“Teachers are drowning in debt.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Public school teachers under the Alliance of Concerned Teachers-Philippines (ACT) held their third sit-down strike to call for an immediate salary increase and higher allowances. On Nov. 29, more than 300 schools in 12 cities of Metro Manila participated in the sit-down strike amid threats of administrative cases.
Several schools in the provinces also participated in the sit-down strike such as in Tarlac City, Butuan City and the Bicol region. Solidarity actions such as wearing black shirt/armband, tarpaulin hanging, candle lighting and other forms of protest were also held in schools at Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Davao region, Cagayan de Oro, and Socksargen.
In a sit-down strike, public school teachers did not leave the classroom and setup a picket line outside their schools. They stopped teaching regular lessons and instead, educated students about the public school teachers’ condition and why they are demanding for salary increase. They also carried with them signs calling for salary increase while sitting down in classrooms.
ACT assert that teachers are simply exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and to air their grievances to the government.
Previous sit-down strikes were held under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III. A salary increase was enacted through an Executive Order signed by Aquino which was given in four tranches. The fourth tranche of the 20 percent salary increase of the government employees will end in 2019.
In the afternoon, teachers in Quezon City and Manila held a program as culmination of the day’s strike. In Manila, public school teachers marched to Chino Roces bridge (former Mendiola) while Quezon City teachers trooped to Quezon City Hall to also barrage the local government to release their delayed local allowance.
Why public school teachers need salary increase?
Salary increase has been the call of public school teachers and the rest of government employees but the government still not act on it.
For elementary teacher Mary Grace Carreon, 32, a substantial salary increase will not only benefit her family but also the students who mostly belong to the poor sector. She said they also spend a part of their income for whatever is lacking, not only for their teaching needs, but also their students’ such as snacks, pencil or paper. “We cannot just neglect them,” she told Bulatlat.
Dang Canlas, 52, high school teacher said the increase they received during the Aquino administration is not enough to cover all their expenses. She said the first package of Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law (TRAIN Law), which exempted them from paying income taxes, is of no value because it only resulted to higher prices of basic commodities.
“Talong talo talaga kami,” said Canlas. She also assailed Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno for not prioritizing the salaries of teachers despite President Duterte’s pronouncement to increase their salaries following the salary hike of the police and the military.
Sally Rollon, 54, Grade 2 meanwhile holds on Duterte’s campaign promise to public school teachers of increasing their salaries. But there is still no increase two years after he was elected.
She said it was upsetting that Duterte has not made true of his promise. “We thought change is really coming, especially us teachers. But we are even in more difficult situation now,” she lamented.
Like Canlas, she also feels the pain of higher prices of food and transportation fares. “Maybe it was better if there was no additional taxes (brought about by TRAIN Law), the prices of goods were steady and there was an increase in salary. Instead of this, everything was going up and our salaries did not.”
According to Ibon Foundation the salary increase received by government employees under Aquino has severely eroded by the average inflation rate of 5.12 percent from January to October 2018. This means that the real value Teacher I’s 2018 salary of P20,179 ($385) is only P18,068 (P345), which is P481 ($9) less than their 2015 salary (P18,068 or $345). The ACT added that salaries of non-teaching staff is much lower.
Joselyn Martinez, ACT national chairperson said that teachers are earning less and spending more. This is why thousands of teachers are “drowning in debt.”
“It made worse by the profit-hungry scheme of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) of charging more interests and penalties to its members who have fallen victim to their failed systems and the deep-seated corruption in their agency as well as in our own home-agency, the Department of Education (DepEd),” said Martinez.
Ruby Bernardo, high school teacher, a member of ACT encouraged fellow teachers to stand for their rights. She said the National Budget 2019 reveals that there will be no salary increase allotted for public school teachers.