By LUISA SANDOVAL
MANILA— Because of the economic burden brought about by the failed quarantine-centric pandemic response of the government, private school teacher Mica Delos Santos had to look for another school that can offer better opportunities and better pay. But with the increasing number of private schools folding up, overburdened by a pandemic-sticken economy, the prospect of finding a school with better pay is very slim.
Like many private school teachers, Delos Santos already struggled with her work as a teacher even before the start of the pandemic. Her previous school in Quezon City served around 300 students from pre-school to junior high school, and as the only social science teacher, she had to juggle her workload – from preparing lesson plans to the actual teaching of the students and to making reports.
“I prepare five lessons every week. As a social sciences teacher, I teach a three-hour class per week. There are days when I can only rest at lunch time,” Delos Santos lamented.
The pandemic exacerbated her daily struggle as she adjusted to a new mode of teaching and learning. And their school could hardly cope with the demands that came with the so-called “new normal.”
Teachers, students, schools are struggling
Private schools have been hit hard during the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, with a 50-percent decline in its enrollees for school year 2020-2021, according to the Department of Education (DepEd). This is equivalent to about two million students who did not enroll in private schools.
This decline caused the closure of more than 865 private schools in the country, displacing over 4,400 private school teachers and affecting at least 56,000 students, according to the DepEd.
Delos Santos said that the previous school she used to work for struggled to adjust to the new mode of learning caused by the pandemic.
She said that they only had Facebook Messenger for their learning management system, serving as their platform for online classes. Among their considerations were students who have limited access to the internet. Premium Zoom accounts were also not provided, which meant that if they decide to use this platform, they can only use it for 40 minutes or less per session.
Because of this, Delos Santos was forced to open a personal premium account just so she could better teach her students. This, plus the cost of reliable internet service, added to her personal monthly expenses as the school also does not provide internet subsidies.
But it is not just the schools and the teachers who are deeply affected by the pandemic, it is also taking a toll on the students.
Delos Santos revealed that a number of the brightest of their students either stopped going to school or are enrolled in public schools because they cannot afford the rising cost of education during the pandemic.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones also pointed out that the increase in public school transfers reflects how parents are losing their jobs amid the worst economic crisis in recent history.
Delos Santos said that her previous monthly salary of about P 16,000 ($320) was enough to support her since she still lived with her family. But this is not the case for her colleagues who are also supporting their own families.
In 2019, the average salary of private high school teachers in the Philippine capital is about P 11,400 ($227), according to the professional learning online community of teachers, TeacherPH.
Delos Santos recalled that when the government started to impose the lockdowns as a solution to the rising cases of COVID-19, during the last few months of school year 2019-2020, many of her co-teachers decided to leave after the school year, further weakening the teaching workforce of the school.
Scrapped tax hike
Despite the desperate situation of private schools, last April 8, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) decided to impose a hefty 25-percent corporate income tax for so-called profit-oriented private schools. Revenue Regulation No. 5-2021 increased by 15 percentage point the previous 10 percent tax on schools, which may lead to the closure of more private schools.
Mounting pressure from teachers’ groups like the Alliance of Concerned Teachers – Private Schools (ACT-PS), however, forced the BIR, together with the Department of Finance (DOF) to issue RR No. 14-2021 last July 30, suspending the 25-percent corporate income tax to all profit-oriented private schools. ACT-PS claims this as a triumph for the embattled teachers in private schools.
“We welcome such a decision as this hike will irrefutably aggravate the situation of all private education institutions who are now facing the ramifications of the health and leadership crisis in the country,” said Jonathan Geronimo, ACT-Private Schools secretary-general.
He said that if the government continued to pursue the increase in the tax of private schools, this could lead to “mass retrenchment of academic and non-academic personnel in different schools, implementation of unjustified tuition and other fee hikes, low enrollment rate, and worse, shutting down of schools.”
David Michael San Juan, lead convenor of Professionals for Progressive Economy, agreed with this, and called for the exemption of private schools and universities from corporate income tax hikes as well as the lessening of personal income tax especially of low- and medium-income working Filipinos.
“We believe that jacking up the income taxes will never make the state of the nation less miserable as it will cause greater misery to ordinary Filipino citizens,” San Juan said.
“It is high time to demand reduced and justified tax rates, especially for those who are most vulnerable in this economic crisis,” he concluded. (JJE, RTS, RVO)