By Merlina H. Malipot
The school opening on Monday was marred by nationwide protests clamoring for increase in the salaries and other benefits of public school teachers.
While Education Secretary Leonor Briones visited the Quezon City High School (QCHS) in Diliman, Quezon City, as part of her monitoring activities on the first day of classes, members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) held nationwide protests in various forms.
Members of ACT started off their protest with a “Teachers’ Sunrise Protest” in Mendiola, Manila, wherein its leaders in the National Capital Region (NCR) opened the day with an exhibit of photos showing the “sorry state of school facilities” that welcomed teachers and students in the school opening. They also held “AlmusalangGuro” to demonstrate the “economic hardships experienced by teachers due to insufficient salaries”
“The protests are an expression of the teachers’ frustrations with the cyclical problems of the education system that are constantly put upon the teachers’ and parents’ shoulders to bear,” said ACT Philippines Chairperson Benjamin Valbuena. “Year in and year out, the teachers, students and parents suffer the inadequacy of the government to address the facility and personnel shortages, budget misallocation, meager salaries and contractualization…to protest on school opening only appropriate and justified,” he added.
Teachers in MelencioCastelo Elementary School, Commonwealth ES, Batasan Hills National High School, BagongSilangan HS, Roxas ES, Maligaya HS, and Sta. Lucia HS in Quezon City; Manila Science HS, Araullo HS, Rajah Soliman HS, and Jose Abad Santos HS in Manila wore headdresses and body placards that contain their demand for immediate salary increase as they teach on the first day of school. ACT members and teachers in other regions held the same activity part of the “Balik-Eskwela, TuloyangProtesta.”
Shortage in education resources
Like the teachers’ group, DepEd officials also noted that students and teachers in some public schools have to deal with same old problems every school opening – shortage in basic education resources.
Lack of basic education resources in some public schools highly urbanized areas marked the first day of classes for the school year (SY) 2018-2019. Some public schools reported overcrowding of students due to unfinished classrooms while others complain lack of chairs – among others.
Briones said the DepEd continuously monitor the basic education resources needed by the country’s public schools. Asked about the lack of classrooms, she said a total of 85,000 classrooms are expected to be added this year. Due to “lack of buildable space,” she said that DepEd is looking into “building multi-story buildings to solve this problem,” especially in the NCR.
Undersecretary for Planning and Field Operations Jesus Mateo said that the initial assessment on this year’s school opening is that it was “generally smooth and orderly.” While there are schools that lack classrooms and other resources, he assured that DepEd continuously addresses these problems.
Briones said that DepEd has already conducted a nationwide inventory and assessment of the readiness of public schools in terms of six basic education inputs or variables: teachers, classrooms, seats, toilets, and availability of water and electricity.
The assessment, Briones said, allowed DepEd “to prioritize interventions for schools that need support” in achieving the ideal ratios of 1:40 for teachers and classrooms; 1:50 for toilets, and 1:1 for seats.
DepEd remains positive that June 4 will be its “landmark accomplishment for 2018.” As it will serve as a “testament” to how – with the help of partners and stakeholders – the Department has “stood strong amid challenges including, but not limited to super typhoons and volcanic eruption, political and socio-economic threats, and armed conflict.”
“These adversities did not, and will never deter us from pursuing our mission to deliver quality, accessible, relevant, and liberating basic education to all Filipino learners wherever they are, and regardless of the circumstances,” Briones said. “As I have said time and again, we should always guarantee that whatever happens, education must continue,” she added.
The projected enrollment for SY 2018-2019 for all basic education levels is 27, 757, 546. It covers both public and private schools as well as in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and Local Universities and Colleges (LUCs) nationwide.
Meanwhile, for its “Bisita-Eskwela” activity, leaders of ACT Philippines and Congress representatives of ACT Teachers Party-list visited major schools in the Metro Manila to observe and document problems that the teachers, students and parents may experience on the first day of class.
The culminating activity is the “School-Opening Rally” at Mendiola wherein members of ACT Philippines – with the support of students and parents organizations – bring to Malacañang the “most pressing problems that beset the basic education system.”
During the rally, they highlighted the shortages on facilities and personnel that were “aggravated by the implementation of the K to 12 program,” the “meager salaries” of teachers and employees, and the effects of TRAIN Law and martial law in Mindanao to the class opening.
Teachers in Angeles City, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Bataan, Zambales, Bulacan, Bacolod City, Cagayan de Oro City, Cotabato City, Cebu City, General Santos City, Baguio City, South Cotabato, Butuan City and other regional formations of ACT also held protest actions in respective offices of the DepEd in the regions.
‘We deserve better’
In a separate statement, Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) also demanded for salary increase and other benefits for the welfare of public school teachers. “We are ready for the resumption of classes today and we are as excited as our students who anticipate that we will provide their learning needs today and the rest of the school year,” said TDC National Chairperson BenjoBasas. “However, we are still asking the DepEd and the entire government to provide the needs of our teachers as well,” he said.
Basas, who is also Caloocan City teacher, added that the supposed summer vacation last April and May “were consumed for other tasks like election duties, school-based trainings and the recently concluded BrigadaEskwela that they practically had no vacation at all.” He added that “these are some of the reasons why teaching is considered a selfless profession and thus deserves to be given the attention and support of the government.”
“We believe that we deserve a better compensation than what we are receiving,” Basas said. “Also, we have laws that guarantee the benefits and incentives for teachers to give life to the provision of Constitution which mandates the state to ensure that teaching will attract the best available talents through adequate remuneration and other incentives that will make our teachers satisfied and fulfilled,” he added.