Why teachers protest on World Teachers’ Day

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Today, Oct. 5, educators across the globe will observe World Teachers’ Day. In some advanced countries (as in Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark) they will likely celebrate, but in many other nations the observance may not be upbeat.

In the Philippines the mood isn’t celebratory at all. Today, thousands of teachers, along with other public sector employees, will march in protest to Mendiola in front of Malacañang. Other simultaneous activities by various groups, led by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers Philippines (ACT), will take place in the Cordilleras, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, and Butuan.

At Mendiola, the protesting teachers will showcase their biggest human-body formation of “30K” (which, over the past days of Teachers’ Month, they have been doing in their schools). The “30K” calls attention to their demand for P30,000 as entry-level salary for public school teachers. (They are asking it for nurses as well.)

“Makabuluhang dagdag na sweldo, hindi barat na umento!” is the call raised by the group All-Government Employees Unity: We want a substantial increase, not a few stingy pesos! Besides the P30,000 entry-level pay, they demand P16,000 as national minimum wage and P31,000 as basic pay for college professors.

At the same time, the protesters are calling on the people to support their fight for democratic rights threatened by the Duterte government’s repressive policies and programs.

Teachers have been organizing in public schools, spearheaded by ACT since the 1980s. Its regional unions now hold the status as sole and exclusive negotiating agent (SENA) in the National Capital Region, Bacolod City/Negros, Cebu/Central Visayas, and Davao/Southern Mindanao. Its other regional unions are registered with the Civil Service Commission.

The teachers bristle over the fact that the Duterte government allotted P134 billion in 2018 to double the salaries of all state uniformed personnel (mainly the military and the police) who numbered only 300,000. Their monthly entry-level pay was raised from P14,834 to P29,668; the AFP and PNP chiefs’ pay, from P67,500 to P121,143 (implemented in two tranches: 2018 and 2019).

On the other hand, ACT laments that the government rejects their call for the allocation of P150 billion to raise the salaries of 800,000-plus public school teachers by P10,000; it’s too costly, they are told. When President Duterte approved the doubling of the salaries of uniformed personnel last January, a teacher’s entry-level pay was P19,620; he did direct the Budget Department then to find money for the teachers, but didn’t say how much they needed to scrounge.

The Department of Education (DepEd) says that basic education teachers now number 827,730. Of this total, 93.3 percent belong to the low-salary positions of Teacher I,II, and III, whose monthly pay ranges from P20,754, P22,938, and P25,232, respectively. More than half of 93.3 percent are entry-level teachers.

The DepEd data shows that the overwhelming majority of the teachers receive monthly pay that is less than the P26,104 cost of living for a family of six (based on IBON Foundation’s computation) – and much less than the P42,000 that the NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) has set as the amount needed by a family to live decently.

Decrying Duterte’s “deafening silence” on the call for him to fulfill his promise to raise teachers’ pay – one reason why many voted for him --, ACT chairperson Joselyn Martinez pointed out that the 2020 national budget proposal includes only P31 billion to augment the pay of all 1.5 million state workers. “Divided per employee,” she computed, “this roughly amounts to a paltry P49 per-day increase.”

ACT calls our attention to two public documents that pertain to the level of salary that teachers ought to receive commensurate to their role and status in public service and society.

The first was drawn up in 1966, when the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) set the “foremost standard” for fixing teachers’ salaries: “The salary levels should be reflective of the fitting recognition of the enormous responsibility that teachers have to the society they serve.” The landmark standard, adopted by an intergovernmental conference on the status of teachers, became the basis for observing/celebrating World Teachers’ Day.

Also in 1966, the Philippine Congress passed the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers, which explicitly declares as State policy the promotion and improvement of the social and economic status of public school teachers. It sets these basic criteria for teacher salaries: 1) They should favorably compare with those paid in other occupations requiring equivalent or similar qualifications, training and ability, and 2) They must offer a reasonable standard of life for the teachers and their families.

Despite these defined norms, our public school teachers have taught the country’s youth while toiling under poor working conditions, and assuming expanded responsibilities and tasks; in short, they are overworked but underpaid.

Ideally, ACT points out, the teachers are committed to teach six hours a day and spend two hours more to check on student output and prepare for the next day’s lessons. The huge backlog in constructing classrooms and other school facilities have caused the size of classes to balloon from the optimal 35 students to 50-60 per class. This situation adds more working hours for teachers to do their routine tasks, plus accomplishing required forms and doing research to make up for the lack of teaching and learning materials.

But public school teachers must also assume other tasks: they act as clerks, property custodians, guidance counselors, nurses, librarians, or maintenance staff. There are tasks for the Department of Health: taking the students’ health data, facilitating the DoH deworming program, assisting in vaccination campaigns. For the Department of Social Welfare and Development, they handle feeding programs in their schools and monitor students belonging to family-beneficiaries of the 4Ps program. For all this work they receive no additional compensation.

Worse, the teachers affiliated with ACT have to contend with the government’s sustained campaign of red-tagging, profiling, harassment, threat, and intimidation.

The campaign, which began in January, is orchestrated by the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict, formed and headed by the President. Currently, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency and the DepEd Division office in Central Luzon have been intervening in ACT’s campaign for the SENA certification election in the region to favor a challenging group. The election is set on October 11-November 27.

ACT has documented 34 cases of illegal profiling by the PNP-AFP, and 18 incidents of death threat, harassment, and intimidation directed at its leaders. It has filed appropriate complaints before the Ombudsman, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Court of Appeals (CA). In February, the CA’s 11th Division dismissed its petition for prohibition and issuance of TRO against the state security forces. After the CA denied its motion for reconsideration in July, ACT raised the issue for review by the Supreme Court last August.

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Email: [email protected]

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