Teachers seek talks with Palace to ensure ample pay hike
MANILA, Philippines — Public school teachers hurt by President Rodrigo Duterte’s failure to deliver on his promise to raise their salaries had a simple request on Tuesday, a day after Malacañang said it was looking for funds to finance the pay hike: Give us a seat at the table.
“Involve the teachers in the course of its preparation,” the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said in a statement. “Teachers are keen on taking part in the discussions as they want to ensure that the pay hike will be of substantial amount.”
Benjo Basas, chair of the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC), reminded the President that at the groundbreaking for a school in January, he told the teachers they could “choose the date” for a dialogue on their salaries with him and Education Secretary Leonor Briones.
The President also told them to “make it fast” so a deal could be brokered quickly.
The teachers are asking for a P10,000 raise to catch up a bit with rising prices.
On Monday, as a new school year started, Briones told them that they should not think only of themselves but also of the whole bureaucracy, meaning they should not press their demand.
But presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President was working on the teachers’ pay raise.
Panelo said the President had instructed his economic managers to look for sources of funds for the increase.
On Tuesday, the Palace official appealed to the teachers to be more patient while the government looked for P150 billion to fund the raise.
“If you increase P10,000 for every teacher in this country, it will cost us P150 billion. That is why we appeal to our teachers, that since this is a huge amount, please have more patience,” Panelo said.
And because the funding needed is so huge, the government may pay the raise in installments, he said.
“But what is certain is that the President really wants to increase the salaries of the teachers,” Panelo said.
Basas said the teachers wanted to be part of discussions about the raise.
“We are ready to face the President at any time of his choosing if he would like to directly hear the teachers’ sentiments,” he said.
The ACT said teachers’ organizations had written to Mr. Duterte to follow up on his January statement.
“We hope that the President will finally oblige at the soonest time because we want to ascertain that his promise will be fulfilled,” said ACT chair Jocelyn Martinez.
She pointed out that as the sole government-accredited negotiating agent for teachers, it was only right that the ACT be present during any discussion about the pay increase.
“Both [the budget and education] agencies had for many times argued against our just demand, citing that we are better paid than our private counterparts and that there is no budget for raising our salaries,” Martinez said.
It was this benchmarking against the private sector, she added, that made the teachers one of the biggest losers under former President Benigno Aquino III’s Executive Order No. 201, which raised the salaries of all government employees between 2015 and 2019.
Under the measure, teachers received a P2,000 increase over four years.
“It is plainly wrong to deny us just compensation because private schools do not provide humane salary levels to their teachers,” Martinez said. “The government should be the one setting the standards on teachers’ pay.”
According to the ACT, the roughly 800,000 public school teachers make up 90 percent of the country’s total teaching population.
The group has called for raising the teachers’ base pay from P20,754 to P30,000, and for an entry-level pay of P16,000 for Salary Grade 1 employees of the government.
Basas urged the President to use his vast reserve of political capital to enact a salary increase for teachers, citing how his push for a pay hike for the police and the military had forced his economic managers and legislators to find funding.
“The government has spent P64 billion in 2018 and another P70 billion in 2019 for the pay hike of uniformed personnel,” Martinez said. “Why are they disheartened now to raise P150 billion to improve the lives of teachers?” —With a report from Julie M. Aurelio