MANILA, Philippines – Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Representative Antonio Tinio criticized the proposed increase in government workers' basic salary, saying it would benefit only high-ranking officials.
In a press conference where public school teachers joined him on Tuesday, November 10, Tinio said that House Bill 6268 or the Salary Standardization Law IV (SSL) for 2015 does not cover the need of "regular" government workers, which comprises 2/3 of the whole civil service workforce.
"Take the case of [entry-level] public school teachers. The full implementation of the proposed law calls for an increase of P2,205 in 4 years. This gives us an average of P550-increase per month in a year," Tinio argued in Filipino.
"When you divide it by the total number of working days, it only amounts to a P24 increase per day," he said.
He compared the 12% increase in a Teacher I's salary (Salary Grade 11) to the 233% increase in the President's basic pay. Under the proposed law, the highest salary grade (SG 33) will receive P388,000, up from the current P120,000. (READ: Aquino pushes bill to raise gov't workers' salaries)
He also noted that those in the middle management posts under SG 25 and up will see a minimum of 76% to 200% increase in their income.
"Napakasakit ng mga loob naming mga teachers. Matagal namin itong 'inintay. Isipin 'nyo na lang, P551 – P24 isang araw. Ni kalahating kilong bigas di kami makakabili," ACT Metro Manila Union head Joy Martinez said.
(We teachers feel terrible [about this salary increase]. We have been waiting for this for so long. Just think about it, P551. [That is] P24 in a day. It won't even afford us to buy a kilo of rice.)
Aside from teachers, Tinio said, police officers, soldiers, fire fighters and nurses are also expecting the lowest increase in their basic pay.
Addressing brain drain
HB 6268 proponent, Majority Floor Leader Representative Neptali Gonzales II, those receiving salary grades 11 to 21 – especially the teachers – already receive competitive wages compared to their counterparts in the private sector.
The higher percentage rise in the basic pay of higher-level positions aims to address the brain drain in government service, he said.
"The problem is the shortage of decision-makers, such as lawyers and engineers, in the public sector. There are no takers because their salaries are way behind those in the private sector," Gonzales explained in a mix of English and Filipino.
He noted that there are more than 192,000 unfilled positions in government that belong to salary grades 21 to 25.
Tax reform: Win-win situation
But the effect of the wage increase among government employees will be negated if the government would not approve of tax reform.
In a statement, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said, "Higher salaries without tax reform means these government employees would go to higher tax brackets, pay more taxes, and take home less."
He also noted that while SSL IV would be good for 1.5 million public service workers, there are still 3 to 4 million employees in the private sector who need a higher take-home pay.
"Given the government’s sufficient fiscal space, the ideal or the win-win solution here would be to do both the salary increase and the first step of income tax reform which is to index taxes to inflation."
The senator recently filed a bill that seeks to adjust taxable income to inflation instead of completely lowering income tax. (READ: Angara files bill pegging income tax rates to inflation)
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, who met with Senate President Franklin Drilon and President Benigno Aquino III to push for tax reform, echoes Angara's call.
Belmonte said they will make sure government employees would be able to have a higher net income despite the increase in their salaries.
He also expressed optimism that it is not yet too late for the President to decide on the tax issue.
"Both Frank Drilon and myself made strong feat for my proposal," Belmonte said providing limited details with their discussion with the President.
"We have made our point to the President. Di naman sinabi ng President na no (The President did not deny it)."
The House committee on appropriations is set to meet on Wednesday, November 11, to discuss SSL IV. Gonzales said it is possible that the bill will be passed on second and final reading then.
"If the appropriations committee will approve it and it will be received for the plenary session tomorrow – and if there will be a quorum in the afternoon plenary session – then don't be surprised it [may pass] 2nd and 3rd reading tomorrow." – Rappler.com