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10:48 PM June 26th, 2013

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By: Joemar Lazaro Furigay, June 26th, 2013 10:48 PM

Now that the midterm elections, for which teachers rendered duty, are done, I think it’s time I presented one wistfully mournful fact: Teachers are underpaid. I find this an opportune time to discuss the matter, in high hopes that the newly elected national and local leaders will reconsider their preplotted advocacies, and include the raise of teachers’ salaries (at least by the senators) and the augmentation of teachers’ allowances (at least by the local officials) in their six-year and three-year terms, respectively.

To boost my statement, imagine the following scenarios:

Scenario A: It’s payday, so a string of teachers queue at an ATM to withdraw their pay. Teacher 1 receives P15,000; Teacher 2, P14,500; and Teacher 3, P12,000. Their salaries vary because their deductions from loans and contributions also vary. All three then go home, and there begin to allot the money according to their payables.

Scenario B: Teacher 1, a widow, has these accountabilities: electricity bill, P1,400; water bill, P600; house rental, P5,000; allowance of her son (in college), P3,000; allowance of her daughter (in high school), P1,500. For her own allowance, she sets aside P2,000 and for her emergency needs, P1,000. In all, she sets aside P14,500, leaving only P500. So she picks up her phone, dials a number, and tells the person at the other end of the line that she needs to borrow money for a variety of reasons.

Scenario C: Teacher 2 and Teacher 3 are married to each other. Teacher 2 is supporting his two siblings in college: brother’s allowance, P2,500; sister’s allowance, P3,000. Teacher 3 is in charge of her father’s maintenance medicine: P3,000. The couple have two children—a preschool kid and a one-year-old. The house helper is paid P3,000; the rent for the apartment is P6,500. The bills that need payment are for electricity (P1,500) and water (P1,000). Their allowance is P3,000. That’s P23,500 in all. There’s P3,000 left, which should be enough to buy something for the fridge.

All these scenarios, which are not far from reality, are based on life in a city like Manila, where a good number of teachers rent their dwelling places. Scenarios involving local or provincial school board teachers whose monthly salaries range from P3,000 to P6,000, or volunteer teachers in far-flung barrios whose honoraria range from P1,500 to P3,000 per month, will be even worse. I am pretty sure that many teachers all over the country will agree.

I myself do not deviate much from this sad story. My salary is also insufficient for me to make both ends meet. It may be quite humiliating to disclose this matter, but my mother visited me recently at my boarding house, and I was surprised when she handed me three paper bags from a local department store. One paper bag contained three pairs of shorts at P69 each. The other two held hand-me-down T-shirts from my mother’s kind-hearted employer, for whom she does the laundry. My mother also gave me 10 P500 bills because she knew that I didn’t have any more money to pay for my monthly rent of P3,500. The rest is my allowance for the month, she said.

The point of this disclosure is that here I am, an employed teacher, and I still fall short of budget to buy myself new shorts at the mall or to even refuse hand-me-downs from people I have never met.

Perhaps many will argue that teaching is a noble profession and that teachers should not ask for more, or that this is part of their labor of love, so they should not expect a higher salary. But I think such a mindset is unfair. Teachers make good professionals. We form the best doctors who save lives, the best engineers who erect buildings and houses, the best scientists who invent this and that, the best lawyers who defend both victims and culprits. These professions make good money, but not teaching.

Well, some high officials in the academe may receive an adequate amount. But there are only a few of them, such as principals, master teachers, supervisors, superintendents, regional directors—or the education secretary. What about the majority? The government should look into this matter seriously. If there are people who do noble jobs but whose efforts are not well-compensated, these are teachers.

There may be benefits offered to us teachers, but these are quite meager and do not solve the problem of low salaries. Some benefits are only enjoyed after retirement at the age of 60-65. But, come on, we will be too old to enjoy these benefits by then. Worse, we may not live long enough to enjoy them, and we will be just bequeathing them to our immediate beneficiaries. It will be the classic scenario of planting and cooking rice and someone else eating it: Ako ang nagsaing, iba ang kumain.

I am calling on government officials to pay attention to this matter. It is not a secret that many teachers are weighed down by accountabilities. The situation can get to be shameful because teachers are supposed to be highly regarded. But how can they continue to be esteemed if they are forced to be beholden to money-lenders, such that when they reach the age of retirement, their pension only goes to pay the interest on their debts?

No wonder there are teachers who sell ice candy, fried bananas, daing (smoked fish), or tocino and longganisa (cured meat) to their students and/or other school personnel. Imagine a teacher in her fifties walking in her neatly pressed uniform, a bag filled with visual aids in one hand and a styrofoam container filled with ice candy (or smoked fish and cured meat) in the other. This is a common sight in the provinces because almost everyone there starts with that kind of selling job before they become professionals. But do that in a city and you’ll be uploaded on YouTube with five “likes” and 1,000 “unlikes.”

Once in the classroom, that teacher will be very conscious of the time because her ice candy may be melting before the students’ recess or the smell of her daing or tocino may be polluting the “air-continuous” room. If worse comes to worst, she may have to bargain her P2 ice candy as pautang (credit) because it has melted, and her tocino or longganisa is past tiptop quality. She will go home failing to reach her target sales, and she will not be able to pay off her capital. Thus, this will be added to her long list of accountabilities.

The point is that teachers like me do not receive the proper compensation that will allow us to focus solely on our work, and not on this demeaning stuff. To think that teachers are supposed to train and mold the young, and that our voice remains forever in the minds of our students.

The government should not wait for the time when teachers, having had enough, will march on Malacañang and ram its gates.

At the time of this writing, Joemar Lazaro Furigay, 27, had just resigned from his teaching post in a private high school in Las Piñas City and was awaiting approval of his application for a similar post, this time in a science high school.

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