A Tale of Two Teachers

Like diamonds in the rough, the people entrusted with the education of the youth in the Philippines carry an unwavering commitment to learning and teaching. Here is a glimpse of two teachers who offer a glimmer of hope to Philippine basic education. One has the honor of an asteroid named after her, planet 13241 or as named by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, planet Biyo. While the other has formed a group called Teachers' Dignity Coalition, a name that speaks for itself. This tale highlights two teachers, Dr. Josette Talamera-Biyo and Benjo Basas.
Dr. Josette Biyo and Benjo Basas
In "Education Shapes a Nation's Future", Biyo said:
"You cannot give what you don’t have. As a teacher, as a person, you have to be a learner. Teach science well and love your work because if you love what you do, it ceases to be work. And you cannot give your best if you don’t love your students." 
Dr. Josette Biyo is currently the executive director of the Philippine Science High School system, the only set of schools in the Philippines that performed at a satisfactory level in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study Advanced 2008 exams. In 2002, she became the first teacher from Asia to receive the Intel Excellence in Teaching award. Her teaching style is not so much about giving lectures, but more on guiding students. Trained as a biologist, Dr. Biyo recognizes nature as a laboratory. She talks about plants, animals and the environment, which nature hands down to the classrooms to investigate at a much lower cost. It is indeed refreshing to hear about biology in these terms and not so much about protein gel electrophoresis. Her students have studied the flora and fauna of the mountains of Panay island. Her effectiveness as a teacher comes from her own insatiable desire for learning. Despite offers for teaching and research positions abroad, Dr. Biyo chose to stay in the Philippines and continue teaching high school students. Her passion for the education of the youth of the Philippines has at least led to a call in causes.com for her to lead the Philippines Department of Education in 2011:
Dr. Biyo continues her passion for science education at home with her two sons. She tries out new learning activities with them, bringing those that click to her classroom. And both sons have learned that education requires hard work and diligence and that doing well and loving one's work is key to transforming learning into something truly enjoyable. A strong proponent of science education, Dr. Biyo believes that the economic progress and development of the Philippines hinges on creating a culture of science, which can only be realized by a sound science education that begins at the elementary level:
" The only way the Philippines can grow economically, socially and even politically is to develop a culture of science and, for me, developing such a culture should start in the elementary level.
The best way to build a culture of science is to teach science properly. My dream is for every Filipino child to know how to think, to make decisions for himself and, eventually as he matures, to make good decisions for society."
Benjo Basas currently teaches social studies and creative writing in a public high school in Caloocan City. He is the chairperson of the Teachers' Dignity Coalition (TDC). TDC was founded on April 8, 2006. It started with a group of young teachers but has now grown into a nationwide movement of public school teachers. Its mission includes helping raise awareness among teachers of their conditions, defending the rights and welfare of teachers, and fighting for the improvement of teachers' socio-economic status. TDC first caught public attention a month after its establishment by defending former DepEd secretary Fe Hidalgo who by reporting  the facts regarding classroom shortages in the Philippines was berated by President Arroyo. TDC also opposed publicly a memorandum issued by the DepEd in 2010 which prohibits teachers from assigning homework to students over the weekend. And TDC continues to be a voice for upgrading the working conditions and compensation of teachers. Heading and nurturing this group is a huge task, but Basas seems to have steered the coalition into quite a sizable voice for teachers. Basas currently has thousands of friends on Facebook. He uses the social network to communicate with fellow teachers as well as students. This school year, he also talks about his son, Datu Magiting, who is currently starting kindergarten.

Points of view from Benjo Basas will now be read regularly as he has accepted to write a column for the Pilipino Mirror:

In this column, Basas will air the concerns and views of school teachers in the Philippines. His first article highlights one sentence from the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines (Article XIV, Sec. 5 no. 5):
“The state shall assign the highest budgetary priority to education and ensure that teaching will attract and retain its rightful share of the best available talents through adequate remuneration and other means of job satisfaction and fulfillment.”
Basas correctly notes that the first part (assigning education the highest budgetary priority) is often quoted, but the second part is usually omitted. The Constitution of the Philippines is quite unique that it specifically echoes the important element that brought success to Finnish education:

Highly educated teachers the key to success

How can the country attract the best talents to a vocation of teaching if their salaries remain among the lowest in the country? The following, for example, are the salaries of teachers from the municipality of Paete, Laguna:

Provincial School Board Teacher
Php 14,000.00
Teacher I

Step 1
Php 17,099.00
Step 2
Php 17,318.00
Teacher II
Php 18,333.00
Teacher III
Php 19,658.00

For comparison, here are the salaries of local government officials and head officers:

Basic Salary
Salary Grade
Allowances (Rata/ACA-PERA)
Municipal Mayor
10,500.00 / 2,000
Municipal Vice Mayor
9,750.00 / 2,000
SB Councilors
8,250.00 / 2,000
Secretary to the SB
8,250.00 / 2,000
Mun. Administrator
8,250.00 / 2,000
8,250.00 / 2,000
8,250.00 / 2,000
8,250.00 / 2,000
Mun. Accountant
8,250.00 / 2,000
Mun. Treasurer
8,250.00 / 2,000
Mun. Assessor
21, 920.00
8,250.00 / 2,000
Mun. Health Officer
8,250.00 / 2,000
Mun. Agriculturist
8,250.00 / 2,000
Mun. Engineer
8,250.00 / 2,000

In stark contrast, in the city of Alexandria in the state of Virginia, the mayor receives an annual salary of $35000. A teacher with a bachelors degree, step 1 (0-1 year experience), has an annual salary (for 197 working days) of $47000.

Those who wrote the Constitution clearly understood that the most important element in the education of the youth is not the classroom, not textbooks, nor other learning materials. The Constitution recognizes that teachers are the key to quality education. The highest law of the land understands that the way to attract talent to the teaching profession is by providing teachers with adequate remuneration and job satisfaction and fulfillment.

There are other very important statements on education that can be found in the Constitution of the Philippines and the tale of the two teachers described here, their lives and their views, echoes these:

Article II, Sec. 17: "The State shall give priority to education, science and technology, arts, culture, and sports to foster patriotism and nationalism, accelerate social progress, and promote total human liberation and development."

Article XIV, Sec. 1: "The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all."

These teachers should be the sources of reform for Philippine basic education. Teachers are the ones who can diagnose problems in their schools and classrooms. Teachers should be allowed to draw the reforms necessary. And teachers are the ones who can validate and evaluate the implementation of these reforms.


  1. Thumbs up! Very enlightening article!

  2. What can we do to help? We're with you all the way :DD

    1. Please pass the info/views you found here to your friends. Thank you.

  3. MABUHAY Filipino Teachers! Mabuhay Teacher Biyo and Teacher Benjo! Mabuhay TDC!

  4. Hi I am Stephen, a former teacher. Together with other educators, we formed a website that will help Filipino teachers augment their income by selling their lesson plans to other teachers.

    I would like to ask if I could help write a guest post so I can spread the news to other Filipino teachers.

    Our facebook fan page is facebook.com/teachersearningonline
    Thank you.


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