Groups hope education, wages figure high in President’s 2nd Sona
Advocacy groups are pressing President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to prioritize urgent labor and education issues in his second State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Monday.
According to the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), the country was confronted with a “learning crisis” that will require the Marcos administration to implement key policy measures to fill in the gaps.
These proposed measures include the formulation of a long-term national education agenda that will go beyond the current administration’s term limit in 2028, citing the importance of ensuring consistency and continuity in the government’s programs.
“We must make education and nutrition our national concern and national priority. If we focus on developing our people first, many of our problems—from corruption to poverty, to low productivity to joblessness—will be easier to solve,” PBEd president Chito Salazar said during a press conference.
PBEd also cited the need to improve the coordination among education-related government agencies, such as the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), the Department of Education (DepEd), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda)LGU autonomy
Another recommendation is give more autonomy and resources to local government units (LGUs) that can come up with solutions to suit their unique local conditions.
PBEd also pointed out the urgent problem with stunting that is preventing children from reaching their full potential.
Citing data from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), PBEd said that the Philippines is among the 10 countries with the highest child stunting, with 28.8 percent of children under 5 years old being stunted or too short for their age because of chronic or recurrent malnutrition. “Lack of nutrition during a mother’s pregnancy causes delays in brain development, which affects educational attainment and future income,” said PBEd executive director Justine Raagas.
In line with the need to focus on people’s basic needs, an ecumenical group composed of bishops and clergy urged the Marcos administration to immediately review the minimum wage rates as the latest P40 daily increase “falls short of a living wage.”
During a briefing by the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, Sr. Lisa Ruedas of the Church People Workers Solidarity (CWS) said that the “economic hardships experienced by Filipino workers continue to worsen under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s second year in office.”
The group reiterated its demand for a P750 across-the-board wage hike, which various labor groups had also sought.
Ruedas stressed that it is a “grave injustice” to refuse a “just wage” for workers.
The National Wages and Productivity Commission approved last month an order by the regional wage board in Metro Manila to raise the daily minimum wage for private sector nonagriculture workers from P570 to P610, while the pay for workers in agriculture, service and retail establishments with 15 or less employees, and manufacturing establishments with less than 10 employees was adjusted from P533 to P573.
But some lawmakers and labor leaders were up in arms over the P40 increase, saying it was “totally disproportionate” to the country’s labor productivity that has been growing in recent years.
Another pressing issue, according the PBEd official, is the lack of education resources, ranging from the lack of suitable classrooms and textbooks, to slow and low availability of internet access.
Raagas also noted the problem caused by the “mass promotion” in schools, which had led to a staggering percentage of students without the appropriate levels of reading proficiencies.
According to the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM), a regional learning assessment and capacity building program, 90 percent of Grade 5 students fall below the expected minimum reading proficiency while 94 percent did not demonstrate the required writing proficiency levels.
Additionally, 80 percent of Grade 5 students also fall below the expected minimum mathematics proficiency.
“We have seen that based on international assessments that our students are merely progressing through the school system. And this is because they are merely being promoted without attaining the necessary competence for the next level,” she said.
Raagas also mentioned the low employability of students after leaving schools, which poses a problem for both high school and college graduates.
Citing 2021 statistics from the National Economic and Development Authority, PBEd said that only 20 percent of high school students are able to graduate and that less than 80 percent of college graduates find a job within a year of leaving school.
The group also cited 2022 data from the Commission on Human Rights, which showed that 40 percent of employed Filipinos are overqualified but only earn a little more than minimum wage.
CWS, meanwhile, also called on laymembers to join in amplifying its call for a living wage and the workers’ right to regular employment as well as to form unions.