No place at the table
The national budget for 2015 is up for deliberations and voting, and public school teachers are up in arms. As they should be. Despite the proposed P2.6-trillion tag, and even with the Department of Education getting the biggest slice (about P365 billion or 16 percent) of the pie, their dismal salaries are nailed at levels that studiously ignore inflation and other economic realities.
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio bewails the fact that for the third time, the national budget has shut out the possibility of any salary increase for government workers, including teachers who are paid slave wages. According to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, the next round of salary increases is scheduled in 2016, or the year of the next presidential election. The timing may be suspicious, as teachers are often corralled into serving as election watchers, but Abad says the review of the compensation classification system will probably be finished by then.
However, as Tinio points out, such delays are a violation of the Salary Standardization Law of 2009, which mandates that the compensation system be assessed every three years to take into consideration the needs of the bureaucracy, as well as the possible erosion in purchasing power due to inflation.
It’s common knowledge that because of their measly wages, many teachers resort to various sidelines, hawking anything from food to lingerie to life insurance. Others regularly turn to loan sharks to make it from one payday to the next. Such frantic juggling of the means to keep body and soul together not only demeans the teachers but also distracts them from their most important role: molding the minds of our youth, the hope of the motherland. Indeed, how can they focus on the lesson plan, creatively introduce new concepts and ideas, or encourage questions from students that would develop in them critical thinking, when they must expend the necessary energy on equally critical concerns such as the next day’s meal, next week’s utility bills, next month’s rent, and their own children’s tuition?
Forced to grasp the knife’s edge, many teachers choose to join the ever-growing army of overseas Filipino workers who take on jobs that locals in other countries consider too dirty, difficult, or dangerous.
The government’s inaction on the teachers’ demand for a salary increase is also a violation of Republic Act No. 4670 or the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers, which mandates that salaries provide teachers a reasonable standard of life for themselves and their families.
National officials may wring their hands and wail like conscientious housewives about how the source of funds must first be identified before items can be inserted into the budget. Yet they think nothing of how much time, money, training and skills are wasted every time a teacher abandons her college degree and years of classroom experience to wield broom and dustpan, raise and nurture children not her own, or risk maltreatment and abuse in other countries. And how much does the government cough up every time another OFW comes home in a coffin under suspicious circumstances?
Of late, economists have been trumpeting the Philippines’ increasingly favorable credit rating, its booming prospects in the contact center industry, the rosy business climate ahead. But when would they realize that all these are made possible by our human resources, industry leaders and workers amply prepared by the kind of education they’ve had? What would it take for our officials to realize that behind this success are the humble teachers, toiling in ill-equipped classrooms, forking out their own money for school supplies, and risking life and limb in remote areas to do their job? The same teachers who are paid wages that belittle their efforts and devalue their profession?
It’s a simple enough equation: Reasonable wages make for dedicated teachers who can concentrate on their classroom tasks and prepare their students better to become tomorrow’s movers and shakers. Ours is a young population, and what better way of ensuring that the youth are trained by the best minds and the best pool of teaching talent than by addressing this perennial problem?
The fact is that teachers have no place at the table. As one so aptly put it: “We deserve better salaries given the nature of our job and sacrifices for the Filipino youth. If the government sees us as the country’s heroes, they should give us our due.”
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