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Still left behind

Philippine Daily Inquirer January 14,2020 - 10:55 AM

The new year starts with a bit of good news for some 1.4 million civilian government employees: President Duterte signed last week the Salary Standardization Law (SSL) under which government employees, including public school teachers and nurses, will get an increase in salaries ranging from 17.1 percent to 24.1 percent, to be given in four tranches every Jan.1 from 2020 to 2023.

This fifth tranche of the SSL followed the completion of the SSL 4 enacted by the Aquino administration in 2016 and implemented by the Duterte administration in 2019. Mr. Duterte’s signature on his own administration’s SSL is a welcome development for our civil servants, and a fulfilment of one of his key campaign promises.

According to Sen. Sonny Angara, chair of the Senate finance committee, the pay hike will require a total funding of P130.45 billion over four years — a big but necessary commitment.

Under Mr. Duterte’s Executive Order 76, which authorized the SSL, workers with salary grades 1 to 10 will get 17.5 percent to 20.5 percent increase over four years, while mid-level workers from salary grades 11 to 13 will get the biggest raise of 24.1 percent this year and 30.7 percent in 2023.

In absolute amounts, this means, for instance, that in the case of workers with salary grade 1 who are currently receiving a monthly pay of P11,068, that amount will rise to P11,551 this year; P12,034 in 2021; P12,517 in 2022; and P13,000 in 2023.

An important sector is, however, expressing dismay and disappointment at the final contours of the law. Public school teachers say the measure does not go far enough to meet their long-unheeded demands.

Under the SSL, an entry-level teacher with a salary of P20,754 will get P22,316 this year, to become P23,877 in 2021; P25,439 in 2022; and P27,000 in 2023.

But,“This is far from what our teachers and other government employees have been demanding from the government,” said ACT Teachers Party List Rep. France Castro. This year’s raise amounts to P1,562 or a paltry P52 per day, she noted, and “public school teachers and other government employees do not deserve a measly increase in their salaries that will only be eaten up by the increasing prices in goods and income tax due to the TRAIN law.”

The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition said it was thankful for the increase, but likewise expressed unhappiness that it was “far from what we expected,” which was a P10,000 across-the-board increase. Bayan Muna Party List Rep. Carlos Zarate noted that the increase amounted to P16 a day for a family of five.

The teachers may have a reason to gripe, especially if they compare their pay increase with those of the military and the police, whose salaries were doubled by the President in 2018. Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said there is still time for the President to deliver on his promise to double the salaries of teachers.

“As we have said before, the promise of the President will be complied with. Maybe not this year, but his term has not yet ended. You must remember that the increase will depend on the funds that this government has.”

But the government has the funds, if this year’s mammoth national budget of 4.1 trillion is any gauge. The question may only be how those funds are allocated and which needs are prioritized. The Office of the President, for instance, has an P8.2-billion budget, which is 20 percent higher than in 2019.

Per this paper’s report, “Confidential, intelligence and extraordinary expenses… are pegged at P4.5 billion. The budget for confidential and intelligence expenses both increased by 80 percent from 2019, with both pegged at P2.25 billion each. Extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses will get a budget of P16.98 million, 22.76 percent more than the P13.83 million it got last year.”

“We hear the pleas of our teachers and understand where they are coming from,” said Angara, who has filed a bill seeking to increase the minimum wage for the sector. “Our teachers are among the hardest workers in the bureaucracy and have long been among the lowest-paid. We need to do so something about this soon.”

How soon? Malacañang isn’t saying. All the presidential spokesperson can offer to teachers at this time anxious about being left behind and once again seemingly made second priority by their government is a bromide.

“For as long as there is tomorrow,” said Panelo, “there is hope.”

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