How do we value our teachers?
Public school students—around 23 million in total—trooped back to their classrooms across the nation last Monday, turning the limelight once more on the problems, seemingly perennial, bedeviling the Philippine educational system.
News item after news item detailed these “same old-same old” problems: the lack of classrooms, the lack of teachers, the lack of books, high drop-out rates, falling standards of literacy and numeracy, even the execrable conditions of school toilets.
One problem, though, deserves particular attention these days. This is the low pay of teachers in the public sector who are facing increasing pressure not just from the inverse relationship between their take-home pay and the cost of living, but also from demands made on their meager energies, time and resources to fulfill their duties.
In the recent midterm elections campaign, senatorial candidates let loose freely with vows to improve the welfare of the country’s 800,000 public school teachers, including raising their wages. Teachers would be forgiven if they collectively raised their eyebrows at these elaborate visions, for they have experience with how flimsy these really are, and how such plans work out for them in real life.
President Duterte and his allies have made bold promises to teachers to raise their salaries on at least nine separate occasions, starting from the runup to the 2016 presidential election. But each time, said a special report on teachers’ salaries in this paper, the proclamations “have been promptly and forcefully tempered by his economic managers.” The result, says the same report, is economic stagnation on the part of the teachers, with an estimated 75 percent of them trapped in debt totaling at least P300 billion.
Since 2016, teachers have been paid a minimal annual increase under Executive Order No. 201, signed by former president Benigno Aquino III.
Before EO 201, an entry-level teacher received P18,549 monthly, compared to P20,754 now, an 11.9-percent raise. At the same time, though, the same EO gave the President a salary increase of 233 percent, while lawmakers received a raise of 186 percent.
However well-intentioned, EO 201’s gains, at least for teachers, have all but been eroded. Mandatory deductions—taxes, premiums, outstanding loans to public and private lenders, not to mention the “bite” of inflation—have whittled a teacher’s take-home pay to barely above minimum wage levels.
Data from the Government Service Insurance System reveals that teachers owed it P157.4 billion, up by more than P30 billion from 2017. Even worse, the Department of Education says that 26,000 teachers in 2016 received no retirement benefits due to loans. Raymond Basilio, secretary general of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, reveals that elderly and ailing teachers have been forced to find other work after retirement just to meet their basic needs.
The last time the President spoke about teachers’ salaries was at a campaign rally in Cebu City last Feb. 24. Again, he promised to act on their clamor for increased pay, saying this would be “doubled just like the police.” But he begged the teachers to “just wait a little because we don’t have the budget for that yet.”
No such presidential plea for patience from police and soldiers was needed; early in Duterte’s term, he promptly doubled their take-home pay.
Given the many times the President has promised them a higher salary to no avail, teachers can’t be blamed for casting a doubtful, skeptical eye on this latest promise. After all, it seems that when the President wishes to find the money, the government finds no problem coughing up the cash.
One wonders, for instance, where Malacañang sourced the budget for the airline tickets and allowances of the 200 or so companions of the President, including 20 Cabinet members, who joined him on his visit to Japan. Though most members of the entourage said they paid their way, one invited entertainer said it would be “foolish” for those invited to spend their own money to entertain their countryfolk during the President’s visit.
They may be patient, hardworking and devoted to their calling, but teachers are far from stupid. They know their value, and how much this government values them.
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