By MARK LAVARRO
MANILA — “Bunot bulsa talaga. Kahit butas na ang bulsa, binubunot pa rin.”
(We shoulder the expenses from our own pockets. Even if our pockets have been emptied, we have no choice.)
This was the lament of Ma. Venia Del Castro, a public school teacher for 33 years, as she recalled her experience on the government’s support for public school teachers during the pandemic.
She related that in order to ensure that her students would still be able to get a semblance of quality education, she had to scour for whatever remaining money she had for her to buy a decent laptop to use for the classes.
Del Castro handles six classes and for her to be able to properly perform her teaching duties, she needed a reliable laptop to prepare her lessons and for the time-intensive online classes.
Without the proper devices, she would run the risk of being interrupted when her device would die out on her in the middle of a discussion, or the students might miss important points because of choppy lines, delayed audio, garbled sounds, and other connectivity issues.
Despite these proven problems since the government shifted to blended distance learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic, public school teachers still have not received substantial support from the government. Del Castro is one of them.
ACT Teachers Partylist said that the 2022 proposed national budget still lacks support for the education sector, with public school teachers still set to receive a measly P5,000 ($100) cash allowance for the entire year. The amount will be further divided into three: P3,500 ($70) for the teaching supplies allowance, P500 ($10) for the medical check-up allowance, and P1,000 ($20) for the internet allowance.
This is in line with last year’s joint circular of the Department of Education and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) which granted teachers a $100 cash allowance intended for the purchase of teaching supplies and materials, tangible or intangible; for the conduct of various modes of learning, internet, and other communication expenses; and for their annual medical examination expense.
Teachers who will assume duty within the first 30 days will receive their cash allowance in whole. However, this will be reduced based on their assumption of duty from the day that classes resumed.
ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro asserts that this cash allowance is a far cry from their demands, which included P5,000 teaching ($100) supplies allowance and P1,500 ($30) monthly internet allowance.
Instead of addressing the concerns of the teachers, ACT Teachers Partylist said that the 2022 proposed budget either removed or reduced the budget of the education sector, particularly those intended for the welfare of the teachers.
Among the issues raised by the teachers’ group is the removal of the special provision for the payment of compensation for teaching overload because at the moment, despite the long hours of work, teachers are not justly compensated.
A survey conducted by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers revealed that at least 70 percent of their colleagues deemed that the workload brought by distance learning has negative impacts on their physical and mental health, while 10 percent admitted that they fell ill due to the problems it brought them.
ACT Teachers Partylist also lamented how the Inclusive Education Program (IEP) of the education department, which caters to many students especially in this time of a pandemic, was reduced by P1.539 billion ($30.7 million). In the 2021 General Appropriations Act, this budget was at 17.47 billion ($348 million) but in the 2022 proposed budget, it was pegged at P15.9 billion ($317 million).
Under the Inclusive Education Program, the budget for the Indigenous People’s Education Program, Flexible Learning Options, and Special Education Program will be reduced by P107 million ($2.13 million), P1.4 billion ($27.9 million), and P32 million ($638,330), respectively.
Meanwhile, Rep. Castro noted that the Duterte administration is seeking a P28.1 billion allocation for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the government’s botched counterinsurgency program behind the rampant red-tagging of activists and human rights defenders, and proven false and baseless accusations against celebrities, media workers, and other personalities.
“We are in a health, economic and educational crisis that is worsening every day because the Duterte administration chooses to prioritize budgeting programs that do not help the Filipino people and only helps himself to remain in power,” Castro added.
Heed teachers’ demands
Meanwhile, Verna Celones, a public school teacher for more than a decade, said that due support, particularly for gadgets needed for the school, is a “weapon” that they need in order to survive in teaching in the time of a pandemic.
Internet allowance, too, she added, should be provided regularly, adding that they cannot release funds for this whenever they feel like doing so, “because we do not teach just when we feel like it.”
Meanwhile, the 900,000 public school teachers are set to receive the P1,000 ($20) incentive on World Teacher’s Day, Oct. 5, in recognition of their vital role in educating Filipino students, especially during the pandemic. But apart from the salary and benefits that they have long been pushing, teachers also reiterated the much-needed rest they need before classes resume on Sept. 13 through another year of blended distance learning.
Teachers are also calling for a five-point safe working environment as classes are set to resume. As it stands, the Philippines is one of the only two countries in the world whose schools are under indefinite lockdown.
These include rolling out a clear plan for the immediate safe conduct of limited and voluntary classroom learning in zero-case and low-risk areas, and a roadmap to the eventual safe reopening of schools across the country.
“The government should not abandon the people’s right to education. We will fight for safe, quality, and accessible education amid a pandemic,” said Jandiel Roperas, president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines.
Meanwhile, teachers also reiterated the need for due support for teachers, from proper devices for online teaching to the release of their much-awaited benefits.
“The government should pay attention to our demands. Ranking officials must see for themselves what is happening on the ground. They might be fed with ‘good news’ but on the ground, we are suffering – sleepless, without ample rest, and digging our own pocket just to be able to teach,” said Del Castro. (JJE, RTS, RVO)