The purchase by the Department of Education (DepEd) of pricey cameras has triggered a backlash from teachers grown hoarse from demanding a pay upgrade and increase.
“If they have a budget for overpriced cameras and laptops, how come they don’t have a budget for our pay increase?” said Erlinda Alfonso, a teacher at the San Francisco Elementary School in Del Monte, Quezon City, and the president of the Quezon City Public School Teachers Association (QCPSTA).
DepEd once more came under the spotlight after Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of the progressive group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), tweeted a photojournalist’s Facebook post of a DLSR camera supposedly procured by the department at P155,929. Reyes pointed out that one could order a similar item from Lazada worth from P24,000 to P31,000.
By way of explanation, DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa said the cameras being used by its personnel were of a higher grade than the item in the FB post. Even so, he said, the department would look into the matter.
The Senate blue ribbon committee has threatened to launch an inquiry into the purchase of the pricey cameras if DepEd officials would not do so. Only on Jan. 19, it recommended the filing of charges against education and budget officials over DepEd’s purchase of overpriced laptops in 2021.
Elephant in the room
Public school teachers are rallying behind bills in Congress, including one filed by ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro, that seek to raise teachers’ salary grade from 11 to 15 (from P27,000 to P36,619 for Teacher 1), to put it at par with the pay of nurses, policemen and soldiers. As an alternative, they are also pushing for a P10,000 “across-the-board” increase.
For the 900,000 teachers, it was the elephant in the room when Education Secretary Sara Duterte recently delivered her Basic Education Report 2023. There was not a peep about teachers’ pay from her.
“It was a bit comprehensive. We appreciate the totality of her report. She was bold and honest enough to admit that there was a failure. But there was no mention of the salary increase,” Benjo Basas, chair of the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition, told CoverStory.ph.
Teachers’ low performance has been blamed largely on the “inadequacy” of their salaries.
The demand for pay upgrade and increase became even more pressing after teachers received last January the fourth and final tranche of their pay increase under the 2019 Salary Standardization Law (SSL), equivalent to P1,562 for Teacher 1, or P52 a day, the value of which is further diminished by the current 8.7% inflation rate.
“The daily increase is not even enough to buy you onions,” Alfonso told CoverStory.ph by phone, referring to the recent startling overprice of the kitchen staple.
The think-tank Ibon Foundation has pegged the daily family living wage in Metro Manila at P1,161.
Failure and burden
In her report on Jan. 30, Duterte painted in broad strokes the state of the education system, saying it has “failed” and “burdened” teachers.
She said the DepEd’s assessment of the K12 curriculum “showed insufficient knowledge [among teachers] on developing 21st century skills,” but contextualized this by saying that teachers were burdened with “back-breaking and time-consuming tasks.”
Without going into specifics, Duterte said she would push for additional benefits under the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers, especially those concerning the implementation of the policy on the distribution of teacher workload and payment of teaching overload.
She promised to work on addressing issues affecting the net take-home pay of teachers and to talk to health officials about providing the latter with free annual medical examinations.
DepEd spokesperson Poa said the department could boost the net take-home pay of teachers by lowering the interest rate of their loans from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) or extending these loans’ amortization period.
P27k in gross salary
Entry-level teachers (Teacher 1) receive a monthly gross salary of P27, 000, but this is whittled down to P23,465.50 after income tax and contributions to GSIS, Philippine Health Insurance Corp. and Pag-IBIG are deducted.
As Teacher 1, Alfonso, a 45-year-old single parent of a college student and a 10th grader, can hardly make both ends meet. After allotting big portions of her P27,000 pay for food, electricity, the allowances of her two daughters, and loan payments, she is left with P3,000 every pay day, or P6,000 a month.
It helps that they stay at her parents’ house in Quezon City. Still, she has no choice but to augment her income; she does this by tutoring two students in her own school and selling clothes bought from the Divisoria district in Manila to her fellow teachers at a slightly marked-up price.
This is why a pay upgrade and increase is truly necessary.
‘Noblest’ but ‘lowest’
Pegging the pay of entry-level teachers at Salary Grade 11 indicates the government’s “low appraisal” of teachers, compared with nurses and uniformed personnel, Basas said.
“They call ours the noblest profession, but we’re the lowest in rank in terms of pay grade,” he said.
The pay grade does not match the efforts that teachers put into their work, such as class management and clerical work, according to Alfonso’s group QCPSTA.
At the start of the 2022-2023 school year last year, Alfonso said, she was relieved of her “ancillary tasks’’ as learning resource and school information coordinator and teacher-librarian to focus on teaching English to three sections of Grade 6 students and character education to two other sections of Grade 6 students.
But she still ended up doing those tasks, such as writing an inventory report of library materials and cascading DepEd memos to teachers, among a host of others, because there was no one else to do it.
“It’s a much heavier load,” she said.
‘Declare measure urgent’
Basas challenged President Marcos Jr to make good on his authorship of a bill on the upgrade of teachers’ salary years ago when he was still a senator.
“As President, he now has the power to declare the measure urgent,” Basas said, referring to bills in the House of Representatives and Senate seeking the upgrade. “Otherwise, his authorship of the bill is not genuine.”
The calls for the teachers’ pay upgrade and increase have not gained traction in Congress because DepEd itself “has not been pushing for it,” according to Basas, who teaches social science to Grade 11 students at Caloocan High School.
In her online dialogue with the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition on Aug. 2, 2022, Secretary Duterte said the salary increase could not be granted because the final tranche of the teachers’ pay increase under the SSL was due in January 2023.
“A sound compensation package is a rectification of the errors made by Congress in 1989 in passing RA 6758,” Basas said of the SSL of 1989 that pegged the pay of Teacher 1 at salary grade 10. “It’s not so much about the money. It’s about how the government appraises the value of teachers.”