Give teachers their due
There is little doubt that the elections in May 2022 are challenging and confounding. Foremost of these challenges is the still-prevailing threat of COVID-19. Although the incidence, spread, and deaths caused by the virus have waned considerably in the last month or so, it is still very much present in our midst and could still affect a huge number of vulnerable folks especially in such crowded conditions as those in voting centers.
Exacerbating the dangers posed by the coronavirus are the variants that have successfully eluded even the vaccines that have proven to be game-changers. Of late, much attention is being paid to the Omicron variant which, so health authorities say, has yet to make its way to our shores. Much concern surrounds this new mutation, but there is some good news in that initial studies show that Omicron produces milder symptoms and may not be as deadly.
But even without the threat of COVID-19, other factors make the May 2022 polls especially dicey. Already, a number of poll-related ambushes and shootings have been reported, provoking law enforcement agencies to designate many “areas of special concern.” And as with most elections in this country, the threat of violence and intimidation at the local and even precinct level remains, especially in next year’s exercise where political passions have already, at the moment, risen to a fever pitch.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is, on paper, tasked with the duty to ensure the honest, peaceful, and orderly holding of elections. But in reality, the conduct and outcome of the voting really lies in the hands of the thousands of public schoolteachers who sacrifice a day—sometimes spilling over to a few days—to oversee the voting and counting of ballots and the transmission of the results, now with a lot of help from information technology, of course.
But the teachers are the public face of the elections. It is they who have to confront sometimes unruly, even violent voters; enforce rules and regulations in the voting precinct and check against covert and even overt forms of cheating; and ensure that the results are reflected accurately and honestly. The teachers’ duties are not just onerous and exhausting, they are also fraught with stress and tension.
No wonder our country’s educators have long been clamoring for greater compensation for their election duties. Two weeks ago, the Department of Education appealed for an increase in the honoraria of teachers who will oversee the elections. Earlier last month, the Comelec approved increases reaching up to P3,000 in honoraria and other allowances for teachers and supervisors, signifying a P1,000 raise. They will also receive an additional P2,000 travel allowance and a P500 anti-COVID-19 allowance, while other personnel will receive an additional P1,500 communication allowance.
Last June, the DepEd proposed increases in poll-duty pay from P5,000 for support staff up to P9,000 for electoral board chairpersons. The Comelec’s approved increases fell below those suggested thresholds. Comelec officials explained that the cuts in the proposed honoraria and allowances were “deeply affected” by reductions in its proposed budget for next year’s polls. From the proposed P41.9 billion budget for the May 2022 elections, the Comelec received just P26.4 billion, with the remuneration for teachers being the most affected by the cuts.
To at least partially make up for the shortfall, and fairly compensate the teachers for their poll duties, the ACT Teachers party list is calling on legislators to consider as a top priority a bill pushing for the tax exemption of poll workers’ pay. The measure, said the party list group, has long been “overdue” and “especially important” with the approaching 2022 elections. The bill has been passed by the House of Representatives but has yet to be passed by the Senate; the teachers’ group is calling on the upper chamber to use the time left before the next recess “to ensure that poll workers’ meager pay will no longer be subjected to tax.” The group also asked that the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s “arbitrary” imposition of five percent income tax on the compensation of poll workers “must once and for all be rectified.” The BIR tax on teachers’ honoraria was imposed only in 2018 “without providing any legal basis for such,” ACT complained.
This is the height of irony—the national government still taking a bite off teachers-poll workers’ honoraria and allowances which are already minuscule to begin with, and hardly adequate compensation for the sacrifices they must make to keep our elections clean and credible.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.