Villafuerte bats for Congress OK of 2 pro-teacher bills

August 29, 2023 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 161 views

WITH this week’s opening of school year (SY) 2023-2024, Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte is asking the Congress to put on the front burner twin measures bumping up the pay and making permanent the teaching supplies’ allowance of some 800,000 public school teachers.

Villafuerte, National Unity Party (NUP) president, made this appeal in support of President Marcos’ renewed commitment a week ago to deliver on his 2023 campaign promise for an additional salary hike for these teachers to help them cope with the ever-increasing cost of living.

The congressman and former governor sought the swift congressional approval of these two complementary proposals after Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte-Carpio bared recently a directive from President Marcos for the Department of Education (DepEd) to study how to further adjust the salaries of public school teachers that is over and above the wage increase that they receive annually under the Salary Standardization Law (SSL).

SY 2023-2024 opened for public schools Tuesday with the total number of registered students expected by the DepEd to over 22.7 million for the new academic year.

At a recent “Brigada Eskwela” activity at the Victorino Mapa High School in Manila that was attended by Mr. Marcos and Duterte-Carpio, the DepEd secretary said the President has already ordered the Department to conduct a study for a long-term outlook on how to provide salary adjustments aside from what teachers’ get every year under the SSL.

“So, we are waiting for the result of that study na nandoon ‘yung increases and then nandoon din ‘yung pagkumpara niya sa inflation at sa mgaeconomic indicators, forecast ng economic indicators sa mga darating na taon,” Duterte-Carpio said.

Villafuerte supported the President’s directive to the DepEd as he pointed out that, “Despite their heavy workload and essential role as agents of constructive intellectual, social, cultural, political and moral change in our society, our public school teachers are among the most underpaid workers in the country.”

“Increasing their takehome pay and providing for a permanent teaching supplies allowance with a provision for a steady bump per schoolyear (SY) will hopefully incentivize them to strive for excellence in their field and make teaching a more attractive profession for our students,” he said.

Villafuerte and three fellow CamSur representatives have authored House Bill (HB) 1851 mandating a significant increase in the salary grade level of public elementary and high school teachers from Grade 11 to Grade 19 amid the continuous rise in the cost of living.

They likewise authored HB 1849 that seeks to make permanent the school supplies’ allowance of P5,000 that public school teachers have been entitled to during the Covid-19 pandemic to lessen their burden in coughing up their personal money to deliver education services during the hybrid learning system of face-to-face and remote or online teaching.

This bill further provides for a continuous increase in the annual allowance for teaching supplies over the succeeding SYs.

The NUP president authored both HB 1851 and HB 1849 with Representatives Miguel Luis Villafuerte and Tsuyoshi Anthony Horibata plus the Bicol Saro partylist.

Villafuerte pointed out that in its latest Private Sector Economists’ Inflation Forecast, the 26 economists from banks and investment companies who were polled by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) projected full-year inflation at a median of 5.5% this 2023, or above the BSP’s official target of 2% to 4%.

“Risks to the inflation outlook remain tilted to the upside due mainly to supply disruptions, particularly the potential adverse impact of El Niño,” according to the BSP.

The BSP said that for the polled economists in its August survey, the major contributors to their expected elevated inflation for the rest of the year are the high prices of basic goods including food, oil and services (restaurant and accommodation services), owing to supply factors attributed mainly to weather disturbances such as typhoons and the threat of El Niño; the negative effect of trade restrictions on selected food items; the global oil price shock resulting from petroleum supply cuts by member-states of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC); and second-round effects arising from higher transport fares.

Villafuerte said that despite the steady decline in inflation from 8.7% in January to 4.7% in July, experts believe Filipino households will continue to feel the pinch from the stubbornly elevated consumer price index (CPI).

He said that the Fitch Group subsidiary BMI Country Risk and Industry Research, in its report, said that: “While of price changes is slowing, (inflation) remains higher than central banks’ targets and higher than what consumers have grown accustomed to, especially over the past decade. The impact will not be spread evenly across the different consumer spending segments, with the prices of some components, such as rent; services and some food items (e.g., meat and poultry), continuing to remain stickier and more elevated over (the second half).”

The BMI pointed out, he said, that: “If nominal wages cannot keep up with these high rates of inflation, consumers will continue to see erosion in their purchasing power. The uneven nature of price increases will mean that consumers will have to increasingly allocate more of their disposable income towards meeting basic necessities.”

In HB 1851 and HB 1849, Villafuerte and their three other authors pointed to the constitutional duty of the State to “enable conducive working conditions for our teachers and ensure that the teaching profession will attract and retain its rightful share of the best available talents in the country through adequate remuneration.”

“In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, they may be recognized as education frontliners that took an invaluable role to continue learning amongst our students though alternative modes,” they said. “Despite their contribution, workload, and role in the society, public school teachers are among the most underpaid workers in the country.”

In HB 5851, the four lawmakers said their proposed salary upgrade shall be “differentiated in accordance with the 5 qualifications and length of service rendered by teachers and shall not be prejudiced by across-the-board salary adjustments.”

The bill mandates the national government to appropriate such amount, as may be necessary to carry out the proposed pay hike, and that this salary increase shall “take priority over other non-educational and non-agricultural budgetary allocations.”

It requires the DepEd to come up with a specific programmed budget needed to cover the expenses for the upgrading in salary levels of all the corresponding teacher plantilla positions for a period of at least five (5) years “to allow the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to make the necessary budgetary adjustments to facilitate the smooth implementation of this Act.”

HB 5851 states that the amount necessary to implement the pay hike plan shall be included in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for the year following this bill’s enactment into law

In HB 5849, the four CamSur solons noted that one of the sectors that have severely suffered during the pandemic is education, and that “with the closure of schools, students and teachers were forced to resort to alternative learning methods to ensure continuity of learners’ education. This predicament has compelled our teachers, especially those in public basic education, to shoulder additional expenses for internet connectivity, electronic gadgets, and other necessary materials, among other concerns.”

They recalled that recognizing this teachers’ predicament, the DepEd and DBM issued Joint Circular No. 2 implementing Special Provision No. 11 in the 2021 GAA on cash allowance for schoolteachers in basic education.

Joint Circular 2 entitled teachers to each get a maximum P5,000 cash allowance for the purchase of teaching materials and supplies as well as for the expenses they incur on internet connection, communications and their annual medical examination.

However, the said circular only covered an allowance for a limited duration for public school teachers who were still enduring the continued effects of the pandemic, according to the bill authors.

Hence, their proposal to provide added financial relief to public school teachers by making this temporary allowance a permanent one, and with a provision for a steady increase in amount over the succeeding SYs.

HB 5849 institutionalizes a tax-free allowance for the purchase of teaching supplies and materials for the implementation of various learning delivery modalities (LDMs) in the amount of P5,000 per teacher for SY 2023-2024 and SY 2024-2025; P7,500 per teacher for SY 2025-2026; and P10,000 per teacher for SY 2026-2027 and thereafter.

The bill states that the amount necessary for the grant of this teaching supplies’ allowance to teachers shall be charged against the appropriations of the DepEd under the annual GAA.

It directs the DepEd Secretary to conduct a periodic review of this annual allowance, “taking into account the current prices of teaching supplies and materials, and, if warranted, recommend the necessary increase in the amount of the allowance.”

According to the four proponents of these twin measures, the low salary rates of around 800,000 public school teachers have “caused disincentivization to improve their skills and pursue further education and training. This situation also makes the teaching profession unattractive to the youth, especially to the cream of the crop graduates from top colleges and universities in the country. Moreover, labor groups and teacher associations have been lobbying for years to increase teachers’ compensation by upgrading their salary grade.”

They said their two bills aim to attract more students to the education profession, and incentivize teachers to further equip their skills set to strive for excellence in their field that would eventually improve the quality of the public education system.