Legitimate struggle

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(We yield this space to the statement of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers due to its timeliness. – Ed.)

THE EXPOSED illegal profiling being carried out by the Philippine National Police (PNP) on teacher-unionists of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) has put the government on the defensive. Officials had gone back and forth in their response — lamely denying the operations, but essentially admitting to it by justifying it as procedural and/or part of their counterinsurgency program. However, they traipse in their explanations and red-tagging, it is out in the open — state forces are out surveilling against the legitimate organization, thereby trampling on constitutionally-guaranteed rights to privacy and freedom of association and expression.

However, it wasn’t only the illegal operation of the PNP that caught attention over the week, but also ACT’s legitimate struggle for substantial salary increase, pressuring the government to break it’s silence on the stalled promise of doubling teachers’ salaries immediately after assuming office. As the only accredited teachers’ union throughout the Philippines, ACT has been in the forefront of negotiations, lobbying, and protest actions of teachers for substantial salary increase throughout the years. Even when the President seemingly and conveniently forgot about his promise of a pay hike for teachers, even as his economic managers fervently refused to implement such, even after one-sidedly doubling the salaries of the uniformed personnel, all while the people suffered the inflationary effects of TRAIN Law, teachers never ceased to campaign for substantial salary increase so that it does not leave the attention of the government and the public.

It took an exposé of illegal surveillance operation for the government to finally respond to the teachers’ legitimate calls, but its explanation has been nothing short of confusing and inconsistent. Palace spokesperson Salvador Panelo initially declared a two to three-month timeframe, which Budget chief Diokno refuted with his own 2020–2022 timeframe plus a reference to private sector rates as basis for the salary adjustment. However, the most recent pronouncement came from President Duterte himself who said that the pay hike will happen within this year.

The President said he wanted an inclusive and participatory process, yet relegates legitimate teachers, never mind that these teachers belong to the solely accredited teachers’ union in the country. Labor laws and policies, as well as ACT’s Collective Negotiation Agreement, clearly state that accredited unions have the right to be properly represented and consulted on policies and programs that affect the workforce. Also, last time we checked the Constitution, no one should be discriminated based on political belief.

Nevertheless, the primary concern is the immediate realization of teachers’ right to decent salaries. The attempt to humiliate and sideline ACT is secondary; teachers know that their legitimate union has been at the frontline of the fight for salary, jobs and rights even before the President ever set foot in Malacañang.

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