MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Audit (COA) noted that more than 50,000 beneficiaries of the government’s Special Program for Employment of Students (SPES) received their salaries later than the period prescribed by law in 2013.
Under the SPES, close to 700,000 qualified beneficiaries were hired as food service crew members, customer touch points, office clerks, gasoline attendants, cashiers, sales ladies, "promodizers", as well as in clerical, encoding, messengerial, computer and programming jobs.
The program, mandated in 1992 under Republic Act No 7323 and which ended in December 2014, was implemented by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). (READ: SONA 2015: The state of Philippine labor under Aquino)
DOLE shouldered 40% of the wages of the SPES beneficiaries, who were supposed to receive their salaries within 11 days after the duration of their employment.
However, a 2013 COA report showed that payments to at least 54,177 students amounting to P139,359,581.48 were delayed by one to 441 days.
The report said the figure is equivalent to 52.06% of the total P267,665,995.61 disbursements.
State auditors discovered delays in the student worker salary disbursements in the following areas:
The SPES was open to 15-25-year-old high school, college or vocational students or drop-outs and interested employers.
Unclaimed, stale checks
State auditors also discovered that 1,052 SPES checks amounting to P2,304,476.19, prepared from July 2004 to June 2013, were unclaimed and became stale.
The same goes for another 1,619 checks totalling P4,967,876.94 prepared from July to December 2013.
“Moreover, the staled checks which were subject to replacement were not reverted back to the cash account; hence, understating cash account and liabilities by the same amount,” said state auditors.
“Thus, the objective of the program of helping poor but deserving students to pursue their education by providing or augmenting their income was somehow affected,” they added.
According to several DOLE regional cashiers and chiefs of the Accountants and Technical Services and Support Divisions, the delay in the release of checks may be attributed to the following:
In a statement on Tuesday, November 17, the camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay urged DOLE to speed up the payment of wages to working students.
"Nakakalungkot. Kailangan ng tulong ng mga kabataang mahihirap para makapagtapos sila ng pag-aaral. May batas upang tulungan sila, may pondo upang maituloy ang pangarap nila na makapagtapos. Nguni't ang pamahalaan mismo ang nagpahirap sa kanila para makamit ito," said Joey Salgado, the media affairs head of the United Nationalist Alliance’s standard-bearer.
(This is sad. The youth from the poor sector need help so they can finish their studies. There is a law and a fund intended to help them complete their studies, but the government itself is making it hard for them to do so.)
"Nakikiusap si VP Binay sa DOLE na sa taong ito at sa susunod pang mga taon, bilisan nila ang pagproseso ng mga dokumento upang ang tulong ng pamahalaan ay makarating agad sa mga benepisyaryo," he added.
(VP Binay is urging DOLE to speed up the process this year and in the succeeding years so the government’s help will immediately reach the beneficiaries.)
DOLE previously said it has developed an information technology system to establish a database of SPES beneficiaries nationwide and facilitate their claims for salaries.
Salgado hopes the use of an automated system of SPES by DOLE’s Bureau of Local Employment will speed up the process.
According to COA, salary payments to SPES beneficiaries were also made through automated teller machines, cash cards, and issuance of checks directly to the beneficiaries. The law prescribes that payment be made through education vouchers.
“Thus, the existing modes of payment did not ensure that the salaries were used to pay the tuition and fees and books of the student-beneficiaries,” said state auditors, who recommended that DOLE comply with the required payment scheme.
A part of the SPES fund worth P4,929,226 was also realigned to finance expenditures for other programs, including the Workers Income Augmentation Program, the Tulong Pang-hanap-buhay sa Ating Disadvantaged Workers, and the Promotion of Rural Employment through Self-employment and Entrepreneurship Development.
COA advised DOLE to refrain from using the SPES fund for other purposes to “avoid disallowance of the transactions.” – Rappler.com