They’re top of mind when it comes to national chores and duties that require competence and hard work, like supervising elections, but they’re last on the list when it comes to a wage increase.
No wonder that among the most numerous Filipino workers who flew out to take on domestic work in Hong Kong and Singapore in the early wave of exported labor were public school teachers. At least, they must have thought, they’d earn a lot more scrubbing toilets abroad than selling longganisa back home as part of the struggle to make ends meet on their paltry pay.
A number of bills have been filed in Congress to upgrade teachers’ pay, but these soon languished in uncertainty or were dead in the water as lawmakers went after better media mileage with more “sexy” proposals, like the reimposition of the death penalty.
Official neglect of teachers’ welfare again came to the fore in a recent joint circular of the Departments of Education, of Interior and Local Government, and of Budget and Management that had a group of public school teachers up in arms. The protesting Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) said teachers were not consulted before the signing of the circular that could bar local government units from paying teachers’ allowances, and that the circular violated the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers. It sought a dialogue that would hopefully “result in more acceptable agreements between the parties.”
The Jan. 19 joint circular updates the guidelines and policies on the use of the Special Education Fund (SEF) as provided for under Republic Act No. 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991.
Notwithstanding assurances from the DepEd, the TDC said it feared that the revised guidelines would mean the removal of 1) local allowances currently enjoyed by teachers, 2) funding assistance for training and seminars of teachers and students in public schools, and 3) welfare assistance such as medical compensation for teachers that are sourced from the SEF.
The TDC has reason to be cynical. Delays in the release of teachers’ allowances and honoraria—such as for election duty—are of legendary proportions. The government’s reputation for ignoring, or at least being indifferent to, teachers’ welfare is such that just last Nov. 29, the DepEd found it necessary to issue a statement assuring teachers that they would receive their holiday bonuses before the yearend. But why so late when the DepEd enjoys a sizeable chunk of the national budget?
It’s a puzzler that the government takes such a cavalier attitude toward teachers’ wages when theirs is a crucial role in shaping the minds of our children, the hope of the motherland?
“The responsibility of molding a child to become a productive Filipino citizen lies heavily in the hands of a teacher. This is the delicate duty that teachers have committed in their line of work being intimately connected with building the nation’s future. Despite this, however, existing laws are still unresponsive to their plight of enduring a measly salary as compensation for their work,” said Rep. Romero Quimbo in July when he filed House Bill No. 195 seeking an across-the-board increase in teachers’ pay.
Because of the “unattractive salary levels,” public schools have failed to attract the best and brightest graduates from top colleges and universities, said Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, when he filed a similar measure seeking a pay raise for teachers.
It’s a no-brainer: Better compensation can boost morale and encourage teachers to strive for excellence, resulting in better quality of education. And education, as anyone who has gone job-hunting will agree, is the first step to a brighter future: It opens doors to better job prospects, higher pay, and more choices in one’s work and career path.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who also sponsored a bill for a pay increase for teachers, got it right when he pointed out that a decent salary is “a way of paying tribute to teachers” and to the immeasurable sacrifices they make to offer us and our children a fighting chance in this increasingly competitive world.
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