“It would be good if she [Education Secretary Eleanor Briones] would go to the ground and see our condition herself.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – For almost two years, Malabon City public school teacher “Jen” (name withheld upon request) has not received a single centavo in her salary. She does not even have the automated teller machine (ATM) card through which government pays her. Her ATM card and salaries are being held by a private lending institution because of her loan amounting to P150, 000 ($2,900), payable in two years.
Asked why she acquired such big loan, Jen said she had no choice. Her loans to different lending institutions had piled up. In her desire to be free from indebtedness, she borrowed a big amount to the said lending institution to consolidate all her smaller loans. In return, she gave up her salary for two years.
While she knew that this would be difficult, she and her family scrimped and made do with a single salary, that of her husband who is a private school teacher. As expected, she acquired new but smaller loans.
Her big loan will be fully paid by December this year. Her total payment, including interest, would be a whooping P260,000 ($5,000).
But how did she fall so deep in debt? What did she spend on beyond her means?
“For my kids’ tuition, to pay the rent and to buy learning materials,” she said in an interview with Bulatlat.
Salary not enough for myriad expenses
Education Secretary Eleanor Briones said public school teachers have the “propensity to borrow” even when already deep in loans. Citing initial findings of a study on teachers’ spending, she said many borrow money to travel abroad.
Contrary to Briones’ claims, 38-year-old Jen has been spending her salary for the needs of her family and her teaching. In fact, Jen has been a teacher for the past 15 years, but still cannot afford a house of her own, let alone travel abroad.
A Grade 9 teacher, Jen has a simple lifestyle, as can be gleaned from her appearance. She uses an old model cellphone; she wears an inexpensive watch; she does not wear or buy branded shoes and clothes.
“Hindi nga rebonded buhok ko, e. Wala na ngang ganda ‘to,” she quipped. (My hair is not even rebonded. It has lost its luster.)
Her three children are all studying in a private school, and their tuition already eats a big chunk of the household income. Then there is the cost of their transportation. Good thing her school is also in Malabon City where she lives.
What burn a hole in her pocket are the expenses for teaching materials since these are not provided by the Department of Education. The chalk allowance which is P2, 500 per year ($49) is insufficient even if it is augmented by the local allowance coming from the local government worth P1, 500 ($29) quarterly.
It is now the 21st century, Jen said, and teachers need to innovate. Visual aids made from using Manila paper and a marker does not get the students’ attention, so Jen had to print visual aids in full color. Her school only has three projectors, which is rarely available. When she gets lucky, she gets to use the projector, but most of the time, she relies on her printed visuals.
“Mas visuals na kasi ang mga estudyante ngayon. Tumatatak sa kanila pag makulay yung mga graphics…kailangan ‘yon para mapukaw ang atensyon nila. Yung kinagawian na parang kurtina yung manila paper, pag naglagay ka ng ganun, hindi sila makikinig,” she said.
(Students nowadays mostly learn from visuals and colorful graphics, which capture their attention. If you use Manila paper and hang them like a curtain, which was the method before, they won’t listen to the lesson.)
She also has to print and photocopy test papers. Since there is a policy prohibiting collections from students, she shoulders the expenses for these reproductions.
Public school teachers also have to shoulder expenses to maintain the classroom. Jen cited Bisita Eskwela (school visit) by DepEd officials who evaluate schools. During Bisita Eskwela, classrooms should be clean and should meet DepEd standards. Class advisers are given a checklist of requirements that a classroom should have in case an evaluator visits the room. A classroom should have a first aid kit, trash bins, reading corner and cleaning materials like brooms and dustpans.
While she can request students to bring some of the needed materials, Jen said only a few students could afford to donate.
“If any one of them brings one, then that’s good, I would not have to buy it,” she said. All these expenses come out of her pocket.
“It’s really costly,” she said in Filipino. The first aid kit alone costs P140 ($3), plus the cost of its contents like alcohol, cotton, and bandage among others. To save, she said, she asks for some supplies from her husband who is also a teacher in a private school.
“These are provided by his school, that’s why,” she added.
However, for the past years, all her preparations and added expenses were for naught, since the evaluators visited only offices and not the classrooms. Jen said teachers still prepare, just in case. “Of course, I don’t want to be caught unprepared, because it will reflect on me,” she said.
Substantial wage increase
In late October, public school teachers were shocked to receive only a small fraction of their expected salaries. Department Order No. 38 signed by Briones allowed automatic pay slip deductions of teachers’ loans to private lending companies. This violates the provision in the General Appropriations Act of 2017, which authorizes loan deductions but guarantees that the monthly take home pay should not fall below P4,000 ($77).
Jen was glad to see upon receiving her pay slip that no deductions from PLIs were made in her salary. But unlike other teachers, Jen has not been receiving her salary for almost two years since it has been in the possession of the lending company. In her agreement with the PLI, after the income tax and insurance deductions, what remains of her salary will all be paid for her loan.
She said it was insulting that Briones, as Education Secretary, is pinning them down, telling the whole nation that public school teachers do not know how to manage their income. She said the root of what seems to be an endless cycle of loans is because their salary is not enough as they also shell out for their teaching needs. They also need to pay for household utilities, aside from other family needs like food, and occasionally, medicines.
An ordinary teacher receives a salary of P19,000 ($390) per month, while the standard cost of living, according to Ibon Foundation, is about P30,000 ($590) per month for an average family of six. A single salary-household would have to fill a gap worth P10,000 ($200) between their household income and the cost of decent living. If they do not have other sources of income, they have no choice but to take out a loan.
“Kapit sa patalim na kami,” she said.
Reacting to Secretary Briones who said the solution to teachers’ woes is to teach them “financial literacy,” Jen said the Education chief does not get it.
“Financial literacy will not be that significant because what we need is a substantial wage increase that will somehow address the shortages (in monthly budget),” she said.
She added that some teachers come from well-off families and are not financially constrained. But most are poor, like her.
Although her condition is difficult, she said, she has to be strong and continue fighting for teachers’ welfare. She is in solidarity with the call of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) for a significant wage increase.
She admits she sometimes wonders about being just a plain housewife. She would tease her husband to work abroad to earn a bigger salary, while she stays at home to manage the expenses. But then that would be abandoning their duty to the younger Filipino generation. She knows that her debts would be paid off soon.
As for Briones tirades against public school teachers, she said, the Secretary should immerse with public school teachers so that she would know their condition.