The progressive teachers’ movement under the banner of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers commemorated its thirty years of struggle by drawing lessons from the past, as well as celebrating its victories, as it vowed to continue its struggle for the rights and welfare of teachers and the interests and rights of the Filipino people.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – One of the first acts of the US colonial government in the Philippines was to institute a public schools system, send American teachers called the Thomasites in the country, and establish the Philippine Normal School to train local teachers. Progressive historians believe that these were done by the US colonial government to complete the subjugation of the Filipino people by propagating the American way of life and thinking. Education or the miseducation of the Filipino people was blamed for the success of US colonialism. On the other hand, the spread of progressive thinking and education was also the spark that ignited movements for national liberation in the country.
Likewise, history has not been lacking in Filipino revolutionaries who were teachers before they fought colonialism.
If education is important in either subjugating or liberating the nation, why have teachers been neglected for so long? If teaching is being considered as a noble profession, and teachers command the respect of the people, here and in other countries, why are they being oppressed and exploited?
These are the very same issues being addressed by a progressive teachers’ movement such as the Alliance of Concerned Teachers for three decades already: the rights and welfare of teachers, as well as the propagation of progressive and liberative education inside and outside the classroom.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers or ACT celebrated its 30th anniversary last Sept. 29. ACT is the only progressive, militant, nationalist and broadest alliance of teachers that is fighting for the rights and welfare of teachers and the liberation of the Filipino people as well. At least 400 delegates from 15 regions came to celebrate ACT’s three decades of relentless struggle for the rights and welfare of teachers and the interests and rights of the Filipino people.
Teachers marched from Morayta to Chino Roces Bridge (former Mendiola Bridge) to commemorate World Teachers’ Day on Oct. 5. (Photo by Anne Marxze D. Umil / Bulatlat.com)
“I am proud that after 30 years the organization that we have started is still here, getting stronger and broader and continuing with the correct line of our struggle,” said Fabian Hallig, secretary general of ACT Central Luzon.
Hallig is a founding member of ACT, when he was an employee of the Gregorio Araneta University Foundation (GAUF). He helped organize the teachers’ group on June 6, 1982. Hallig, together with other teachers, student teachers, volunteer teachers, non-teaching employees and organizers of ACT across the country came to Quezon City not just to celebrate but to strengthen their unity in the struggle for the welfare of teachers and the betterment of the lives of the Filipino people.
Teachers were part of the long history of struggle of the Filipino people; they educated not only students but also themselves and, time and again, organized themselves and launched collective actions.
Since the late 1960s, teachers have been battered by the same problems that are plaguing the teachers of today – low wages, delayed salaries, attacks on their security of tenure, among others.
“Even before martial law, teachers were already part of the struggle. The teachers bravely fought for salary increases and against the delays in their salaries and fought for their security of tenure,” said Benjamin Valbuena, the newly elected national chairman of ACT.
During martial law, he said, teachers were inspired by the strikes of workers of La Tondeña Distillery, Litton Mills and Rametex in 1975.
In 1978, the first strike of teachers and employees were held in GAUF. Hallig led the 500 faculty members, 200 employees and 8,000 students who marched all over campus. “We went on leave for two weeks until the president was ousted,” Hallig said in an interview with Bulatlat.com. As a result of their mass action, GAUF teachers and employees won a salary increase and benefits, which they demanded for.
In 1981, public school teachers in Metro Manila took to the streets to press for the implementation of several laws mandating increases in their salaries and benefits, which the Marcos government failed to implement. Their demands were granted after the public school teachers defied threats of administrative sanctions for supposedly violating civil service laws.
Teachers pressed their demands in Mendiola on World Teachers’ Day. (Photo by Anne Marxze D. Umil / Bulatlat.com)
The teachers’ mass actions in Manila spread to other parts of the country. “In the following years, mass actions by the teachers of Manila began to be coordinated with similar moves in the provinces.”
In 1982, teachers of Jose Rizal College (JRC) also staged a strike against the suppression of union organizing and non-implementation of lawful benefits for teachers and employees. The strike lasted from February up to June 1982.
These concerted actions by teachers resulted in the formation of ACT in 1982.
“We formed ACT together with other teachers from UP, JRC, St. Joseph’s College,” said Hallig. On June 26, 1982, ACT held their launching convention at the Philippine Normal University and elected its officers.
“Since then, a series of mass actions led by ACT was conducted,” Valbuena said. The teachers also joined the anti-Marcos dictatorship movement and led the 3,000-strong teachers’ march in November 1983. Thousanda of teachers were joining mass actions not only to push the government to act on their demands but on other national issues as well.
ACT has been the broadest organization of teachers in the Philippines.