five years to get the government to agree to undertake a community-based monitoring initiative, a bayanihan, that will check on whether school buildings are constructed on time, according to standards, and in the right schools.”

Since it was launched in 2005, it has so far ensured the implementation of 133 classrooms amounting to P122.8M worth of contract according to standards, and facilitated quick response that corrected minor errors through the 706 monitors it mobilized and trained in using the Bayanihang Eskwela monitoring tool.

“It is a modest accomplishment given the amount we are spending in SBPs. However Bayanihang Eskwela’s greatest accomplishment is that it was able to illustrate a different practice in governance where communities and ordinary citizens contribute to enhancing transparency and accountability leading to better services,” Aceron quipped.

DepEd, through the Physical Facilities and Schools Engineering Division (PFSED), formally adopted and institutionalized “Bayanihang Eskwela” through DepEd Order No. 21, s. 2011 (Guidelines on the Institutionalization of Bayanihang Eskwela as a Community-based Public-Private Monitoring of School Building Projects under the CY 2011 Regular School Building Program in Areas Experiencing Acute Classroom Shortage”), dated March 4, 2011.

Bayanihang Eskwela is a recognized community-based public-private monitoring of school building projects. It also involves various government agencies and organizations such as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Office of the Ombudsman (OMB), Girl Scouts of the Philippines (GSP), and Boy Scouts of the Philippines (BSP).

Dr. Paz Diaz of the GSP explained how important the project is for the community, saying “we all know that education for all Filipinos is one of the best means we have to ensure liberation from the bondage of ignorance and poverty. But the more formal side of education takes place in school buildings where classrooms, laboratories, and all other amenities that cover education are located. Thus, the whole community must take care of these physical infrastructure and buildings to the best of its ability. We must consider these buildings most important for the growth and development of our younger generations.”

“Indeed we must consider the safekeeping and maintenance of all the schools and buildings in our communities as top priority. Education is expensive. We, the GSP, will help see to it that this happens,” GSP pledges.

Meanwhile, BSP agreed that “through the project Bayanihang Eskwela, scouts and scout leaders will once again flex their muscles in an effort to render whatever help they could offer in the name of public service. This project will have a big impact on the community and will benefit everybody in the entire community.”

DPWH is likewise confident that with private partners, the program of the Aquino Administration will be enhanced to meet the needs of succeeding generations.