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There’s the Rub

Still, the national animal

The teachers in public schools are restive. Last Monday, a hundred of them led by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers gathered at Mendiola to air their grievances. Specifically, said ACT Rep. Antonio Tinio, “we want to press the Department of Education and the present administration to immediately enact a law increasing the wage of public school teachers and employees.”

Last year, Tinio filed a bill calling for public school teachers’ pay to be raised to P25,000 a month, and that of nonteaching personnel to P15,000. His proposal went unheeded. Last month, the President said there would be no pay hikes for teachers because of lack of funds.

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Marissa Peñaflor, 53, who has taught math at Carlos P. Garcia High School in Pandacan for close to 30 years, says her last pay hike is now a distant memory. The last time she had one, which raised her income by P6,000, was six years ago, way back in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s time. She says her current salary (the average salary of a public high school teacher is around P15,600) barely meets her needs, particularly with her trying to put two kids through college.

ACT chair Benjie Valbuena says their proposed pay hike won’t greatly dent the national budget. “It will only cost around P3 billion in a year, a small amount compared to the billions of public funds wasted in the hands of corrupt politicians.”

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Well, at the very least it does add a new dimension to the toll that corruption takes on us. Janet Napoles alone is said to have accounted for P10 billion over 10 years, which is a billion a year for 10 years. That’s just Napoles, which is just a drop in the cascading water from a broken pipe. Just a small percentage of the utter waste that leaks out to corruption should be more than enough to take care of this pressing need.  “Pag walang corrupt, walang mahirap—na titser una sa lahat.”

But quite apart from that, it raises questions again about national priorities. Never mind the more than P60 billion that is earmarked for infrastructure over the next few years. Mind only that every time the cops complain of poor pay or lack of equipment, the increase in pay and equipment becomes readily forthcoming. Only a year or so ago, the police got new firearms to replace their presumably antiquated ones, which not quite incidentally raised the question of what happened to those antiquated ones. How were they disposed of? Or did they just add to the proliferation of guns in this country via the trade in second-hand firearms?

Indeed, mind only that the country has embarked on a “modernization” of the Navy and Air Force, acquiring an ancient frigate and some new planes for the purpose at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. As though making a gesture of confronting China militarily is going to deter its aggression in the South China Sea. But China has become the be-all and end-all for justifying giving Voltaire Gazmin’s favorite institution pretty much anything it wants.

But when the teachers complain that they are dying out there, they are told, So sorry, but the coffers are empty. How badly are the public school teachers paid? Peñaflor again shows so: With the tax deducted from their salaries and with the payments for loans they are forced to make to make up for perennial shortfalls, they take home effectively only P3,000 a month.

I’ve been writing about the public school teachers since the late 1980s and I can’t say that their lot has improved at all over all those years. They had a perfect way to describe themselves then—particularly at the beginning of the 1990s, when they went on a strike in Metro Manila, which the government ruled illegal. That was that they were the new “national animal.” They had replaced the carabao for that dubious honor.

That was so because like that beast of burden, they were being worked to death with little reward. Their plight had become so desperate they’ve had to resort to all sorts of ways to supplement income. Chiefly selling underwear and tocino to each other, if not indeed to their students, payable in “four gives.” I don’t know if they still do this or if their wares have been replaced by items—cellphone load?—more in keeping with the times.

The question is why we allow this to happen. Can anything be more urgent than alleviating the plight of teachers? Can anything be more life-and-death than easing the lot of teachers?

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The neglect is so counterproductive. The indifference is so self-destructive. Nourishing the brain is just as important as nourishing the body, if not more so. And no one nourishes the brain more than teachers. They are the ones we entrust the children to, they are the ones we assign the task of caring for their mental development. And we treat them this way? The harm is not just to them, it is to us. The harm isn’t just to them, it is to our children.

The neglect of teachers is particularly acute alongside the attention given to the police and military. The indifference to the defense of the mind is particularly dismaying alongside the defense of the body. Freedom is not just freedom from, it is also, and far more so, freedom for. Defending the country from territorial aggression means nothing if it doesn’t go with defending the country from ignorance. In the end, the only way to ensure national security is not by a strong military, it is by a strong people.

It is by a people who have been awakened to their potential and possibilities. It is by a people who are educated and well-informed. It is by a people who have something to lose and are determined not to. That comes from prioritizing education. That comes from prioritizing enlightenment. That comes from making teachers the most important people in the world.

Not the national animal.

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TAGS: ACT, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Antonio Tinio, Benjie Valbuena, Carlos P. Garcia High School, compensation, Department of Education, education, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Marissa Peñaflor, Pandacan, Public School Teachers, public schools, Salary Increase
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