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Editorial

Give poll teachers their due

/ 05:14 AM May 23, 2019

The votes have been counted and the winners of the midterm elections proclaimed, but the thousands of tireless public school teachers who manned the polls, most of whom went over and beyond their call of duty, have yet to get their rightful due. Again.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said Election Day saw “no realization” of the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) promise that the 526,686 teachers and Department of Education (DepEd) personnel deputized to be at the voting frontlines would get their allowances and honorariums upon submission of election returns.

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Teachers were instead forced to troop to local Comelec offices in the succeeding days, the teachers group said, requiring additional effort and transportation expenses just to claim their rightful compensation of P6,000 for the election board chair, P5,000 for board members, P4,000 for the DepEd supervising officer and P2,000 for the support staff, plus P1,000 travel allowance.

As of early this week, less than 10 percent of teachers who had rendered election duty have received their honorariums, although Comelec said it had 15 days to pay everyone.

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A case can be made for giving the teachers and DepEd personnel even more, considering what they had to put up with in the face of the most glitch-ridden elections since the switch to the automated system in 2010.

The DepEd’s Election Task Force said it received 131,526 reports from teachers on the field, ranging from multiple issues with the transmission of data, vote-counting machines (VCMs) and the final testing of the automated voting equipment, to damage to school facilities, and instances of injury and harassment in the line of duty.

The unheralded teachers and DepEd personnel also had to endure the oppressive heat and the frustration of harried voters. Many had to skip meals and bathroom breaks to serve the thousands of voters lined up before the closing of the polls. At times, they even had to become instant information technology experts in an attempt to get faulty VCMs back in operation, said ACT.

“Not only did they have to be resourceful in troubleshooting the machines and in exhausting all possible means to ensure that the voting process continues immediately, but they also had to endure voters’ irk and disappointment in the resulting chaos and long lines in polling precincts,” lamented ACT national chair Joselyn Martinez.

And, because of the snail-paced transmission of results from 6 a.m. of May 14 and glitches that affected more than 6,000 clustered precincts, electoral board members and technical staff had to render inordinately extended election duty. It estimated that over 10,000 such workers have rendered more than 24 hours of continuous service since May 13.

Still, the teachers have no time to rest and recuperate, as this week marks the beginning of DepEd’s Brigada Eskwela, to be followed by further training and then the opening of the new school year.

Incredibly, on top of all these is yet another aggravation: The paltry and belated allowance and honorariums due these frontliners is still subject to income tax. Even the lowest-ranking public school teacher is paid above the tax-free threshold of P250,000 a year, thus the Comelec’s declaration of tax exemptions for those earning below the threshold “does not make sense,” noted 1-Ang Edukasyon party list.

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Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian has urged the Bureau of Internal Revenue to scrap the tax. “Giving our teachers the full amount of their election honorariums and allowances is the best way we can show them our gratitude and appreciation for ensuring clean, honest and orderly elections in the country,” he said.

Indeed. Earlier, Gatchalian had also asked the Comelec to prepare in advance the allowances and honorariums to be given to the DepEd personnel, to head off complaints about delays and complications in their release. “Our teachers’ jobs during the elections are stressful enough as it is; let us not add to their burden by denying what is rightfully due them,” he reminded the poll body prior to the May 13 elections.

That sensible suggestion apparently fell on deaf ears, because the same litany of woes afflicting harried public school teachers every election period is rending the air yet again. It’s about time the Comelec and the rest of the government looked at how to repay teachers conscripted for indispensable election duties in a more honorable, less callous way.

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TAGS: 2019 elections, ACT, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Comelec, election honoraria, Inquirer editorial, poll teachers
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