By JUAN ANGELO A. HONGO
MANILA — The working class regards the 15th and 30th day of the month as their best days. But for Marissa Martinez, it means having to look for ways to tighten her belt even more to prepare for more difficult days ahead.
“Life is very difficult nowadays. You have to be very frugal. While for others, receiving their salaries mean they could buy the things they want. For me, every time I receive my salary, I have to think of ways to stretch our budget to cover our needs,” Martinez said.
As a teacher for 16 years at the Macario B. Asistio Senior High School in Malabon, Martinez strives to budget the family’s income to provide for the needs of her husband, three children, and her mother who suffers from diabetes.
The struggle for higher salaries has long been the Filipino public-school teachers’ painstaking battle. With Joint Resolution No. 36 or Salary Standardization Law Part 3 (SSL3), the battle is not about to end yet.
Article 3 Section 15A of Republic Act 4670, also known as the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers, states that a public-school teacher’s salary should “compare favorably with those paid in other occupations requiring equivalent or similar qualifications, training and abilities.”.
In 1995 the teachers’ salaries were increased, but at present their average salary is still inadequate.
According to Benjamin Valbuena, vice chairman of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), the current salary of public-school teachers is not enough to cope with the cost of living.
“What we (teachers) call for is an upgrading of our status from Grade 10 to Grade 18 because Grade 18 is where the poverty threshold is. We need this to have a decent and better life given today’s standard of living,” Valbuena said in Filipino.
A Teacher’s Struggle
For Martinez, this upgrade would come a long way. As it is, she tries to budget her income, saving the biggest part of it for food. The rest, like things for the house, medication for her mother, and electrical and water bills would only be accommodated if there is money left.
Where to find the money to pay for the monthly rent is a dilemma for her. They live in an apartment which costs P5,500 ($116) per month. At one point they went without electricity for three months.
“The electric utility company Meralco disconnected our electricity service for three months because we failed to pay the bill. At that time, my mother was confined in a hospital. I figured, my mother’s health is more important,” Martinez recounted.
To cope with today’s cost of living, Martinez attempted various ways of earning money aside from what she’s getting from teaching. She applied as a dealer of soaps and beauty products, but she admitted that her “sideline” didn’t earn her enough.
“Despite my other job, I still don’t earn enough. Sometimes, my customers fail to pay the products they bought on time so I have to advance the payment to be able to remit money to the office,” Martinez added.
Salary Grade Distortion
An ACT position paper showed how the proposed SSL3 can worsen the salary grade distortion.
“SSL3 will maintain and further worsen the salary grade distortion. Why should teachers be only a salary grade higher from Grade 10, and thus receive only what an AFP sergeant receives? This distortion contradicts the meaning of equity, justice and democracy,” the ACT paper read.
ACT further criticized SSL3 for its provision increasing the power or authority of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Office of the President to decide the “standardization” of teachers’ salaries, benefits and classification of positions.
“Seemingly, the DBM is being given a blanket authority to set policies and regulations regarding allowances. They could reduce our allowances while supposedly increasing our salary,” Valbuena explained.
They see the provision as the result of a conspiracy between the DBM and the Office of the President.
“We believe that the order came from Malacanang. Our demand is for an effective increase of P9,000 ($190) per month, they said the government could only afford P6,000 ($126), “ said Valbuena.