Sunday, June 24, 2018
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At Large

The budget is the policy

I’ve forgotten who the politician was, but the words are as true today as they were when they were uttered. “The budget is the policy,” the politician said, adding that government policy may sound all peachy-keen in public statements and even national plans, but its real meaning is fleshed out in the budget. And where budget allocations go reflects the real priorities of the powers-that-be.

Public school teachers have taken to “die-ins” — that is, pretending to be deceased by lying down on busy streets, to protest the recent decision of the Department of Budget and Management not to grant them a raise in their pay.

This, in the wake of a recent announcement that “uniformed personnel”—or the police and military — will be receiving wage increases of up to 100 percent for “entry-level” cops as well as lower-ranking soldiers. The salary hikes for the top tier are nothing to sneeze at either. The chief of the Philippine National Police who is soon to retire, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, will see his monthly take-home pay jump from P67,500 to P121,143. This, despite his frequent admissions — complete with tears—that the police force was incapable of bringing an end to the country’s drug problem, which was a major plank in President Duterte’s campaign platform. And this, even if in the course of carrying out the campaign, thousands of lives have been sacrificed, hundreds of thousands jailed, and havoc and misery wrought in impoverished areas.

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The pay raises for those in uniform, complain leaders of other sectors, especially teachers, is that they are not commensurate with the educational and professional requirements demanded of them. For instance, said a labor representative I heard over the radio, a “student soldier” — a cadet in the Philippine Military Academy — will end up receiving more than a public school teacher. Or as the labor representative put it: “A high school graduate will be receiving more than a teacher with a college or even postgraduate degree.”

Others might be able to justify the disparity in salaries for police and soldiers against those of teachers by noting that in exchange for the money they receive from taxpayers, police and soldiers are offering their lives as part of their jobs.

And indeed we must honor their sacrifice, and agree that for too long they were grossly underpaid, which led to such anomalies as bribe-taking (and demanding) and serving on the side as bodyguards for big business folk and politicians. We can only hope that higher pay will put an end to such nefarious practices.

But then what are we telling teachers and other workers in the government about the importance of their jobs and their value to society?

Politicians and so many citizens love to say that education is the key to the future, and support the idea of allocating the biggest slice of the budget to education. So why are we perfectly content (it seems) to let police and military receive much bigger salaries than teachers? Are teachers less valuable and important than police and soldiers?

I have this dreadful feeling that the dramatic increase in pay for our men and women in uniform was designed not so much to thumb the state’s nose at our teachers as to win the loyalty of our uniformed personnel.

And certainly, with salaries doubling or at least increasing dramatically, our men and women in arms cannot but feel, well, more kindly toward the politicians who determine the policies that dictate their actions.

In other words, you don’t bite the hand that (presumably) feeds you. And when you are ordered to meet a quota for drug suspects killed or hauled to jail, or to take up arms against all critics of the government or even the innocent, you don’t stop to consider the human rights implications or even whether these actions are justified. With a cushy salary at risk, you do what is told, your conscience be damned.

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And amid all the talk being floated about expanding martial law to cover the entire country, such fears are increasingly justified.

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TAGS: At Large, DBM, Department of Budget and Management, National budget, Rina Jimenez-David
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