By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A reelected partylist is celebrating what they said was proof of strength of teachers’ unions and a validation of their continued struggles.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), through its partylist, ACT Teachers garnered two seats in the 17th Congress. From being the sole representative of public school teachers, ACT Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio will now be joined by their second nominee, Francisca Castro or France to her comrades and co-teachers.
ACT said Castro is the first public school teacher to become a legislator. She served as a public school teacher in Quirino High School in Quezon City for the past 25 years. She taught Math before she decided to retire in 2013. She was then the second nominee of ACT Teachers Party.
In an interview with Bulatlat, Castro said gaining another seat in Congress is a manifestation of the group’s strength and stronghold.
“We would not gain these big votes if not for the members of ACT Unions nationwide,” she told Bulatlat. Castro said ACT unions in 15 regions have been registered with the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Labor and Employment. Only three regional unions remain to be registered, she said.
In Congress, ACT Teachers Party has filed House Bills for the welfare of the education sector. ACT Teachers Party’s authored the recently-enacted Republic Act 10756 or the Election Service Reform Act.
Under RA 10756, election service is now voluntary for public school teachers and other citizens. It also increased honorarium and allowances for poll workers, and mandated benefits, such as medical and legal assistance.
Tinio also co-authored RA 10743, an act declaring October 5 of every year as the National Teachers’ Day was also passed. He also principally authored RA 10653, the law which increases the ceiling on tax-exempt bonuses from P30,000 to P82,000 ($680 to $1,750).
ACT Teachers party has also been pushing for bills that will effectively improve teachers’ wages and work condition: House Bill 245 which aims to increase the salary of teachers and non-teaching personnel; House Bill 246, which will increase the minimum salary grade of public higher education teaching personnel, a bill for personal tax exemption; House Bill 5533 which lowers the optional retirement age for public school teachers; HB 5735 or the Student Discipline and Teacher Protection Act.
Castro said behind the success of struggles are the hard-working and zealous public school teachers who also rallied outside the halls of Congress pushing for their right and right of the Filipino people.
Even before ACT Teachers’ Party was established, public school teachers under the Alliance of Concerned Teachers have won several battles through protests in the streets. With their collective action, public school teachers acquired gains through dialogues with government officials, petition-signing and other democratic means.
Castro said this new arena, being in the halls of Congress, will be a challenge for her, knowing that she has to work with traditional politicians who belong to the “ruling elite.”
“Alam naman natin kung anong uri sila sa nabibilang (We know to which classes they belong),” said Castro.
Castro said she will work on further empowering teachers. “Many public school teachers are still not empowered. We still have to work on that,” she said.
She said in the 17th Congress, they continue to oppose the K to 12 program, as well as call for decent pay for teachers and non-teaching personnel.
She also plans to amend RA 5447 or the Special Education Fund where teachers are underrepresented in the local school boards. Local school boards are composed of city superintendent, city mayor representative, city treasurer, city council representative and president of the Parents-Teachers Association. Because teachers are underrepresented in the local school board, funds were not maximized for the teachers and students’ welfare especially in the provinces, said Castro.
Castro and the rest of the ACT Teachers’ Party thanked those who voted for their partylist and volunteers who persevered during the election campaign. She said they will always remain true to their slogan that they represent “The real voice of teachers.”