BAGUIO CITY — Members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers from Metro Manila and other Luzon regions staged a unity walk in the city on January 24, International Education Day, to protest the “measly increase” under the new Salary Standardization Law (SSL).

“SSL 5 hindi sapat, Salary Grade 15 dapat! Education budget, dagdagan, dagdagan, huwag bawasan!” chanted the group while marching from Teachers Camp to the People’s Park.

The group is demanding an upgrade from SG 11 to SG 15 for new teachers. Under the current tranche, entry-level educators receive SG 11 or about P21,000. An upgrade to SG 15 means teachers will have a monthly pay of P32,053 up to P36,619.

Earlier, ACT National Secretary Raymond Basilio criticized the Duterte administration for the P1,562 monthly increase under SSL 5. He said even with the recent increase, the salaries of teachers “fall behind those of professionals’ in other fields.” Teachers will receive an increase in tranches until 2023.

“If anything, the pay hike enacted by Duterte further depressed teachers’ status… The incessantly rising costs of living amplify this injustice, forcing teachers deeper into debt and substandard living. We deserve better; our profession deserves to be dignified. Hence our call to upgrade teachers’ salaries to SG 15,” he asserted.

In a statement, ACT said that instead of recognizing the contributions of teachers to nation-building, the Duterte government gave them a measly P52 per day increase. Besides the menial salary upgrade, they also experience profiling by the police and military and other forms of harassment. The government also curtails their right to organize and form unions.

ACT members are in the Summer Capital for their Luzon-wide Human Rights Training at Teacher’s Camp that will run until January 26.

“A struggle for quality education”

ACT Cordillera Coordinator Jeannette Ribaya-Cawiding said that their demand for a higher salary and education budget is “a struggle to give quality education to Filipino children.” She also stressed that the amount given under SSL 5 is paltry compared to the salary increased President Rodrigo Duterte gave the police and military.

“If we want quality education for our children, the government should treat teachers with dignity and importance. They should have dissent compensation, regular and appropriate training, and unloaded from unnecessary work,” she said.

She pointed out that in the past years, the government implemented reforms in the education system but “failed to address long-standing issues.” According to her, among the problems that remain unresolved is the meager pay that teachers receive despite being “overworked.”

Ribaya-Cawiding also lamented that until now, “teachers are forced to multi-task and improvised because of the shortage of personnel and education materials.”

“We can no longer concentrate on our primary mandate, which is to teach,” she said.

The ACT leader cited the case of guidance counselors in schools. According to her, ACT has long called for the hiring of more guidance counselors. However, she said that the Department of Education (DepEd) is far from fulfilling the required number. Under DepEd regulations, the requirement for public and private primary and secondary schools is one guidance counselor for every 500 students.

Unmindful of reality

Ribaya-Cawiding also lambasted the president for “being unmindful to daily realities experienced by teachers.”

She was reacting to the statements made by Duterte in Digos City last December to defend the doubling of salaries for the police and military. The president, in his speech, underscored that soldiers and cops have dangerous jobs. He also noted that they respond to calamities and disasters.

To this, she said that teachers are also frontline responders in areas affected by armed conflict and disasters. According to her, teachers also respond to disaster situations. During calamities, they prepare their schools for evacuees and fix it after to become appropriate for classes.

“As teachers, we respond to the needs of our students in whatever situation. We travel far from our homes, climb mountains, and cross rivers to reach our students in far-flung communities. We provide them with psychosocial support from the traumas of war and disasters while facing our mental health issues during such situations,” she said.

In 2017, ACT revealed that rationalization in the public education sector abolished about 6,000 non-teaching positions. The implementation resulted in the lack of support staff forcing many teachers to function as clerks, nurses, and even as maintenance staff. During the period, DepEd was operating with a non-teaching staff to teacher ratio of 1:18 and a 1:658 non-teaching staff to student ratio.

Bill for substantial increase

Assistant Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Representative France Castro already filed House Bill 5990, upgrading the minimum salaries of public school teachers to Salary Grade 15. If enacted, salaries of teaching personnel in higher education will become Grade 16. Meanwhile, non-teaching staff will receive a minimum pay of P16,000.

The solon also filed House Bill 5991, increasing the Personnel Economic Relief Allowance (APERA) granted to government employees to P5,000 from P2,000.

She stressed that the government could not claim that funds for the increase are not available. According to her, the matter is about “budget prioritization.”

“Salaries of teachers have been left behind compared to those professions with similar qualifications and workload since the Duterte administration doubled the salaries of its military and uniformed personnel,” Castro said.

For the ACT solon, the administration “simply does not prioritize substantially increasing the salaries of its public school teachers and other civilian employees.” She also criticized the 2020 National Budget for being “a budget for war against its people, prioritizing the military over social services.” # nordis.net

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