Sweaty sideline to make ends meet
As he shoveled gravel and sand at a construction site in Cainta, Rizal province, Samuel Sonio wrapped a piece of cloth around his head. The cloth protected his face from the scorching heat; it also obscured enough of his features to make sure none of his students recognized him should any of them happened to pass by.
Sonio, who has been teaching for the past 14 years, had to take on the construction job to make ends meet and to save a little extra to support his mother and two grandmothers, three nephews and nieces.
His fellow laborers only learned about his main job during work breaks when the brief rest also afforded them time to chat and bond.
As for his students, well, it was embarrassing enough that most of them now live in better houses than his rented unit; soon, when they graduate, they’d probably earn much more than he does, he said.
Sonio, one of the 400 teachers and members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party-list in Metro Manila, joined the meeting at P. Bernardo Elementary School in Quezon City on Wednesday, where they discussed the march on Edsa that was meant to dramatize their demand for a P30,000 minimum salary for teachers.
Timed to coincide with President Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 23, the march will also demand the junking of new taxes imposed under the TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) Act that has pushed the country’s inflation rate to 5.2 percent, the highest in the last five years.
Sonio, an Araling Panlipunan teacher, said he had been receiving a monthly salary of P18,000 since 2008. “(Life’s) been hard. With the increase in the prices of goods, my salary doesn’t go very far,” he said.
The third of five siblings and the only one to have earned a college degree at the then State Polytechnic College of Palawan, Sonio had thought that finishing college would mean a more comfortable life. But being a teacher shattered that dream, he said.
Sonio started as a contractual teacher in 2004 and was paid P9,000 a month by the Pasig local government. As a contractual employee, he received no medical or housing assistance, he said.
The measly pay pushed him to take on construction work after an entire day of teaching. “It’s really difficult. Sometimes I go to work feeling faint because of the rigors of my teaching job. This may be the hardest job there is, but I have no choice,” Sonio said, adding that at least, he gets an extra P350 a day as a laborer.
No job was too humble or paid too little, said Sonio who had, at various times in his life, taken on various sidelines: doing laundry, offering massages, selling assorted goods and doing cleaning services.
He used to be embarrassed about doing blue-collar work, Sonio admitted, but no longer. “We must let the government know how tough life has become for teachers on their lean salaries,” he said.
“When we receive our payslip, it quickly slips through our fingers as we pay our loans,” Sonio added.
The government, he said, should restore the dignity of teachers who, after all, mold the country’s future citizens. Filipino teachers are among the worst-paid professionals in the world, Sonio said.
ACT-National Capital Region chair Benjie Balbuena said the low salary of Filipino teachers had contributed to the brain drain, with good teachers migrating to other countries to seek greener pastures.
Sonio agreed. “Some of my fellow teachers are already in China or Canada, where they work as teachers … But I can’t imagine myself teaching students of other nationalities. Iba pa rin pag Filipino, iba ang saya (It’s different teaching fellow Filipinos, there’s a sense of fulfillment),” he added.
His main motivation to continue teaching in the country despite the difficulties is seeing his former students graduate, Sonio said. Some still remember him and would thank and hug him when they meet, like this one female student who recalled how he would share his packed lunch with her.
Most of his students are dirt poor, he explained, adding that some of them had only one uniform that they’d wear until it was threadbare and faded. Which was why teachers, despite their very limited resources, often feel compelled to share what little they have with their students.
The promised salary hike for teachers—the third under President Duterte—has yet to happen, Balbuena said.
For teachers like Sonio, relief couldn’t come sooner.
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