Filipino public school teachers speak up on underpayment

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All around the country, public school teachers burn the midnight oil for a job that puts the nation’s future in their hands. So why aren’t they getting paid enough? In photo: Dax Macaraya, a second grade teacher at Malanday Elementary School in Marikina, with her students. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — It's 3 a.m. in Caloocan City when 30-year-old Arvin Doloque, drags himself out of bed.

Careful not to wake his four-year-old daughter, he's out of the house by 4:30 a.m. and en route to San Roque Elementary School in Navotas, where he teaches third grade math.

He experienced a graveyard shift at the call center where he worked for nine years, but he still considers himself nocturnal.

Oo, tamad ka na ... pero on my part, naisip ko na lang: Naku, ‘pag hindi ako pumasok, paano nalang ‘yung estudyante ko?” says Doloque. “'Yung estudyante ko nga, gusto nilang pumasok.

He clocks in for his first class at 6 a.m., just about the time that Dax Macaraya gets up in her Marikina apartment and gets ready for her afternoon classes. She handles a second grade class in Malanday Elementary School, teaching all subjects from noon until 5:30 p.m.

Photo-49 (2).jpg Thirty-year-old Arvin Doloque leaves his house in Caloocan at 4:30 a.m. just to get to San Roque Elementary School in Navotas in time for his first class at 6 a.m. Photo by JILSON TIU

Before that, Macaraya is scheduled to teach at the morning session of an ICT training program for the faculty. The project is meant to be sustainable by the time she leaves next year. Until then, there’s lots of work to do.

Half past 7 a.m., Niki Baroy gets up and sweeps up her house in a relocation site in Cagayan de Oro City. Residents of the area lost their homes to Typhoon Sendong in 2011. She prepares for her first class before lunch over coffee.

Baroy has had to live without water for more than half a year. She never thought having a faucet would be a luxury.

“These challenges I’ve faced for the past seven months were the same challenges the Macapaya community endured for the past five years,” says Baroy.

Doloque, Macaraya, and Baroy are only three of over 90 teaching fellows at Teach for the Philippines, an organization that deploys young professionals into the education sector.

Photo-20 (2).jpg “[Teaching] requires you to have an enlarged heart to accommodate 41 of your children every day ... [and] the issues that they have at home. You're also accommodating ... the community that made them that way,” says Dax Macaraya. Photo by JILSON TIU

But they are part of a larger force now: they are part of hundreds of thousands of public school teachers from Basco to Jolo, getting up and getting out and clocking in at six, seven, eight o'clock in the morning to the ringing of school bells.

***

Bing Gerona arrives in Muntinlupa Science High School by 7 a.m. The science coordinator has been awake for almost three hours, having prepared her baon for the day and meals for her two siblings. At 55, Gerona is the family breadwinner; her mother just passed away, her brother does not have regular work, and her sister is recovering from breast cancer.

The cats pawing at her laboratory window greet her. As she fumbles with the key, a cat that looks like it survived a bad accident brushes against her leg. She jokes, “I'm the catwoman of MunSci.”

Gerona has been teaching here for 15 years. Apart from managing teachers, she handles a few classes in science investigatory research. She says the fulfillment from teaching is intangible.

“How do you describe [it]? It’s different when you are working or dealing with non-living things. These are living things, you can see them grow,” she says.

Photo-93.jpg “[Of] the ₱19,000 that I usually take home, I do not have savings. Daan lang sa kamay ko, eh,” says Bing Gerona, a science coordinator at Muntinlupa Science High School. “My salary is not enough.” Photo by JILSON TIU

When Gerona settles down for an interview with her colleague, Faculty Club President and prefect of discipline Romeo Lacanlale, both talk about how teaching has made them surrogate parents.

Lacanlale also refers to himself as 'loco parenti' —“Ako ang tatay nila dito.

Gerona agrees. She might never have married, but she does not mind when her students call her “Ma'am” repeatedly, blending it into “Mama” by mistake. “I don't get offended when they [call me] 'nanay ...' because that's how I treat [my students].”

But while their students appreciate them, Lacanlale and Gerona said they don't feel the government does.

“[Of] the ₱19,000 that I usually take home, I do not have savings. Daan lang sa kamay ko, eh,” says Gerona. “My salary is not enough.”

Lacanlale has taught in both public and private schools since 1983, but he is still a “Teacher I.” Following 2018 Budget Department records, he earns between ₱20,000 to ₱22,000 monthly.

But subtract his dues, he says, and the loan he is paying off for his two daughters' college education, and his take home pay is only ₱7,000. It’s an improvement from the ₱3,000 he was left with before income taxes were lowered, he says.

Lacanlale says he survived while supporting his family because of the “London bridge.”

He laughs, explaining, “When we speak of London as a teacher, we mean 'loan dito, loan doon.’”

***

“I’m not an exception to that,” Tina Villareal echoing her fellow colleague’s need to take loans. “We really need an increase in salary.”

Villareal is a cluster head at Parañaque Science High School. She shares this just before noon, after having done her rounds checking classrooms in the morning.

Photo-95.jpg Romeo Lacanlale has taught in both public and private schools since 1983, but he is still a “Teacher I.” Following 2018 Budget Department records, he earns between ₱20,000 to ₱22,000 monthly. Photo by JILSON TIU

Over 29 years of teaching, she has acquired loans for the education of four children, as well as her house — which she is still paying off, long after her children have graduated and moved out.

“Out ‘yung savings. ‘Yun ang wala. Sufficient lang siya,”  Villareal says of her salary.

Kung may pinag-aaral [ka], it will be very difficult ... Tapos nagkakasakit ‘yung bata, dapat talaga meron kang naitatabi kahit papaano,”  she says. “Eh kung wala kang i-se-save kasi sufficient nga lang ‘yung nare-receive mong salary for your daily needs, paano na? Dinaanan ko lahat iyon.

Villareal has another grievance: the cost of required training seminars for teachers. Certificates from these seminars are necessary for complying with the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) program and maintaining their license as a teacher. The seminars also have to be authorized by the Professional Regulation Commission.

Free seminars provided by the Department of Education’s Division Offices are just “not sufficient” for all teachers, says Villareal.

“‘Yung iba … they opt to pay for these seminars that they have to attend,” she says, adding some trainings can cost up to ₱6,000.

Romeo Lacanlale echoes this; in his experience, seminars cost ₱1,000 to ₱2,000 — still a large chunk of his ₱3,000 take home pay last year.

On top of these required expenses are expenses out of moral obligation, particularly when teachers see their students need help in project contributions or transportation going home.

Photo-125.jpg Over 29 years of teaching, Tina Villareal, a cluster head at Parañaque Science High School, has acquired loans for the education of four children, as well as her house — which she is still paying off, long after her children have graduated and moved out. Photo by JILSON TIU

Before the feeding program was instituted, Villareal recalls having to feed a whole class during first period. She'd pack eggs, hotdog, rice — whatever would help them think straight during lectures.

“Some of them worked after school. Nagtitinda ng balut, nag-iigib ng tubig, nagtitinda ng sigarilyo ... Wala silang attention or time to study at home,” says Villareal.

She did not have to do it — but she did, because she couldn’t feed their minds until their stomachs were satiated.

***

Rosie Conde teaches teachers every Saturday at Philippine Normal University, the country's designated National Center for Teacher Education. Aspiring and professional teachers from all over the country study here in hopes of earning their license or gaining the points needed for a promotion.

“One thing that is very evident at my 7 a.m. class [is] ... some of them are sleepy,” she says. “I understand they were traveling, like [at] 1 a.m., just to come here. It will take [some of] them ... about seven to eight hours just to come into university.”

Some of her students, she says, come from as far as Batangas, Pampanga, and Pangasinan.

Conde herself spent 16 years teaching in Caraga State University in Butuan; after earning her PhD, she moved to Manila, where she believes she could make a greater impact.

In particular, Conde instructs teachers how to teach math. Specializing in didactics of mathematics, she is on a mission to make the application of math to daily life more evident to students.

“Usually there is a gap between mathematics and the real world ... we're into abstract things like what x [or y] stands for,” Conde explains.

“I think mathematics should be a human activity ... It's more [about] realizing what should be done in the society using mathematics as a tool,” she adds.

Photo-29.jpg Rosie Conde teaches teachers every Saturday at Philippine Normal University, the country's designated National Center for Teacher Education. Aspiring and professional teachers from all over the country study here in hopes of earning their license or gaining the points needed for a promotion. Photo by JL JAVIER

Different options for college, for example, could be mathematically weighed out through pros and cons. What she passes on in theory to her students, they pass on in application — so that for students in primary schools, math can have meaning.

Like a true math teacher, Conde considers her work important because of its “multiplicity effect.” She handles about 15 students in each of her two Saturday classes, and each of her own students handle about 30 to 40 students per class on weekdays.

“When you teach quality education ... teachers also can teach the quality education that students deserve,” she says.

***

Tina Bawagan has been teaching in Philippine Science High School since 1986. It had been five years when she was released from a month-long detainment in a military safehouse.

It is the early afternoon, and she has just finished her classes when the history teacher recalls: She had been a little over 20 when she went underground to counter martial law, and married a man from the movement not long after.

“By evening, that's when they started the torture ... ‘yung mga interrogation, pananakit,” Bawagan recalls. “By today's definition, it would be called rape, what they did to me. That was until the next morning.”

She did not flinch when sharing her story, as if she had recounted it hundreds of times.

Photo-28.jpg “Being a teacher is so much like being an activist ... in the classroom, you are able to impart values and principles among students,” says Tina Bawagan, a teacher at Philippine Science High School since 1986. Photo by JL JAVIER

They asked for her name the next morning. She assumed her mother had called; her late father, who died when she was four, had been a naval officer. After that, the torture stopped.

Bawagan was released in June 1981, at the age of 27. Her first stint was teaching in a private all-girls Catholic school. In December, she got word that her husband — whom she had not seen or heard from since her release — was killed.

“But I continued — I was still active in the teachers' movement here. Nagpatuloy ako,” says Bawagan.

“Being a teacher is so much like being an activist ... in the classroom, you are able to impart values and principles among students,” she adds.

Today, Bawagan has two children from a second marriage. She teaches four sections in ninth grade and chairs a committee on environmental awareness and waste management.

Her most fulfilling moment as a teacher came after the controversial burial of Ferdinand Marcos at Libingan ng mga Bayani in 2016 — particularly because of how her students responded. They took to the streets, joining a protest at Bantayog ng mga Bayani.

Sabi ko ... 'I'm ready to retire,'” Bawagan recalls. “We used to be talking about martial law and how rights were not respected at the time. It was all academic then ... but now you're here, and you're marching.”

***

Tina Bawagan points out a discrepancy in the salary raise for civilian government personnel. Although she has a higher pay owing to her senior status in a school run by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), she says less fortunate colleagues — particularly those under Department of Education (DepEd), or those in a lower teaching level — are at a disadvantage.

Teachers in the public school system start as a Teacher I, progressing to II, and later III; each of the three levels has eight steps. Teachers can then progress to Head Teachers (with six levels), Master Teachers (four levels), or Principals (four levels).

A Teacher I earns a Salary Grade of 11 — between ₱20,179 and ₱22,055 — depending on which step they are in. This is a new figure, following the third tranche of government personnel raises that took effect on January 1 this year.

The amount is less than ₱1,000 more than what a Teacher I earned in 2017, when Salary Grade 11 was pegged at a range of ₱19,620 to ₱21,307. It is a bit more than ₱1,500 up from the pay in 2012, which started at ₱18,549.

In contrast, a Principal IV or Master Teacher IV under DepEd has a salary grade of 21 and earns between ₱52,554 and ₱58,322. The amount is ₱13,061 more than what they earned in 2012 — around eight times more than the raise given to a Teacher I.

tableteachersalary.jpg Source: Department of Education and Department of Budget and Management

A Special Science Teacher V in Philippine Science High School earns even higher —with a salary grade of up to 24. That’s between ₱73,299 and ₱81,344, and almost ₱10,000 up from what they earned only last year.

However, it is teachers on the lower rungs who are expected to spend the most in order to be promoted. A Teacher I must go through eight steps at each level before becoming a Teacher II and III, and before moving up as a Head Teacher, Master Teacher, or Principal.

Steps — and therefore, promotions — are determined through an elaborate point system where teachers gain points by attending training seminars, authoring textbooks, taking masteral units, or winning awards, among other activities.

For most teachers, training seminars and graduate studies require out of pocket payment, and a raise of not even ₱2,000 since 2012 may make it difficult for them to succeed.

“I don't know what the formula is, but I don't think it's fair for those who get less,” says Bawagan.

Despite 35 years of teaching, six years of which were spent in Muntinlupa Science, Romeo Lacanlale is still a Teacher I. His colleague Celine Calado, who has been teaching there for 17 years, only got promoted this school year.

Photo-81.jpg Teachers in the public school system start as a Teacher I, progressing to II, and later III; each of the three levels has eight steps. Teachers can then progress to Head Teachers (with six levels), Master Teachers (four levels), or Principals (four levels). Photo by JILSON TIU

“For 16 years, Teacher I ako ... May mga nagsabi, 'Kasi hindi ka nag-aral.' Hindi ba talaga ako nag-aral?” Calado says. “Sinupport ko na ang programa ng DepEd.”

Calado signed onto DepEd's foreign language program. Although she teaches Japanese, her field of specialization does not have any equivalent points that lead to a promotion. She says in her point of view, she won’t get far until she completes graduate studies — which is worth 10 points.

Sana, sa akin lang, sa kabuuan ng gobyerno ... sana huwag sukatin, huwag timbangin ang guro sa 45 units,” says Calado.

She sighs and confesses, “Kung hindi ba magbabago ang ganoong sistema ng pagtingin sa guro, hindi ko alam kung bakit pa ako mag-stay.”

CNN Philippines reached out to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno for comment on teachers’ salaries, but he has yet to respond.

In January, the secretary came under fire for saying that doubling teachers’ pay in 2019 was not a national priority. Diokno has since clarified that he supports a raise in 2020, but doubling their salary would require an additional ₱343.7 billion — and that would entail a downgraded credit rating, or possibly raising taxes.

***

While public school teachers voiced their support for projects such as health and feeding programs, they enumerated other ways they could be supported.

Financial literacy. Apart from a salary raise, Macaraya pointed out it would be beneficial for teachers if they were taught to manage their wealth. Conde agreed, saying it would help given tightly knit Filipino culture, "where we don't have just one [family] to feed.”

Support for science schools. As Villareal says Parañaque Science needs a set collection of books teachers can use as references, Muntinlupa Science High School needs more support for laboratory tools and equipment. Gerona adds her school struggles with a research fund; DepEd Memorandum 143 reiterated the no collection policy from public school Parent-Teacher Associations, forcing her to turn to alumni for donations that will allow students to pursue science projects or compete in tournaments.

ICT support. Although some public schools have already adopted technology, Baroy had to raise funds for a flat screen television for Grades 5 to 6 in her school in Cagayan de Oro. Despite shortages in electricity, her colleagues are itching for ICT training. “I've seen some of my co-teachers struggle with technology ... [but] that never stopped them from wanting to learn more,” says Baroy. “They would often tell me, 'Ma'am, naghihintay lang talaga kami pero ready na kami.'”

Photo-115.jpg Gerona says that her school, Muntinlupa Science High School, struggles with a research fund. DepEd Memorandum 143 reiterated the no collection policy from public school Parent-Teacher Associations, forcing her to turn to alumni for donations that will allow students to pursue science projects or compete in tournaments. Photo by JILSON TIU

***

When Tina Bawagan was in first grade, she would pretend to be a teacher. She aspired to wear the heels that her teachers wore, although she would never use a pair in her years in the profession.

I ask her what she would have been if she was not a teacher. Suddenly Bawagan recalls how she once visited a government researcher who moonlighted as a psychic.

The psychic told her she had 17 past lives. Her very first was in Lemuria, a legendary continent that was supposedly “co-existent with Atlantis, if you believe in that.”

“[She said,] 'Guess what you were doing in Lemuria? You were a teacher,'” Bawagan laughs. “Ha? Hindi na ako nagsawa?

Most of the teachers we spoke to, Bawagan included, said that teaching was not only a job — but a vocation. When they do not call it a vocation, they say it was work they were meant to do.

Photo-23 (2).jpg “Siguro may mga iba't ibang definition tayo [sa pagiging] mayaman. Sa akin is, makapagtanim lang ako ng maganda or mahawakan ko lang sila sa pagtuturo ko — iyon na ‘yung kayamanan na masasabi ko,” says Arvin Doloque of how teaching has fulfilled his life. Photo by JILSON TIU

Arvin Doloque had worked for almost a decade in a stable call center job when he finally decided to take the leap. It meant sitting down his parents and thanking them for putting him through college, but also saying that he had delivered — and now he had to do something for himself, and for other people who, like him, were raised in the public school education system.

Siguro may mga iba't ibang definition tayo [sa pagiging] mayaman. Sa akin is, makapagtanim lang ako ng maganda or mahawakan ko lang sila sa pagtuturo ko — iyon na ‘yung kayamanan na masasabi ko,” says Doloque. “Hindi man siya tangible na parang pera na mahahawakan mo, [pero] ‘yung intangible na mababaon mo all throughout your career... na dumaan sila sa akin.

But teaching also calls out not only to those who persevere, but to those who are patient. Niki Baroy says her time with Teach for the Philippines taught her that teaching is delayed gratification.

“'Yung paghihirap mo bilang teacher ngayon, sa dulo mo pa talaga makikita ang bunga,” she says, “at sana 'yun ay ang pagtatagumpay ng mga estudyante mo.

Cristina Villareal recalls a student who called out to her as she was on a jeep. The boy, who had sold cigarettes along Sucat, would grow up to become a Dubai-based engineer.

When I ask Villareal what about this profession fulfills her, she begins to cry.

Photo-9 (9).jpg Although some public schools have already adopted technology, Niki Baroy had to raise funds for a flat screen television for Grades 5 to 6 in her school in Cagayan de Oro. Photo courtesy of NIKI BAROY

“I'm [hoping] my students will become future members of the scientific community,” she says, adding a lot of her students have gone on to work in geology, energy, or medicine. “Fulfilled ka talaga ‘pag nakita mo.”

Rosie Conde has a similar story of a student who drove a tricycle to scrape a living, but later topped the engineering board exams.

“When you teach, you won't only be teaching mathematics. You will be teaching and transforming those students to become better,” she says.

Dax Macaraya says something similar: Teaching requires “The best of you as an individual.”

“It requires you to have an enlarged heart to accommodate 41 of your children every day ... [and] the issues that they have at home. You're also accommodating ... the community that made them that way,” she says.

Kahit na umalis na ako dito sa Malanday, I will still speak of the teaching profession as very prestigious,” Macaraya continues. “I would probably ask friends that I know that are good at what they do to really dip their toes in the public school education system.”

***

The school bell rings. Twelve hours since she left the house, Bing Gerona makes her way home at around 6 p.m. The eldest of three siblings, she is the family breadwinner.

“The joke is, when I go home I usually bring or buy bread [for] my sister and brother,” she says. So she does.

Her sister is recovering from cancer. Their mother has just died, and they are sorting out the legal work that comes with a death in the family. Gerona washes the dishes, cleans the kitchen, then finally she can start checking homework.

Photo-39 (1).jpg “Kung sinasabi nga ni Dr. Jose Rizal na nasa kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan, sinasabi ko naman: Nasa guro ang pag-asa ng kabataan,” says Romeo Lacanlale. Photo by JILSON TIU

Her colleague Romeo Lacanlale goes home to a wife who is also a public school teacher. They mark papers together.

One of his daughters now manages a restaurant; the other works on a tourist ship. The loan that put them through college was a great investment, even as he is still paying for it. They offered to support him and his wife through early retirement, but Lacanlale turned it down.

Para daw mag-enjoy naman daw kami sa life namin ... Pero ang sabi ko, ano ang gagawin ko after that?” says Lacanlale. “Mananatili pa rin kaming teacher hanggang 65. Kapag destined ka sa posisiyong iyon, mahirap umalis.”

He looks forward to knowing the school bell will ring the next morning. He still has plenty of students to meet, plenty of dreams to help fulfill, and plenty still to learn.

Shifting in his seat, he says, “Kung sinasabi nga ni Dr. Jose Rizal na nasa kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan, sinasabi ko naman: Nasa guro ang pag-asa ng kabataan.”