By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Nearly 500 members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) from different public schools in Manila, Quezon City, Caloocan, Pasig, Malabon, Rizal, Central Luzon, and other Divisions marched to the gates of Congress to lobby for the passage of House Bill 2142: Ant Act Upgrading the Minimum Salary Grade of Public School Teachers from Salary Grade 11 to 15.
Notwithstanding the scorching heat of the sun, the teachers marched from Commonwealth to the gates of Congress on Wednesday, Sept. 12, carrying banners calling for the immediate salary increase for teachers and non-teaching personnel.
ACT Teachers Party-List Representative Antonio Tinio also marched alongside with the teachers.
The teachers demanded for the immediate approval of House Bill 2142. There are already more than 181 Congressional Representatives that had already co-authored HB 2142, at least 140 votes are needed for HB 2142 to be approved. “We have to convince the House leadership to approve HB 2142 before the 15th Congress takes a final recess; otherwise it will be back to square one,” said France Castro, secretary general of ACT.
The ACT has also held coordinated bell ringing to intensify its call for the passage of HB 2142. Last Sept. 3, the teachers opened national teachers’ month with a coordinated bell ringing and picket protest during the Department of Education’s (DepEd) budget hearing in Congress.
September 5 to Oct. 5 is National Teachers’ Month as per Proclamation 242 declared by President Benigno S. Aquino III in 2011. Contrary to DepEd’s fancy celebration of teachers’ month, the progressive teachers marched to the streets instead to voice out their issues.
“Who would say ‘no’ to an entire month of tributes, free spa, discounts, ‘thank you’ cards, or a grand celebration in one’s honor? But Madam Speaker, my dear colleagues, I invite you to approach any teacher, and ask him or her: How do you like to be thanked? The most meaningful way of commemorating National Teachers’ Month, the most sincere expression of gratitude for our children’s second parents, is by giving full effect to their rights—to a living salary, adequate remuneration, stability of employment and security of tenure, professional advancement, union rights, among others,” said Tinio during his privilege speech delivered in Congress last Sept. 4.
The teachers were welcomed at the gates of Congress by Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño, Anakpawis Party-List Representative Rafael Mariano, Kabataan Party-List Representative Raymond Palatino, and Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Emmi de Jesus.
Tripartite MOA signed
Meanwhile, last Tuesday, Sept. 11, a tripartite memorandum of agreement was signed by the DepEd, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). The tripartite MOA settles the issue of premium arrears (government share) from July 1997 to December 2010.
More than 800,000 permanent and non-permanent teaching and non-teaching employees of DepEd will receive their benefits in proportion to paid premiums according to their updated service records.
“For more than two decades, teachers bore the brunt of the unjust policies GSIS began by its former president and general manager Winston Garcia. For a long time, we have fought for the updating of records,” Tinio said. “This MOA is the laudable product of the long saga of mass actions and campaigns we have waged since the late 1990s against these policies.”
Under Garcia’s term, the GSIS has implemented the Claims and Loan Interdependency Program (Clip), which arbitrarily deducts from members’ benefits and any loan proceeds premium contributions in case of delays in remittances. These are automatically deducted from the teachers’ salaries.
“Our continuous united actions little by little paid off – records are being updated, the restoration of the survivorship pension, which was earlier scrapped by Winston Garcia through a board resolution, the application of the onerous Clip was removed from the retirement benefits of its members, then in the general appropriations act of 2012, P2.5 billion ($59 million) was allocated to settle unpaid GSIS dues of public school teachers,” ACT said in a statement.
ACT vice chairman Benjie Valbuena explained, “This provided for the settlement of P6.92 billion ($165 million) of premium-in-arrears representing the government share-to expedite the payment of this P3.46 billion ($82 million), or half of the total amount will be advanced. In return, the GSIS, through its board of trustees, will condone P14 billion ($335 million) of accrued interest, as well as grant a five percent discount on the principal.”
“Members will soon enjoy proportionate increase in their eligible benefits, higher loanable amounts and increased retirement benefits. The retired and inactive DepEd employees may also receive higher pensions since their benefits will be recalculated and the corresponding refund then adjustment to their pensions shall be done accordingly. This is another victory gained through our concerted action.”
Progressive teachers groups however still reiterate their remaining concerns such as the scrapping of the premium-based policy and the updating of service records. “Then we still see the need to punish Mr. Winston Garcia for all the anomalous management of GSIS funds and onerous policies which he implemented during his term as president and general manager.”
The group vows to continue its firmness, vigilance and dauntless efforts in helping solve the problems and concerns of its constituents. “Our struggle will succeed with our joint effort and unified action,” Valbuena said.