A teachers’ group on Friday asked the government to provide free medical assistance to public school teachers so that they would not sink deeper into debt.
One of the principal factors why teachers borrow money, according to the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC), is that the government does not have medical assistance for them despite the mandate of a law.
“Under the law, the government is responsible to maintain teachers’ health thru a compulsory, annual and free medical examination. And if the examination found that a teacher needs to undergo medication or hospitalization, again it should be at the expense of the government,” Benjo Basas, the group’s national chairman, said quoting Section 22 of the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers (Republic Act 4670), a law enacted in 1966.
The group argued that teachers, aside from daily expenses for their family and teaching aids, are also burdened by expenses for their medical needs and one of them is the annual medical check-up, which should be given free for all teachers. Despite the explicit provision of the law, teachers themselves pay for these tests.
“One of the reasons why teachers borrow money is the emergency medical need for themselves and their family members. They run to loan agencies especially if they have no extra income or savings from their meager salaries. Then, it would be difficult for them to free themselves from the chain of debt,” Basas said.
He added that there are some conditions that would really make things worse if the teacher needs to be confined in a hospital for weeks or if he or she has to undergo chemotherapy, dialysis or major operations for heart or lung conditions or complications because of pregnancy, which according to him the teachers can never afford for lack of money.
Basas cited the case of Jennifer Nague de Jesus, a teacher of San Vicente Elementary School in San Pedro City, Laguna, since 2007. She was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2012 and was forced to leave her job for two years to undergo regular hemodialysis from 2013. During the period that she cannot report for work, she had no income and received no assistance from the government, except for quarterly pledge of P3, 000 from her mayor. She is back to teaching but still needs to undergo dialysis sessions two times a week that cost her not less than P4, 000, because she has consumed her free sessions from PhilHealth.
“Where could Teacher Jennifer possibly get that amount if she will not run to loan agencies for fast cash? But at the end of the day, where will she get the money to pay for these loans? Clearly, she borrowed money, literally to live,” Basas said.
Indeed, Jennifer suffered compounded interests of loans from a private bank. In the case of the Government Service Insurance System, she has no record of payment, both for premiums and loans for almost four years, another predicament she will confront in the near future.
Basas actually said Jennifer may have been more fortunate than others. For instance, he cited the case of a teacher in Caloocan City who died in a private hospital early last year, but because the family lacks money to settle the bills, her body was seemingly made hostage for several weeks. Another teacher from Malabon City gave birth to her first baby in a lying-in clinic and had continuous bleeding, then was rushed to a private hospital where she was in coma for more than a week. The family, whose income depends mainly on her, solicited funds from politicians and guarantee letters from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office to pay for the bills. The poor teacher did not make it, she died few days before Christmas of 2016.
These incidents prompted the TDC to ask the DepEd to establish a support mechanism through a mutual aid and benefit system that would be readily available to all teachers in need, on top of the immediate implementation of Sections 22 of the Magna Carta.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones has said that her agency will consider increasing the school funds to cover free annual medical check-up for all teachers.
“We appreciate these pronouncements from our Secretary and we would wait for them to be translated into policies,” Basas said.