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Editorial

‘Strong’ teachers make a ‘strong’ country

Speaking before newly elected local officials, President Duterte told the audience that a “strong military is needed to build a strong country and implement the law.”

And by “strong,” the President meant police and military who enjoy security in terms of high pay, his administration having doubled their salaries fairly early in its term.

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The President mentioned the high pay for armed personnel in the course of pleading with public school teachers for patience with regard to the educators’ long and loud clamor for higher pay.

Well, here’s news for the President. Just like soldiers and police, teachers, too, are a necessary element in the creation of a “strong” country. By “strong,” we mean a citizenry that is not only well-versed in the ABCs and 123s, but also capable of discernment, decision-making and adept in the skills needed for development and nation-building.

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Good teachers make for good students. More than armed personnel or better weapons and materiel, an educated population makes for a nation ready to face the challenges of development and capable of contributing to progress.

In gross materialistic terms, a majority of citizens who are fully employed or engaged in productive endeavors will be able to pay taxes in full, employ those needing jobs, and lead the way in innovation, technology, creativity and cutting-edge research.

Most importantly, people who are secure and prosperous will have greater pride in themselves and their identities, value their ties and roots to the nation, and be better able to project the country positively in the international arena.

All this would not be possible if we didn’t have the high-caliber teachers needed to produce high-caliber professionals, and the huge army of workers in the formal and informal economy.

Instead, though, teachers are not only inadequately compensated for their labors, they are also burdened with onerous debts to both the government and to private lenders—both accredited and on-the-sly.

The debt is a symptom of just how their take-home pay has been reduced in real terms, given the increase in prices of everything from food and medical care to transportation and housing.

The Department of Education (DepEd) admits that public school teachers now owe a combined debt of at least P319 billion, jumping from just P18 billion two years ago. The DepEd says the figures include P157.4 billion owed by teachers to the Government Service Insurance System, and P162 billion in outstanding loans to accredited private lenders. The figure could be even higher, since this doesn’t include the amount owed to unauthorized lenders to whom access by teachers is much easier but whose interest rates are considered usurious.

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A report in this paper states that the amount of teachers’ debt is higher even than the current budget allocation for the Philippine National Police, the Army, the Air Force and the Navy combined. Only two agencies received more than P319 billion in this year’s budget: DepEd and the Department of Public Works and Highways.

The solution to the teachers’ plight, say advocacy groups, would be to increase teachers’ salaries. The Alliance of Concerned Teachers bats for P30,000 base pay for entry-level teachers, the majority of the country’s teaching force.

The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition has called for a P10,000 across-the-board salary hike. To this last demand, the government protests that if it were to raise all teachers’ salary by P10,000, it would be forced to shell out about P150 billion, money it claims not to have.

A think tank, however, says government should be able to source the money without bothering the ordinary taxpayer. It could, said Ibon Foundation, impose an income tax hike of 30 percent on people earning P50 million or more a month. Such a move, the group said, would generate P400 billion each year while affecting only about 38,000 individuals, or 0.04 percent of the population.

One can just about hear the howls of protest emanating from the enclaves of the rich, but someone needs to throw a creative idea or two into this urgent debate. True, as Education Secretary Leonor Briones said, that “teachers should not be in it for the money.” But their grumbling bellies and crippling anxieties about onerous debt — basically just how to make ends meet from one day to the next — are surely enough to distract them from their true calling.

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TAGS: Inquirer editorial, Public School Teachers, Rodrigo Duterte, teachers' pay hike
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