By Merlina Hernandomalipot
“Pay your debt or lose your license to teach.”
This is the predicament that faces public school teachers, who are already suffering from big pay cuts due to loan deductions, should they fail to settle their debts from Private Lending Institutions (PLIs).
Teachers from Central Luzon trooped to the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) on Friday to appeal the agency “not to take the side” of PLIs – particularly St. Bernadette Lending, among others – when it comes to settling their loans that have accumulated due to high interest rates.
Members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Region III accuse the PRC of “favoring” PLIs and “pressuring” public school teachers who have unpaid loans to settle their debts, otherwise, they might lose their license to teach.
ACT Region III president Romly Clemente said PRC has been summoning teachers who have availed themselves of loans from PLIs to a series of mediation. “Bakitang PRC, isa-isangpinatatawag ang mga gurong may pagkakautang sa PLIs at kunwaring namamagitan (Why is the PRC calling teachers who have loans with PLIs one by one in an apparent effort to mediate)?
Clemente claimed that when teachers get to the PRC office, they are being pressured to settle their loans with the PLIs. “Ang katotohanan kapag nasa PRC na ay nandiyan na ang panggigipit sa guro at pinapangako na magbayad ng halagang hindi na kayang bayaran (The truth is when teachers get to PRC, they are pressured and forced to pay amounts that they cannot afford).”
Clemente alleged that when teachers attend the mediation in PRC, they are being forced to settle their unpaid loans with interests by asking them to sign documents and opening of checking accounts so they can issue blank checks.
Many teachers, Clemente noted, are even asked to surrender their Automated Teller Machine (ATM) cards along with the personal identification numbers (PIN). “Ito ba ang sinasabing walang pagkiling ang PRC sa mga PLIs? (Is this what PRC means when they say they are not impartial when it comes to PLIs)?”
No PRC official could be reached immediately for comment.
Clemente said that many teachers are also being “threatened” by the PLIs – with the filing of cases before the PRC – that their licenses will be held or suspended which will force them to stop teaching. “Isang malinaw na panggigipit at paggamit at malinaw na paunti-unting pagkitil sa buhay ng mga guro at mga umaasa sa kanila (Clearly, they are pressuring the teachers and forcing them to give up their source of livelihood).”
Public school teachers claim that among the reasons many of them tend to over-borrow money from PLIs is due to low salary. Thus, they have reiterated their call for the Department of Education (DepEd) to support their call for wage hike that will increase the entry level salary of public school teachers to P25,000 and P16,000 for non-teaching personnel.
Addressing take home pay
Meanwhile, the DepEd said that while it “duly recognizes” the intent of legislators to conduct a probe on the nullified policies on loan deductions for teachers and other personnel, it maintained that the “predicament was not left unheard.”
In a statement, DepEd addressed the proposed House probe on the repealed DepEd Order No. 38, series 2017 (DO 38), or “Further Clarifications to DepEd Order Nos. 12 and 27, s. 2017.”
Earlier, teacher-solons demanded a House probe on the said DepEd Order which“sentenced thousands to less than P4,000 net take home pay.”
ACT Teachers Representatives Antonio Tinio and France Castro filed House Resolution No. 1342, seeking a congressional investigation on the legality of DO No. 38, s. of 2017 which, according to them, “effectively reduced” the net take home pay (NTHP) of “about half of the teaching personnel and other employees of the Department” for the month of October – with the amounts ranging from P100 to P900.
But DepEd maintained that this “predicament of teachers was not left unheard” as Education Secretary Leonor Briones promptly issued DepEd Order No. 55, series 2017 (DO 55), or the “Revised Guidelines on the Implementation of P4,000 Net Take Home Pay for the Department of Education Personnel,” which now supersedes both DO 38 and DO 27 (Addendum to DepEd Order No. 12, s. 2017).
DepEd added that in keeping with Section 47 of the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2017, the DO 55 “protects the interest of teachers and other DepEd personnel as it ensures the observance of the P4,000 NTHP limit while giving first order of preference in salary deduction for the payment of employees’ contributions or obligations to the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and Home Development Mutual Fund (HDMF), which include both premiums and loans.”
The same priority, DepEd noted, is also accorded by DO 55 to payments for the Bureau of Internal Revenues (BIR) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).
With 46.62 percent of unpaid GSIS loans accumulated by DepEd personnel and GSIS revealing that around 23,000 teachers retired this year without receiving pension due to unpaid debts, the Department is “relentless in its pursuit to protect its employees and their families from financial and legal implications of non-payment of debts and to curb the culture of over-borrowing by continuously conducting financial literacy seminars.”
DepEd noted that it continues to explore “measures that will enable its teaching and non-teaching personnel to manage their finances today and prepare for a comfortable future.” Among these, the Department said, are “the reduction of interest rates on loans through the expansion of the Provident Fund and coordination with GSIS on a loan buyout that will restructure an employee-borrower’s PLI loans to provide lower interest rate on a longer payment term.”
“The damage of over-borrowing on the lives of teachers and their families has been going on for years and it can no longer continue,” the DepEd said. “The Department is steadfast in its commitment to enable its personnel to truly reap the fruits of their hard work,” it added.
Meanwhile, the solons also urged the DepEd to “immediately refund the arbitrary deductions on the salaries of all affected teachers and employees.”