“We open 2015 with a nationally-coordinated sit-down strike today and this struggle for salary increase for teachers and employees will culminate in a nationwide mass leave in June.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Public school teachers once again pressed for a salary increase as they held another nationwide sit-down strike on Tuesday, Feb. 24, in at least 18 regions, including the National Capital Region (NCR).
“As the school year is about to end, we would like to remind President Benigno S. Aquino III that we are not yet giving up on our fight for a decent and living wage,” said Benjamin Valbuena, national chairman of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers.
A program was held in front of the Manila Science High School where different organizations also expressed solidarity with the teachers’ call for salary increase. Programs were also held in different campuses in Quezon City. Teachers wore black armbands and hung tarpaulins with their demands.
ACT, an alliance of public school teachers nationwide, started their campaign for salary increase in May 2014. They trooped several times to the gates of the Malacañang Palace, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to pressure Aquino, but to no avail. They held their first sit-down strike in November last year.
“We demand quality pay for teachers to ensure quality education,” said Louie Zabala, president of the Manila Public School Teachers Association (MPSTA).
“President Aquino is the top enemy and tormentor of public school teachers and employees. Not only has the President nailed the salary of teachers to P18,549 ($419) and employees to P9,000 ($203), he has also slashed our benefits such as Productive Enhancement Incentive (P10,000 or $226) and Productivity Incentive Benefit (P2,000 or $45). Our local allowances are also under attack because of restrictions imposed by the national government,” he said.
Fight for what is right
Melanie Abad of the All-UP Academic Union said the teachers’ sit-down strike shows the importance of collective action. “It is through the collective action that we show that teachers should not be oppressed. The teachers’ population in the country compromises at least 500,000. With our collective action, like today’s sit-down strike, we show our strength.”
She added that the sit-down strike is a good example to show students that their teachers know their rights and they are willing to fight for it.
Gabriela Women’s Party Emmi De Jesus also expressed solidarity to the sit-down strike. She said teachers who have a difficult profession should be given significant wages. In every Committee hearing, De Jesus said, the Makabayan bloc always fights for the basic sectors’ rights, such as teachers’ salary increase. However, the Aquino ally-dominated Congress block these efforts.
Ferdinand Gaite, national president of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition, and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) also expressed solidarity to the striking public school teachers. He said the Aquino administration has been deaf and blind to the their call for salary increase, that is why employees from the private and public sectors have united under the All Workers Unity to strengthen their call for national minimum wage of P16,000 ($362) for employees in the country.
Students in Manila Science High School as well as F.G. Calderon Integrated High School also expressed solidarity with their teachers’ call for salary increase.
‘Include state workers’ wage hike in 2016’
ACT Teachers Party Rep. Antonio Tinio, meanwhile urged Aquino to include the salary increases for 1.6 million government employees in the proposed 2016 budget. It is also in time with the budget call that DBM recently signed for state agencies to start drafting their budget proposals for 2016.
Tinio said Aquino is mandated by the Salary Standardization Law 3 (SSL 3), which was fully implemented in 2012, to earmark a certain portion of the national budget for automatic annual salary increases.
Tinio said the government employees will not entertain any more excuses from Malacañang. “The ‘financial constraints’ it keeps alleging has long been discredited by the billions of pork it makes available for political patronage. Meanwhile, it has delayed for nearly three years the review of SSL 3, which it says is a condition for pay increases.”
Tinio also slammed the Palace’s statement warning teachers not to let the sit-down strike affect their duties and students’ learning.
“What causes the greatest damage to our children’s education are the depressed and stagnated salaries of education workers and their overworked yet underpaid conditions,” he said.
Lourdes Montenegro, biology teacher in Manila Science High School said that despite the big number of teachers, they are always left behind in terms of the government’s list of priorities.
“The government’s priorities should be balanced. As mind-molders of the country, I think we deserve a salary increase,” Montenegro told Bulatlat.com, adding that they also shell out money for their teaching needs. “Because we are committed to our work, we sacrifice our budget for our family and that should not be happening because in the first place, the government can provide forour teaching needs.”
ACT said they will hold more protest actions in the coming days as long as the government will not heed their call.
“Teachers ended 2014 with a sit-down strike that struck not only the Department of Education but also Malacañang. We open 2015 with another nationally-coordinated sit-down strike today and this struggle for salary increase for teachers and employees will culminate on a nationwide mass leave in June if the government will once again fail to heed our call,” Zabala said.