Words by Kyn Aguirre, Markus Fabreag, and Alex Delis
Under the UP Budget Proposal for Fiscal Year 2023 submitted by UP President Danilo Concepcion, UPLB is proposed to receive a total additional budget of P1.74 billion over the current baseline budget. The additional budget details the allocation for Current Operating Expenses (COE) and Capital Outlay.
Under COE, P60 million is proposed for the funding to augment the salary of the contract of services (COS). Meanwhile, P402 million is allocated to Personnel Services (PS).
P1.28 billion, or 73.4% of the proposed total additional budget, is set for Capital Outlay. P929 million of this is allocated to Building and Structures Outlay (BSO), while the remaining P349 million is allocated to Equipment Outlay (EO).
Under BSO, renovation of the UPLB Student Union (SU) Building is proposed, and is worth P100 million.
P149 million is also proposed for the construction of the Microbial Bank under the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BIOTECH). BIOTECH serves as the “national research and development organization specializing in agricultural, environmental, food and feeds, and health biotechnology”. P50 million is proposed for laboratory equipment needed for the project implementation under the said institute. In 2022, only P30 million was approved for the Microbial Bank’s construction.
Meanwhile, P50 million is proposed for budgeting the equipment for the Zoonoses Research Program. In 2022, P100 million was set for the construction of the National Zoonoses Center.
According to UPLB, the center will have its laboratories and facilities dedicated to zoonoses studies, which aim to detect, prevent, and respond to zoonotic diseases, or infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. With the creation of the program for zoonotic diseases, UPLB says that the University is now “one step ahead in helping avoid another pandemic”.
Also falling under BSO is the Improvement of Fiber Optic Network Phase IV, UPLB with a proposed budget of P160 million. Fiber optic networks are used for telecommunications.
The proposed budget for BSO also includes the Construction of the Office of the Registrar (P200 million); construction of the University Physical and Maintenance Office (UPMO) Building, SPMO, BACSEC, and Safety and Security Office (SSO) (P120 million); Renovation of the Institute of Human Nutrition and Food Building (P30 million); rehabilitation of Sewage Treatment Plant (P70 million); and the renovation of Obdulla F. Sison Hall (CEC Building) (P100 million).
Meanwhile, the proposed budget under EO also includes Upgrading and Modernization of Academic and Support Facilities (P149 million); and the Natural Product Research and Development Programs (Bio-Resource Center) (P100 million).
Despite the urgent need for budgeting for students and staff, over one-third of the UP System’s proposed budget for 2023 will be allotted to fund infrastructure projects in UP. The UP System is requesting an additional budget of P14.83 billion for Capital Outlay.
UP Diliman’s (UPD) official student publication Philippine Collegian wrote that Concepcion’s infrastructure drive could displace communities living inside UPD. They added that UP’s pursuit for higher infrastructure spending led UP communities to face several demolition threats.
The P44.07 billion UP budget proposed by Concepcion will be submitted to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for approval. On average, DBM has approved only around half of UP’s proposed budget during the decade.
COA flags UP System over unutilized budget
For 2023, UP requests a budget that is about twice the P24.4 billion appropriation it received in 2022. However, it is noteworthy that in a 2021 report, the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged the UP System for failing to utilize the revolving fund of over P10 million or 44% of its approved revenue budget in 2021.
Moreover, there are also unutilized Inter-Agency Fund Transfers amounting to over P153 million, of which five projects funded by the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD), Department of Health (DOH), and Commission on Higher Education (CHED) amounting to over P61 million have “zero utilization rate”.
There were also recorded deficiencies in the disbursement of UP System’s COVID-19 response funds.
It was reported by the state auditors that the payment of salaries of personnel took one to three months. This is crucial for the employees, especially during the pandemic. It also took six to nine months of delayed payments of the Special Risk Allowance (SRA) and Hazard Pay for the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) personnel.
(RELATED STORY: ‘Stop calling us modern heroes’: Health workers demand living wage, safer working conditions; UP budget increased by P2.89 billion, but Hospital Services Program suffers cut in 2022 national budget)
COA noted that it is the state’s duty that the welfare and interest of workers are protected. These include the right and timely payment of salaries and insurance. The 1987 Constitution provides, “The State affirms labor as a primary social economic force, it shall protect the rights of the workers and promote their welfare.”
Delayed eUP project of UP System
Besides the University’s unutilized budget, auditors also noted the delay in the UP System’s Electronic UP (eUP) project. Five years after the supposed completion of the eUP project, it remains incomplete. It is coupled with the UP System’s non-submission of the status of payment for liquidated damages, which the University demanded from Electronic Philippines Long Distance Telephone (ePLDT) Inc.
Liquidated damages are damages that involve paying a substantial amount of money by the party that caused “breaching of contract”. Liquidated damages were demanded from ePLDT Inc. after failing to complete its contract with UP System regarding the eUP project. As a result, the UP System needed to submit the status of payment to COA for transparent monitoring of funds.
Section 8 of COA’s 2021 audit report showed that the University failed to submit a status on the imposition of liquidated damages, in line with the delay of the project implementation. The commission recommends the University management to submit the imposition of liquidated damages incurred as stipulated in the Revised IRR of Republic Act (RA) No. 9184.
The eUP project, which started in 2012, was developed by UP System and is intended for streamlining and integrating information systems in different UP campuses. It is part of the “UP Strategic Plan 2011-2017: The Path to Greatness” which aims to make UP a globally competitive university along with other premier Asian universities.
With a five-year budget of P724.9 million, the budget of eUP was allocated into four domains: Information Systems-related expenses, other IT expenses, Internet and Communications, and Infrastructure and Equipment.
The University partnered with various private corporations for the implementation of the said project. Among these private companies is ePLDT Inc., which agreed to “integrate, interconnect, and ensure interoperability of Information and Communication Technology Systems and Infrastructure” across all UP campuses.
In December 2016, ePLDT requested a project extension. Then-UP President Alfredo Pascual accepted the proposal to finish the project by January 15, 2017. Despite the extension, the project remained unfinished, thereby leading UP to demand liquidated damages from the said corporation.
Aside from the eUP being unfinished, an investigative thesis reported that the eUP’s procurement activities violated a section of the Government Procurement Reform Act due to an unfair bidding process that gave advantage to a US-based software company named Oracle.
The eUP project birthed the Student Academic Information System (SAIS), which is the online registration system of UPLB since the first semester of 2016 (READ: SAIS replaces SystemOne).
The implementation of SAIS drew flak from students and faculty due to its massive technical difficulties, such as registration delays among students and delays in inputting grades among faculty. Several protests and calls for its junking were held during its six-year reign as the enrollment system of UPLB.It was not until 2022 when UPLB Chancellor Jose Camacho Jr. constituted an ad hoc committee that will oversee the implementation of a new information system called UPLB DX Academic Management Information System (AMIS) (READ: Glitch in the system: A history of SAIS and the six-year clamor for its junking). [P]