“The fact remains that workers in the government need salary increases because of the high costs of living, not because the DBM or Aquino says so. They need to pay hikes now, not in 2016.” – ACT Teachers’ Party Rep. Antonio Tinio
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Pedro Angeles, 55, has been working as Administration Aide 1 or utility man at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang, Muntinlupa for the past 32 years. He earns P9,400 ($209) a month. Before the Salary Standardization Law III was implemented in 2009, he said he earns no more than P6,000 ($133) a month.
The Salary Standardization Law III (SSL 3) was signed by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in June 2009. Under the SSL 3, salary increases of government employees were given in four equal yearly tranches. The first tranche was released in 2009 and the fourth and last tranche was given in 2012.
Although it increased wages, the SSL 3 was criticized as “divisive” by state workers’ groups because it gave bigger increases to those who are relatively highly-paid, and widened the gap between the lowest and highest paid government employees.
After 2012, there was no new salary increase implemented by President Benigno S. Aquino III, despite calls by made by various government employees for a new wage hike.
Lawmakers are the ones who have responded, by filing proposals to enact increases.
ACT Teachers’ Party Rep. Antonio Tinio said that in August 2014, the House Committee on Appropriations has heard 39 bills calling for increases in salaries and benefits of government employees. These include Tinio’s House Bill 245 for teachers and non-teaching staff in basic education, House Bill 246 for instructors and professors in universities and colleges, House Bill 250 for a P4,000 ($90) monthly Personnel Economic Relief Allowance (Pera) and House Bill 3015 calling for an additional P6,000 ($134) in the minimum pay of all government employees.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM)respondedthat the government needs to study first the compensation classification system (CCS) of government employees before it can propose salary adjustments. The DBM said it will probably have its findings ready by 2016.
Despite the repeated calls and the bills filed at Congress for the increase in salaries of government employees, and the incessant increase in utility, basic commodities, tuition and transportation fares, the Aquino government has remained callous, and has played deaf and blind to the appalling condition of the working class.
Salary increase in 2016?
Angeles has two adult children: his son, the eldest,already has his own family, while his daughter is still single and employed. But even then, he said, he and his family are still struggling to survive each day. With his salary of P9,400 a month, he said it is not enough to feed himself, pay for loans on their house, their monthly bills, and care for his diabetic wife.
“We took a loan on our house in Malolos, Bulacan. I and my daughter are paying for the house. To save from transportation expense, I rented a dormitory in RITM,” Angeles told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
He has been living in RITM’s dormitory for 15 years. Once or twice a month, he said he visits his wife in Bulacan if he has extra money left for transportation. But often times, he said, there is no budget.
“I have to send my wife money to pay for our bills and for food. To save, I buy her medicines at the RITM because it cheaper there than in other pharmacies. I have to buy food for myself too.”
Angeles said he cannot accept the government’s response to their long-time call for salary increase. He said to put it off to 2016 is too much for employees like him.
Another government worker in the same situation is “Mrs. Obligado,” 61, a high school teacher in Manila,who also stays in a dormitory near her school to save money. Her salary is P19,800 ($439) a month. Her family has a house in Cavite where her husband runs a small business. “Sometimes he earns P3,000 ($67) to P5,000 ($111) a month, sometimes even smaller than that,” she said in an interview with Bulatlat.com.
But even with her salary and the irregular earnings from her husband, she said it is still difficult to make ends meet. She even sells beauty products on the side, but her patrons are too few. “It’s difficult to sell,” she said.
Her youngest son is still studying in a state university. She pays about P4,000 ($89) per semester, on top of her son’s allowance and cost of needs for projects.
Mrs. Obligado has to also shell out money for her teaching needs, internet connection, her cell phone plan, her P1,000 ($22) monthly dues in the dorm where she and her son stay, and food consumption. She also pays for her husband’s Social Security System contribution so that he will have pension in his retirement age.
“Sometimes, our business even incurs losses,” Mrs. Obligado lamented.
“I have lost count on how much the family spends. Money literally just passes by your hand because everything is just expensive, especially food. We really cannot wait for 2016. You see, I should have retired by now because of my age. But I have a son who is still studying and it is my dream to see him finish his studies,” she said.
Section 1(e) of Joint Resolution No. 4 or the SSL 3 mandates government to conduct a periodic review of the salary scale every three years upon effectivity of the law, taking into consideration “the possible erosion in the purchasing power due to inflation,” among other factors.
Tinio said the inaction of the government on the teachers’ plight and on the several other bills calling for salary increase of government employees is in violation of the SSL 3.
“The fact remains that workers in the government need salary increases because of the high costs of living, not because the DBM or Aquino says so. They need to pay hikes now, not in 2016,” Tinio added.
Salary below decent
Rosario Bella De Guzman, Head of the Research Department of independent think tank Ibon Foundation said in that the Philippines, unlike in other countries with progressive economy, inflation is only a secondary basis to give salary increase.
“In other countries, when there is an increase in basic commodities, there is an automatic inflationary increase in salary. For example, if there is a five percent increase in food in the general market, there is an automatic salary increase immediately. In the Philippines, inflation is secondary (basis for salary increase),” said De Guzman in an interview with Bulatlat.com.
She said the main issue is that the salary of workers and government employees cannot even provide a decent living.
The Ibon Foundation said that the family living wage as of August 2014 is P1,086($24) per day (in NCR with five family members). For a month, an ideal salary of a worker should be at least P23,892 ($532). But in reality, the salary of government employees is only pegged at P9,000 a month.
Familiy living wage means having only enough to subsist for the day – no money for medicine when somebody gets sick or in other emergency cases, and much less, for savings. Ibon says basic needs cover food, education, clothing and footwear, medical care, transportation and communication, fuel, light and water, housing, housing maintenance, furnishings, household operations, personal care and effects, and rental.
From 2012, when the last tranche of the Salary Standardization Law III was given to government employees, the value of peso has eroded. De Guzman said from 2006, the value of peso has eroded to .73 centavos. “This means, the real value of P9,000 ($202) salary of government employee is only P6,570 ($147).”
This shows that the salary of an ordinary government employee, like Angeles, has not coped with the inflation in prices of basic commodities, utilities and education.
“That is the problem with the SSL 3. Giving salary increase in tranches is useless because every year, prices of basic commodities and utilities increases. There is no substantial salary increase that would give economic relief to the government employees,” said Jossel Ebesate, national president of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW), in an interview with Bulatlat.com.
De Guzman said it would be futile for a Filipino worker to try to cope with the real value of his salary. “Why? Because first and foremost, the P9,000 salary of a worker or government employee is still below the decent level.”
Second, she said, there is a monopoly of pricing in the Philippines. “Unlike in other countries where there are many competitors, the corporations are somehow disciplined in increasing their rates. Here in the Philippines, the electricity, water, transportation like MRT and LRT, airline, as well as agriculture, is monopolized,” De Guzman said.
De Guzman said there are three levels of living, but “it has changed over time to cheapen labor.”
Most basic is the subsistence level. “You have a roof, clothes, you eat at least three times a day,” she said.
“Decent level means you have complete basic needs (food and non-food), you have money for savings. You have money to spend for parlor, spa – the whole rest and recreation aspect. You can spend for your own education for self-improvement. If you are a worker you can study or if you are a government employee you can take Masteral courses or take Civil Service Exams,” said De Guzman.
The highest level or comfortable level is where one has money, not only for savings but also for investment.” You have your own car and you own your house,” she said.
However, De Guzman said the government over the years has lowered the standard of living of Filipino families by lowering the poverty threshold to P52 a day ($1.16). This means that a person who is earning P52 a day is not poor, much lower than the subsistence level. “No one can live with P52 a day for food and non-food items. That is ridiculous,” said De Guzman.
P16,000 national minimum wage
In 2014, the workers sector, government employees, including public school teachers and health workers, once again united and called for a national minimum wage of P16,000 ($356).
Based on the National Statistics Office’s Labor Force Survey in October 2011, 6.1 million of the labor force are receiving more than the P466 ($10) minimum wage, 5.3 million are receiving minimum wage and 9.8 million receives lower than the minimum wage.
The All Workers’ Unity said thatof the 21.1 million workers and government employees, 70 percent or 15.1 million of the labor force receives minimum wage or even lower.
De Guzman said, the call for a P16,000 national minimum wage, though smaller than the ideal salary, is justifiable because workers and government employees are creating value. “For example, I work as a government employee, I am entertaining PhilHealth claims. The turnover of patients every day is the created value. The more efficient I work the more patients I will serve.”
The workers on the other hand, create the country’s resources from food to non-food, and makes capitalists earn from what they created. But in reality, while the capitalists earn billions, workers remain poor. The truth is that Henry Sy, the mall magnate, is listed as the Forbes’ richest man in the Philippines for the past seven years.
The government through the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said they are waiting for the result of a salary survey to find out if there was a reason to increase salaries. But for Angeles and Mrs. Obligado, there is no need for a survey to determine if there is a need for salary increase as their present condition would tell.
There is a pending Salary Standardization Law IV or Senate Bill No. 1689 proposed by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV which also peg salary grade one to P16,000 a month. But Ebesate said they need a substantial salary increase and not salary increase that would be again given in tranches.Section 35 of the SB 1689 provides, “the Base Pay Schedule shall be implemented in five equal yearly tranches, the amount of which shall be included in the annual General Appropriations Act.”
De Guzman said giving salary increase in tranches is an injustice. “It does not address poverty when the government gives salary increase in tranches. Poverty is an issue that should be addressed immediately.”
Ebesate also criticized the bigger increase in salary of higher positions in the government such as the President that will have P500,000 ($11,124) salary from the present P120,000 ($2,670). In a news report, Trillanes’ proposal is as high as P1 million ($22,249) “to avoid corruption.”
The call for P16,000 national minimum wage will also give increases to other regions suffering from lower salaries over the past years dueto the Wage Regionalization Law where wages of workers from private and public sectors are determined based on the region’s situations and other considerations. This goes the same with the salary of government employees, especially health workers through devolution.
The public health sector also demand an increase of salary of doctors of P50,000 ($1,114) and nurses to P25,000 ($557).
Julie Caguiat, a community doctor andexecutive director of Community Medicine Development Foundation (Commed) said community doctorsin far-flung areas under the Department of Health (DOH) receive only P17,000 ($379) a month. These doctors, said Caguiat, are working 24 hours a day, they are on-call, and they brave the mountains and rivers just to serve their patients in far-flung areas. Their hazard pay depends on the municipality and they do not have overtime pay.
“Not all doctors are earning millions. Over the years, salaries of health professionals and health workers have fallen behind due to continuing increase of prices,” Caguiat said.
Because of the lower salaries of health professionals – doctors and nurses in the regions opt to work overseas, leaving thousands of Filipino patients in dire need of health service. “In some municipalities, there are only two doctors in a district hospital that results to a poor quality of health services to the patients,” said Caguiat.
Basic human right
“In the Philippines, the demand for a salary increase is a political struggle,” said De Guzman. It is not only an economic struggle because one is fighting for a decent living that has long been denied by the government. As the All Workers’ Unity said, the last substantial salary increase was in July 1989.
Teachers, for example, had to find other income generating schemes to augment their measly salary, which gave them a reputation for selling a myriad of products.
“It is sad but that is the true condition of teachers in the Philippines. They had to sell food products, beauty products, everything just to have an additional income. And it is kind of degrading because no teacher would want to sell to parents or co-teachers as they would rather put their efforts to improve their teaching,” said Louie Zabala, president of the Manila Public School Teachers Association.
To demand salary increase is an assertion of everybody’s right to live decently, said De Guzman. She said sometimes people get used to living a difficult life they tend forget their basic rights.
“Sometimes when you get used to getting up in the morning, you go to work without breakfast, then the MRT is jam-packed you have to squeeze yourself inside the train. Then the fare increases and you worry about how you can get to work because you don’t have enough money. As it happens repeatedly in your life, you tend to forget your basic rights.”
The role of unions is crucial to awaken the oppressed, overworked and underpaid workers, health workers and public school teachers as well as those who are in private sectors, De Guzman added.