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The true abandonment

Publication Date : 04-06-2014


On May 20, given notice that two major groups of public school teachers in the Philippines were planning to hold protests two weeks before the opening of classes to press their petition for a salary increase, the Department of Education warned the teachers that their planned action would “greatly affect the delivery of basic services to our learners.”

It seemed that in the DepEd’s view, taking to the streets to call for an increase in pay was tantamount to neglecting the millions of schoolchildren nationwide. “Let us draw the line at abandoning our children,” it intoned. “As educators and civil servants, let us always keep the interests of our learners in mind.”

That is an unfortunate, if not insulting, statement. Teachers, especially the public-school variety, are among the most patient, docile people around. They toil in the most parsimonious conditions, their classrooms, school supplies and general campus facilities the perennial poor relations of vastly better-funded private schools. They are obliged to manage classes whose volumes are beyond the viable norm, yet they soldier on. During elections they do double-duty as vote-counters—a perilous task that puts them in the crosshairs of violent competition among political factions—and even have to wait to be compensated for it.

And, since 2009, their entry-level pay has been pegged at P18,549—lower even than what fresh graduates initially get in the call-center industry. That last salary adjustment five years ago raised the teachers’ pay by 6,523 pesos (US$149) , but here’s the cruel catch: It wasn’t given in one go, but in four tranches over four years, from 2009 to 2012.

The adjustment mandated by law as due the public school teachers took years to implement, and the paltry sum still had to be broken down into nearly negligible installments.

Which other profession is subjected to indignities like this? Perhaps other government employees endure the same excruciatingly slow improvements in work benefits, but as opposed to, say, clerks in a mayor’s office, teachers surely deserve greater attention because of the unique work they do: Their wellbeing translates directly to the wellbeing of the children under their care.

They can’t teach kids properly without proper training on their own, or adequate school facilities, or enough remuneration to sustain them in mind and body. Certainly they can’t be expected to be motivated to do their jobs well, never mind excel, if their pay remains shockingly low.

How much wage increase are the teachers seeking this time? From 18,549 to 25,000 pesos. Is that too high a figure for such a consequential job as teaching the hope of the motherland? The 1991 Congressional Commission on Education pegged the minimum monthly salary that teachers should be receiving at even a higher figure—28,000 pesos.

The Edcome report is said to be the benchmark study of the Philippine education system, detailing its ills as well as recommending solutions, including the urgent upgrade of teachers’ salaries if the government intends to keep good educators in the public schools, to give poor students a chance to compete with their peers in private institutions.

The report came out in 1991 yet. Nearly 25 years later, the minimum compensation for an ordinary public school teacher—not even the most ideal, take note, but only the most basic—remains a pipe dream.

The Presidential Palace's response to the teachers’ petition for a pay increase is quite hard to take. “There was no fund identified as source of the salary hike they are waiting for,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.

The same administration that coughed up billions of pesos under a curious mechanism called the Disbursement Acceleration Program now pleads penury when it comes to sparing a few million pesos for the welfare of some 550,000 hard-up public school teachers across the country.

President Aquino himself has boasted that there is no longer any classroom shortage, that the 66,800 classroom backlog that piled up during the Arroyo administration has been wiped out. Well and good.

But what good are those classrooms without competent teachers to run them? And how does the government expect to have competent teachers given the criminally underpaid status they have long been enduring? The Palace further says any pay increase for teachers is up to Congress. That is not just passing the buck, that is the true abandonment of our children.



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