By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
A tribute here, a celebration there. Discounted purchases here, tons of freebies there.
As greetings from people from all walks of life poured in, teachers were definitely treated like “rock stars” Saturday with the celebration of World Teachers’ Day (WTD).
Aside from WTD, October 5 also marks the culmination of the National Teachers’ Month (NTM) – the month-long celebration for teachers in the Philippines which started on September 5 – as well as the celebration of the National Teachers’ Day (NTD) spearheaded by the Department of Education (DepEd).
While appreciative of all the greetings and activities related to the NTM, WTD and NTD celebrations, teachers reminded the government to “truly honor” them by recognizing their struggles and addressing their concerns.
The many struggles of teachers
While teaching is considered as the “noblest of all professions,” teachers have their fair share of struggles – especially with the lack of sufficient support for the basic education sector.
Vladimer Quetua, a Senior High School (SHS) Teacher at Carlos Albert High School in Quezon City, shared that many public schools still “lack teachers” – thus, making the load heavier for those who are currently teaching.
Quetua noted that the DepEd requested for 40,000 new teaching items for 2020 but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) “only included a budget for 10,000” teaching positions in the National Expenditure Program.
On the other hand, 51,000 teaching items are left unfilled by DepEd. “These concerns have severe effects in the quality of education received by students and in the working conditions and relations of teachers, especially in Senior High School,” he said.
Queta said that teachers in Carlos Albert HS, for instance, are left with no choice but to “handle classes that are not their subject areas.” He noted that Junior High School (JHS) teachers oftentimes “double” as SHS teachers due to lack of teachers needed for the grade level.
Aside from lack of teachers, some public school teachers also lament the absence of facilities that would help augment their teaching. Louie Zabala, a Grade 10 teacher at FG Calderon Integrated School in Manila, cited that lack of faculty rooms for teachers to the point that they are forced to use comfort rooms (CRs) for such purpose.
“During this year’s school opening, news broke about the widely-practiced use of faulty restrooms as faculty rooms by public school teachers,” Zabala noted. This prompted DepEd to issue a statement saying they have “included the construction of faculty rooms in their budget request for 2020, but the recent budget deliberation revealed that no such request was made, which means that teachers will have to endure longer their stay in CR-turned-faculty rooms.”
Apart from challenges in dealing with the lack of resources, many public school teachers also struggle in various capacities. Orlyza Rosales, a Grade 9 teacher at Manual Roxas High School in Manila, is forced to look for additional sources of income due to “insufficient salary.”
Rosales has been a teacher for the past seven years. Despite having a regular source of income, she is still struggling “to make ends meet” for her family. She noted that the combined income of her and her husband – who works as a bus driver – is “not enough to cover the needs of their household, especially since all three of their kids are studying.”
Aside from teaching full time, Rosales said that “makes up for the deficit by selling a variety of products on the side.” The severe stress she suffered from overworking, she said, led to her bleeding and consequent hospitalization in 2018.
Insufficient medical benefits also hound some teachers like Tina Pelayo, a Grade 1 Teacher at Yangco Elementary School in Manila. While serving as a poll worker in the 2019 midterm elections, she slipped and suffered a bad arm injury that requires an operation which she “cannot afford.”
Pelayo, a family breadwinner, said that she has since been on leave without pay since her accident. “It was only this September that I was granted medical assistance as provided by the Election Service Reform Act, but the amount provided hardly covers the cost of operation, therapy, and other medical needs, as well as the losses in my income,” she noted.
For Noel Alicaba, an Alternative Learning System (ALS) Teacher from Panghulo Elementary School in Malabon, DepEd’s alleged failure to provide Special Hardship Allowance for teachers like him makes being a teacher a lot harder.
For the past seven years that he has been a public school teacher, Alicaba said he rides a boat daily to and from his school in order to teach his Kindergarten students during weekdays and to function as an ALS teacher every Saturday. He noted that his residence and the location of the school is in an area considered to be a catch basin of Malabon – which means it’s perennially flooded – “so much that, growing up, I also worked as a banca boat driver.”
Despite this, Alicaba noted that he has “not availed” of DepEd’s Special Hardship Allowance. “Other teachers’ experiences proved it difficult to access due to excessively stringent requirements and processes,” he said.
Meanwhile, the struggle of Ophelia Tabacon, a Grade 5 teacher at Camaman-an Elementary School in Cagayan De Oro, is on a totally different level.
Tabacon, as a president of a regional progressive, militant and nationalist organization, has been dealing with red-tagging and political persecution. To date, she noted that she has been “subjected to at least six incidences of red-tagging for her work as unionist and human rights defender.”
“The most recent of which happened only last September 12 where flyers alleging that I am a ‘maestra komunista’ and a leader of the armed group NPA [New Peoples’ Army],” Tabacon noted. On the same day, she alleged that she also received a “threatening letter” coming from a group called Anti-Communist Terrorist Vigilante (ACTIV).
The fight goes on
For the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines, the struggles of these teachers prove the long-standing “neglect” of the government for the country’s educators.
ACT said that as the WTD, NTD and NTM culminate, teachers are still waiting of the government’s show of “sincere appreciation to mentors” but to no avail. The group lamented that the recently approved 2020 General Appropriations Bill in the lower house “provided no resolution to the issues that render teachers underpaid and overworked” – hence, public school teachers are ever more determined to “expose their grim state in order to amplify their just demand for better pay and working conditions, as well as for bigger funding for social services such as education.”
On the eve of 53rd WTD commemoration, members of the 200,000-strong ACT linked arms with nurses, health workers, office employees, and field workers in the public sector, in a protest to “censure the Duterte administration’s partiality to its wars and its war machinery, at the expense of delivering basic services to the people and ensuring the welfare of its own civilian workers.”
“We all suffer with measly wages that do not give justice to our dedicated service nor provide the barest of our families’ needs,” ACT said. “We whimper with every strike of price hike, tax imposition, and budget cut on social services, which are dictated by the Duterte regime’s policies that adhere to market-oriented governance [and] this is the reason why, however timely and justified substantially raising teachers’ salaries is, and despite the overwhelming clamor for such, the Duterte administration is unflinching with its scant salary increase allocation in the 2020 budget,” it added.
ACT also noted that as the nation honors the “overworked and underpaid teachers” being the everyday heroes, it reminded that the “teachers’ dire situation is but a part and reflection of the crisis that haunts all government workers and the nation as a whole.”