Honoring Teachers

This is not the transcript of the speech delivered by former US president Bill Clinton on the Wednesday evening of the Democratic National Convention, but it carries a logic similar to:

"What new ideas did we bring to Washington? I always give a one-word answer: arithmetic." 
- Bill Clinton
This speech also addresses failed policies that politicians seem to embrace over and over again, expecting different results. As Clinton smartly quipped, "We simply can't afford to double down...." 

This speech is about honoring public school teachers in the Philippines. Education reforms that do not alleviate the working and living conditions of teachers will fail. Improving learning outcomes in Philippine basic education must place teachers' rights and welfare on the very top of the list of things to do. No one I hope will argue against thanking our teachers. Yes, there are good teachers and there are not so good teachers. But obviously (as clear as 1+1 = 2) teachers cannot do their job well if we do not enable them. Without addressing their rights and welfare, their vocation to serve our youth is seriously compromised. "We will simply reap what we sow."

Here is a transcript of Rep. Antonio Tinio's privilege speech on the National Teachers' Month.

4 September 2012 
This coming Wednesday, September 5, marks the opening of National Teachers’ Month, declared in 2011 per President Aquino’s Proclamation 242, to “celebrate the unique role and service” of teachers.  “To express sincere gratitude for teachers,” DepEd has advised its regional and division offices and students to give “thank you” cards, free makeover and spa treatments, discounts, or freebies to teachers, also to hang streamers and hold contests to honor teachers, from September 5 to October 5. 
The culminating date, October 5, is celebrated all over the world as Teachers’ Day to mark the adoption on that day of the Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers in 1966 at a special intergovernmental conference convened by ILO and UNESCO in Paris.  For nearly forty-six years, the Recommendation has served as the international frame of reference for standards on the rights and welfare of teachers, including adequate remuneration, stability of employment and security of tenure, and conditions for effective teaching—on such issues as class size, hours of work, school rooms, and the like. 
Who would say “no” to an entire month of tributes, free spa, discounts, “thank you” cards, or a grand celebration in one’s honor?  But Madam Speaker, my dear colleagues, I invite you to approach any teacher, and ask him or her: How do you like to be thanked?  The most meaningful way of commemorating National Teachers’ Month, the most sincere expression of gratitude for our children’s second parents, is by giving full effect to their rights—to living salary, adequate remuneration, stability of employment and security of tenure, professional advancement, union rights, among others. 
While the Executive branch says, “Let’s thank teachers,” it seems its show of gratitude ends with “thank you” cards and a “grand celebration.”  The DepEd budget is proposed at P231.4 billion under the proposed General Appropriations Act for 2013, the highest appropriation in all departments.  While this looks rosy for the education sector, the President and the Aquino administration merely continues the trend of inadequate funding for education.  Since at least 2004, the government has not given DepEd a budget higher than 1.98% of the GDP, or 11.8% of the total national budget.  Next year, DepEd’s budget is only 1.92% of GDP and 11.53% of the total P2.006 trillion national budget.  Since this inadequate budgetary allocation translates to measly salaries and shortages in critical resources down to the smallest schools, teachers bear most of its impact. 
President Aquino vowed to create, by June next year, 61,510 new teacher items.  We must give credit where credit is due; we laud this unprecedented move of the creation of a massive number of new teacher items.  Normally, in previous years, the national government would only fund 10,000 to 14,000 new items, so this is indeed very welcome and long overdue, as the public school system has long been beset by extreme teacher shortages.  However, we must take issue with the following statement made by the President in his 2013 budget call.  Let me quote: 
“We also aim to fully cover the shortfall in quality public school teachers by allocating P13.4 billion for the creation of 61,510 teaching positions.”
In particular, we take issue with the statement that by 2013, the shortage of teachers will be fully covered.  The fact is, in spite of the creation of this unprecedented number of teaching items, it will still not cover the shortfall of 49,530 teaching positions which are funded by the local government, nor will it cover the shortfall of over 23,000 volunteer Kindergarten teachers employed by DepEd through contracts of service.  So, in other words, far from solving the issue of teacher shortages by 2013, there will remain a shortage of at least 64,000 teachers by 2013. 
The proposed budget by 2013 is in fact still unfortunately marred by the policy of contractualization in the teaching profession.  Beginning school year 2011-2012, DepEd hired, as I said, volunteer Kindergarten teachers.  This school year, the volunteers number around 23,000 and they all receive an “honorarium” which forces them to live within a budget of as low as P100 a day.  They are paid from P3,000 to P6,000 per class per month, remuneration which is unconscionably low considering the P425-minimum wage in NCR and the unchecked increases in the prices of basic needs of the ordinary family.  They also do not enjoy benefits normally received by regular teachers of the national government, nor do they have security of tenure, much less do they have the right to form and join unions. 
Several rights of public school teachers are threatened by this practice, so we strongly urge the Aquino administration to abandon this policy of placing public school teachers in precarious employment through contracts of service.  We call on the administration to allocate sufficient Personal Services funds under the DepEd budget for their immediate regularization.  But pending that, we also urge Aquino to immediately increase the monthly honoraria of volunteer Kindergarten teachers from P3,000 per class per month to at least P6,000 per month.  So, in other words, we call for a doubling of these honoraria. 
Contractualization is even more prevalent in state universities and colleges.  According to last year’s budget hearing, when asked how many new teaching items will be created for all these state universities and colleges for 2013, the answer given by CHED is that there will be zero new items created for 2012.  That is also true for 2012.  In fact, the trend has been in a reduction in the number of full time faculty positions in state universities and colleges. In 2002, the Philippine Normal University had 385 faculty positions, but next year, it will only have 383.  From 2003 to the present, the six SUCs of MIMAROPA collectively lost 106 faculty positions, and the eleven SUCs in Western Visayas lost 70.  On the other hand, enrolment in these regions, as well nationally, increase year by year by around 3,200 and 8,400, respectively at an average of 75,700 students yearly nationwide.  So in other words, the trend has been the reduction in regular faculty positions in SUCs while enrolment has been increasing.
Because the numbers of regular faculty cannot keep up with the increase in enrolment, SUCs resort to hiring contractual faculty out of savings or to the hiring of several part-timers out of the budget for one regular teaching item.  Again, these teachers, called part-time teachers, receive less than their full-time counterparts despite the fact that they all take the same teaching loads and responsibilities, with no benefits and no security of tenure. 
Now, we move on to salaries.  The total personal services budget of DepEd and the SUCs for 2013 have no room for salary increases.  With the implementation of the last tranche of SSL3, teachers in basic and tertiary education, along with non-teaching personnel in public schools, are worried that their salaries will remain stagnant despite the unceasing rise in the cost of living.  Will we see a repeat of the previous experiences regarding public sector pay where, after the implementation of SSL, there will follow several years of a “salary freeze” for our public sector employees?  We certainly hope not. 
Teaching and non-teaching personnel also expect no supplement to their meager salaries, in the form of benefits or incentives.  President Aquino has allotted P9.9 billion for a system of performance-based bonuses for 2013, but its implementing rules, among them Executive Order 80 and DBM Memorandum Circular 2012-01, banned any increase in the rates of existing bonuses and the grant of new bonuses.  We view these executive issuances as attacks against the rights of teachers and other civil servants to adequate remuneration and other means of job satisfaction and fulfilment, particularly to their right to collective negotiation. 
This brief review of state policies as embodied in the national budget pertaining to teachers and the education sector shows that the Executive could do much more to show gratitude to our teachers and to educators.  Starting this Wednesday, teachers will be hearing DepEd and the President saying “thank you” for an entire month, but they will feel no sincere gratitude from the government for the coming year.  Teachers still receive a starting salary of P18,549 monthly or Salary Grade 11, a compensation incommensurate to their vital roles in society.  They still have to manage oversized classes up to 70 to 90 students each, with two, three, even four sessions each day.  An increasing number of them are unsure if they would still be hired as teachers once their contracts end, on top of the anxiety caused by very low honoraria.  They will discover that their union rights, which they have begun to enjoy only recently, will be severely diluted with their inability to negotiate for bonuses to supplement their salaries. 
In this coming World Teachers’ Month, this representation urges the Executive and Legislative branches in the strongest terms:  Stop the systematic denial of teachers’ rights.  Immediately enact legislation that answers the teachers’ legitimate demands, among them House Bills 2142 for the upgrading of teachers’ salaries from Salary Grade 11 to Salary Grade 15 and HB 3746 for a P6,000 increase in the basic pay of public employees. 
On 15 December 2011, this Congress took one significant step forward in expressing gratitude for teachers by approving on third reading HB 4097, “An Act Declaring October 5 of Every Year as ‘National Teachers’ Day’.”  Today, I urge you, my colleagues, to take a more significant step further.  Let us approve the aforementioned House Bills, and like-minded bills and resolutions on the rights and welfare of teachers in the soonest possible time, and convince our colleagues at the Senate that enacting laws that protect teachers’ rights and welfare is the best way of to commemorate World Teachers’ Day.