Education Secretary Armin Luistro has gotten our hopes up. On July 14, he told an audience of teachers including members of ACT Teachers Party-list Representative Tonchi Tinio that the salary increase was finally going to happen for our public school teachers.
According to Bro. Armin, the salary standardization of all government employees was now being discussed by the Cabinet. “Kapag naisama na ‘yan sa Cabinet meeting, siguro naman seryoso na ang ating gobyerno” (Manila Bulletin Online, 15 July). He also said that teachers would be given the highest wage increase.
Hope? Or paasa?
One can’t help but fear that this is all paasa. It’s not to question Bro. Armin as it is to remember all those instances when this government has talked about teachers and the demand for a wage hike.
In September 2014 for example, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad talked about how there would be no pay increase for government workers in 2015. Instead, he said, the President thought of giving government employees a Performance Enhancement Incentive (PEI) of “as much as one-month pay and a minimum of P5,000 depending on how you perform as a public servant.”
Asked why government could not give its workers a salary increase this year, “Abad said that the typhoons had prevented them from completing a survey that was needed as basis for considering another salary increase. And that was why in lieu of a salary increase, they would provide for a PEI instead. ‘Since we don’t have a basis, what the President thought of is providing a one-month performance enhancement incentive’” (Inquirer.net, 30 Sept 2014).
Gano’n lang? Bumagyo, therefore, incomplete ang survey, therefore, no salary increase?
It surprisespeople that four years into this government it’s still stunted by storms, like it’s an unexpected occurrence. What is even more surprising is how instead of trusting that government employees – including our teachers – deserve a salary increase, they make what they imagine to be the better decision, which is to not give them the salary increase.
Spinning teachers’ protests
When teachers, led by ACT Teacher Partylist, declared that they would stage a nationwide mass leave in November of last year, government spokespersons wasted no time spinning it by saying that they agreed with the teachers’ right to better lives, but there was just no money for it.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma: “We want to improve their quality of life as this is essential to the quality of their teaching, but we will need to take into account the budgetary implications of proposals for additional benefits” (GMANetwork.com, 6 Oct 2014).
Spokesperson Abigail Valte, meanwhile, used a different tact, appealing to teachers’ compassion for their students, like they have not proved it to exist by the mere fact that they remain as teachers, no matter the low pay. Valte: “If they decide to push through with their mass leave, I guess we can talk things over regarding the well-being of the students who rely on the teachers for their education” (Inquirer.net, 15 Nov 2014).
And then on AM radio: “Kung magdedesisyon na itutuloy pa rin nila ang mass leave, siguro ang pakiusap natin ay isipin din ang kapakanan ng ating mga estudyante na umaasa sa ating mga guro para sa kanilang edukasyon”(GMANetwork.com, 16 Nov 2014).
And then: “We continue to further our engagements with our teachers who may have grievances” (Inquirer.net, 15 Nov 2014).
Who may have grievances? I don’t know about Ms. Valte, but the demand for “decent and humane pay” is not merely a grievance. It is a right of teachers, the ones who already operate on compassion and kindness for students, even as they struggle to live off the little that they are being paid.
Abusing our teachers
It is difficult to wrap one’s head around the fact that this President and his government have refused to support our teachers’ demand for decent and humane pay, especially at a time when the excuse of budgetary constraints has been revealed as nothing but an excuse.
Cong. Tinio: “The ‘financial constraints’ it keeps alleging has long been discredited by the billions of pork it makes available for political patronage. Meanwhile, it has delayed for nearly three years the review of SSL 3, which it says is a condition for pay increases”(Bulatlat.com, 25 Feb 2015).
The SSL 3 is the Salary Standardization Law 3 “which was fully implemented in 2012, to earmark a certain portion of the national budget for automatic annual salary increases” (Bulatlat.com, 25 Feb 2015).
Not only has this President refused to review the SSL 3, and in effect refused to give our teachers just wages, he has also burdened these same teachers with the K-12 program, which this government pushed regardless of how it would affect our public school teachers. And no, this is not just about having to teach courses that are unfamiliar, or having to teach more classes. It’s most importantly about teachers losing their jobs on the two years that there will be no freshmen in college because students will be at junior and senior high school.
In April, the President spoke about this in front of students and teachers at the Tarlac National High School: “Dahil may dagdag na dalawang taon sa basic education, mawawalan rin ng papasok na estudyante para sa kolehiyo ng dalawang taon. Pinag-aaralan na po natin ang mga hakbang upang suportahan ang mgaguro at empleyado ng maaaring maapektuhan nito” (GMANetwork.com, 17 Apr).
“Ngayong may K to 12 na, alam naman po nating kakailanganin ng maraming bagong guro para sa bagong antas ng Senior High School. Maaari pong gawing opsiyon ng ating mga guro sa kolehiyo ang pagtuturo dito” (GMANetwork.com, 17 Apr).
The President speaks like it’s the easiest thing, doesn’t he? To just shift from one kind of teaching to another, one curriculum to another, one syllabus to another. It tells me how little he knows about teaching as a profession, which would explain why he has refused to give teachers just and humane wages. It would explain why government spin always pits teachers’ struggles against students’ right to education. But that is interwoven so intricately, it doesn’t make sense to discuss one without the other.
Cong. Tinio: “What causes the greatest damage to our children’s education are the depressed and stagnated salaries of education workers and their overworked yet underpaid conditions” (Bulatlat.com, 25 Feb 2015). Now if government doesn’t know that, if they don’t believe that, then I’m not holding my breath for #Salary Increase Sa SONA.
Even more reason to fight for it, of course.