Bayanihan 3 should give adequate, not paltry, aid for teachers

Published May 29, 2021, 12:43 AM

by Tonyo Cruz


Tonyo Cruz
Tonyo Cruz

The House of Representatives this week failed the nation’s public school teachers as the chamber passed the so-called Bayanihan 3 bill.

While the House inserted and approved the P54-billion pension fund for police and military pension that is totally unrelated to the pandemic response, the chamber drastically cut the proposed P30-billion education-related subsidies. It is now down to P4-billion.

That is a paltry sum, if you ask the Alliance of Concerned Teachers and perhaps everyone else in the country except the House.

According to ACT, what the House approved is a actually measly P175 internet allowance for teachers. It is a far cry from the P1,500 they actually demand and need to have good monthly internet service.

As approved by the House, the Bayanihan 3 bill also no longer provides any new appropriation for teachers’ laptops and devices. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

This kind of cavalier treatment teachers get from government should not go unnoticed. Teachers themselves have tried to find time in between printing modules and handling online classes to demand that Members of Congress listen to their plight, and to provide adequate state subsidy for their work.

Congress has an obligation to provide adequate state subsidy for public school teachers and students who, the state commands since last year, to carry on with public education through online and blended learning. The reality since 2020 is that public school teachers and students have been left largely to fend for themselves, take out loans to buy laptops and devices, and to make sacrifices between basic needs.

If Congress is serious in promoting public education amid the pandemic, it should provide funds for public school teachers: starting with internet service allowances and laptops, and other allowances they need to deliver education to their students. The removal of P26-million from the planned education-related subsidies does not inspire confidence, and point to the low priority Congress gives to public education, especially at this time.

It is not as if Congress does not have enough funds to provide to education. The national budget now reaches over P4-trillion, and yet we see huge problems in terms of what Congress and the Duterte administration choose to prioritize. We have also seen a series of reports of new billions in new loans taken out by government in our name, and yet the aid reaching the public could only reach a handful of thousands per household since last year.

Nobody opposes direct subsidies to every Filipino and every household. That’s a state obligation in most countries since last year. Congress in fact is very late in this, and so lawmakers and the administrators should act with dispatch to bring “ayuda” to all.

But the insistence of some members of Congress in inserting police and military pensions, while cutting provisions for education makes Bayanihan 3 look bad. Indeed, why put the police and military pensions in this bill? Who ordered that it be included in this bill?

There’s still an opportunity for Congress to correct this mistake, and take steps to help public school teachers. Members of the Senate and the bicameral committee could solve the problem and make the Bayanihan 3 a true pandemic response bill. They should remove the police and military pension provision and instead redirect the P54-billion towards “ayuda” for education, social services, agriculture, labor, MSMEs and overseas Filipino workers. Congress can even increase the P400-billion Bayanihan 3 budget if it wants to and if that means providing adequate assistance and stimulus to our more productive sectors.

There’s no stopping Congress from providing each of our 950,000 teachers with laptops, devices and internet service allowances. Congress has the power of the purse. All it takes is a good sense of priorities and obeying the constitutional mandate that education must take precedence over everything.

Come to think of it, Congress already owes public school teachers billions since last year. Lawmakers have left teachers to fend for themselves. Our mentors have taken out loans to tide them over in what has become the longest school years and longest teaching hours in the history of the Philippine educational system. Congress and the state should be ashamed for shortchanging our teachers and scrimping on them, while pampering non-productive and corrupt sectors of the country. Lest we forget, we will summon our teachers to serve in the elections.

Bayanihan 3 should also carry our teachers, not be a burden to them.