More than 2,500 teachers back out of election work
MANILA, Philippines — More than 2,500 teachers have backed out of serving as poll watchers in the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections, according to an update Monday by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
“Unfortunately, the majority are in the Bangsamoro [region where] almost 2,530 teachers did not serve,” Comelec Chair George Garcia said, reiterating his situationer when he visited Abra province on Sunday, the eve of the elections. He also reiterated that personnel of the Philippine National Police have taken over the poll duties of the teachers.
In the Bicol region, 10 electoral board members were also reported to have backed out of their duties.
On Sunday, Garcia reported that 29 volunteers in Abra, which he had deemed a critical area, had also withdrawn from rendering election service.
Asked why they did not want to take part in the elections, the Comelec chief said, “Others cited their previous experience of frequent shooting or intimidation. They feared that it would happen again this Election Day.”
‘Teachers getting sued’
Education Undersecretary Michael Poa, for his part, said the Department of Education (DepEd) still needed to clarify if those teachers were under its authority or that of the Ministry of Education of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Poa also noted that the DepEd had partnered with the Comelec and the Public Attorney’s Office to help provide legal assistance to teachers who might be subjected to election-related complaints.
“During barangay elections, teachers usually know the candidate. Sometimes they are neighbors or relatives. So what happens is the teacher gets sued when it comes to election-related cases,” he said.
Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte, in an interview after voting in Davao City, said that the teachers could seek legal support from the DepEd.
Citing past experiences, Teachers’ Dignity Coalition chair Benjo Basas said teachers were being blamed when candidates lost.
He stressed that teachers, as Comelec deputies, are “neutral with regard to the election and that the majority of them are not residents of the barangays where they serve as … electoral board members.”
“Those teachers who have relatives who are running are prohibited from sitting as [electoral board members]. So don’t worry because our teachers are only facilitators of this election,” he assured the candidates.
As of Monday afternoon, there were no reported fatalities among teachers in connection with election violence, apart from a number of deaths due to various causes.
In separate vehicular accidents, Poa said one teacher died, one was injured, while another “was bitten by a snake.”
The DepEd also received reports of a shooting in Abra and an incident in Puerto Princesa City where ballots were torn by several people who entered a polling precinct.
“Thankfully, no teacher was hurt,” Poa said of those two incidents.
He also cited medical and other benefits secured by the DepEd from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) for teachers serving as election workers.
“[A]side from that, there is also a personal accident insurance coverage that we give to teachers and DepEd personnel,” he said.
The insurance provides a maximum of P100,000 for accidental death or dismemberment and up to P30,000 medical reimbursement yearly for injuries sustained in accidents.
But the needs cited by the teachers are as complex as the challenges confronting them as poll watchers.
Some public school teachers in Quezon City have appealed to the Comelec to provide additional allowances, service credits, and, if possible, hazard pay, as some of them had to work overtime.
In an incident report submitted to the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, these election inspectors said they had to stay up till 2 a.m. on Monday to ensure that there were enough ballots in the polling precincts.
Garcia said the Comelec needed to tackle before the next elections the problem of teachers backing out as poll workers.
“Because we already spent for … their transportation allowance and then suddenly they will back out. It seems like there’s something wrong there but we also understand that … it’s not mandatory for teachers to serve,” he said.
According to Republic Act No. 10756 (An Act Rendering Election Service Non-Compulsory for Public School Teachers), the Comelec may tap the assistance of DepEd nonteaching personnel and other government employees, as well as private school teachers to render service in elections.