By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – France Castro has been a public school teacher for almost 25 years now. Having witnessed the ups and downs of public education in the country, the worst, she said, was during the former Arroyo administration, which the Alliance of Teachers (ACT) calls as “the lost decade of Philippine education.” With this, Castro said, nothing less than bold reforms could lift it from the depths it is now in.
One of the most pressing problems confronting Philippine education is the low salary of public school teachers. “When I was still studying, our teachers were complaining of their meager salary. Now that I am a teacher myself, it also became my sentiment,” Castro said.
Castor, who is also the secretary general of ACT, said they proposed a P9,000 ($193 at an exchange rate of $1 = P46.430) wage hike, which would be implemented in three years. But House Speaker Prospero Nograles pushed for Joint Resolution No. 24, amending Republic Act No. 6758 or the Salary Standardization Law of 1994, which the Lower House adopted on September 16, 2008. This was later called as Salary Standardization Law 3.
Under SSL3, teachers would only get an increase of P6,500 ($140) instead of the proposed P9,000 ($193). To add insult to injury, the reduced wage “hike” would be implemented in four years. “The nominal value might have increased. But not its real value,” Castro said.
“It is demoralizing to us teachers who are considered professionals,” Castro said, comparing the salary grades of public school teachers with cadets studying in the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio who earns roughly P21,709 ($468) a month.
Castro also said non-teaching school personnel who belong to Salary Grade 1 would earn a meager P7,575 ($163) under SSL3. “This is even lower than the minimum wage,” she said, while high-ranking government officials would be getting substantial increases.
Because of their meager salary, Castro said, public school teachers struggle to make both ends meet through loans offered by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). “It helps us with our urgent monetary needs.” But nine years of Arroyo presidency prove that even loan grants remain elusive to those in need.
“Under the (GSIS) administration of (Winston) Garcia, an ally of Arroyo, GSIS deprived us of benefits we are entitled to,” Kahugpungan sa mga Magtutudlo ug Kawani sa Edukasyon sa Mindanao – Alliance of Concerned Teachers (KAMKEM-ACT) chairperson Elenito Escalante said. The GSIS, he said, made huge deductions on the maturity of their GSIS insurance policy, imposed unexplained deductions, did not provide them with annual dividends, denied them of survivorship benefits, and punished them for its incompetence by charging retirees huge interest payments on loans that it failed to deduct.
Castro added that some retired teachers were not able to receive their retirement benefits from GSIS because the government failed to pay its counterpart monthly contribution. “But instead of going after the Department of Education, they deducted it from the teachers.” She cited a retired teacher in Tarlac who was supposed to receive a total of P99,000 ($2,132) from GSIS but received nothing.
When all else fails, teachers resort to contracting loans from private lending companies, which are accredited by the Department of Education. To ensure repayment, teachers surrender their ATM cards to these lending agencies so that it could collect when the teachers’ salaries are released.
Castro said most teachers nowadays have an average take home pay of P5,000 ($108) to P6,000 ($129) a month after all deductions and loans have been paid for. “And the cycle never ends,” she told Bulatlat.
To address the problem not only of low teachers’ salaries but that of Philippine education, which has rapidly deteriorated for the past nine years, as a whole, ACT is calling on President Benigno Aquino III to push for a supplemental budget for education.
“I do not believe that Filipino teachers are incompetent,” Castro said, adding that they are even “in demand” outside the country because of their competence. She said the reason for the deterioration in the quality of Philippine education is the unwillingness of the government to prioritize it.
“After nine years in office, the Arroyo government has utterly failed to eliminate the shortages of teachers, classrooms, textbooks, sanitation facilities, and other critical resources in our public schools,” Alliance of Concerned Teachers Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said.
While the Philippine constitution guarantees that education should get the highest budget allocation, it only received 11.96 percent of the government budget in 2007, the lowest since 1995. Instead of implementing an increase in the budget allocated for the Department of Education (DepEd) this year, it was further reduced by P1.62 billion ($34,891,234). “This is the last thing our ailing public education system needs,” Tinio said. He added that DepEd needs an additional P 91.54 billion ($1,971,570,105) over and above its current budget to address all of these resource gaps.
As a result of the cuts in the education budget, ACT estimated that there would be a shortage of 54,060 teachers, 4,538 principals, and 6,473 head teachers; 61,343 classrooms, 816,291 seats, and 113,051 water and sanitation facilities for school year 2010-2011. http://www.actphils.com/2007/node/185
While the salary of public school teachers seemingly increased, Tinio said, it was an offset by budget cuts for Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses and Capital Outlay, which includes the budget for constructing classrooms, purchasing learning materials, furniture and fixtures, and school equipment. In a statement, Tinio said , the Arroyo government reduced this school year’s capital outlay funds for education by P3.78 million ($81,412). “That is equivalent to 6,311 additional classrooms that could have been built.”
Malacañang also reduced P 729 million ($15,701,055) from the daily operations fund of schools.
First 100 days
During Aquino’s first 100 days, Castro said, teachers would be watching who would replace Garcia at the GSIS. She said there is a need to immediately refund the unjust and unnecessary deductions made by GSIS on the benefits of retired teachers. ACT would also continue to urge Aquino for the full implementation of SSL3 by this year.
Castro added that teachers would also monitor Aquino’s actions on extra-judicial killings, especially on the cases of ACT leaders Napoleon Pornasdoro and Vitoria Samonte, college professor and human rights activist Jose Maria Cui, and the young teacher Rebelyn Pitao. She said giving justice to teacher victims of extrajudicial killings is important so that teachers who are fighting for their legitimate demands would no longer be victimized.
With the deplorable legacy of the former Arroyo administration to Philippine education, teachers are challenging President Aquino to reverse the former president’s anti-education policies.
ACT is calling on President Aquino to increase the salary of teachers in both public and private schools. This includes the full implementation of the Salary Standardization Law 3 by this year. Teachers also said that the Aquino government should not merely replace Garcia as the general manager of GSIS but should reverse the unfair and unjust policies during his term.
There is also a need for a substantial increase in the budget for education to address the shortages and funding for state universities and colleges. Lastly, they are urging that justice. be served for teachers who were victimized by extra-judicial killings.
“These bold steps need to be taken by the incoming President if we are to make any headway in resolving the crisis in education,” Tinio said. (Bulatlat.com)