Miriam College profs fear mandatory separation in 2016

MANILA, Philippines – At least 21 members of Miriam College's general education (GE) faculty are worried about losing their jobs once the K to 12 program is fully implemented in 2016.

It has been more than a year since the school offered a "voluntary" early separation package to 30 of its GE faculty members.

The offer was made supposedly because enrollment and teaching load will be "uncertain" in 2016, once the biggest batch of students under K to 12 go to senior high school's Grade 11.

"You also want to provide assistance to the affected faculty in 2016 while the school can still provide. I don't know if there's any other school that can provide those benefits," Joseph Noel Estrada, legal counsel of Miriam College, told Rappler on Tuesday, July 14, after a House committee hearing on K to 12.

Since June 11, 2014, only 7 teachers availed themselves of the package, which includes 120% of salary per year of service, 2-year medical coverage, and 2-year scholarship grant.

But some of those who refused to avail themselves of the package fear that other private schools may follow Miriam College's example and offer a separation package that could "succeed in taking away tenured faculty."

"We're talking about 21 more people facing one year of emotional pain because we had been told we have to leave by 2016," Debbie Tan, one of the affected faculty members, told lawmakers on Tuesday.

'Heavy hearts'

The drop of college enrollment in 2016 will affect workers in higher education institutions, as latest estimates from the Commission on Higher Education showed 13,634 teaching staff and 11,456 non-teaching staff may be displaced.

The government is already working on strategies to mitigate this problem, including a proposed P9.05 billion ($200.28 million)* transition fund that will be included in the 2016 budget of two government agencies:

On Tuesday, CHED Commissioner Cynthia Bautista reminded schools that no retrenchment should be happening at this time.

Even in 2016, retrenchment can only happen under strict rules, said Marissa Garcia from DOLE's Bureau of Labor Relations. Voluntary separation like that of Miriam College's is legal, she noted, since the school's offer was accepted by the teachers.

But Leah Mendoza, another faculty member of Miriam College, said the 7 who accepted the offer "left with a very heavy heart." (READ: What is wrong with Miriam College?)

"They didn't see support coming from the school and therefore they had no recourse but to leave; they couldn't stomach being in school another day. It's not something that they were so happy about," she said.

By leaving before 2016, Mendoza said "it's a pity" those teachers can no longer choose from other options the transition fund is meant to provide, such as the scholarship for graduate studies.

Contractual basis? 

Those offered the package were supposedly told by the school that they can be rehired "on a contractual basis with lower pay."

Estrada said they may be rehired if there will be enrollees in the subject they teach, but he dismissed the lower pay as "speculative" in the part of the educators.

"It's always based on rank, the pay. Their experience and...credentials would still be the same. Even if reranked, you get the same rank. Why will the pay be lower? I don't think they will get lower pay," he said.

Those who refused to avail themselves of the early separation also slammed the package as "discriminatory" because it was not offered to some GE faculty members who are administrators, Tan said. 

"We are not merely GE faculty. We teach programs, we are researchers, we are practitioners. Why is their stance on us like that?" she told Rappler in a mix of English and Filipino.

Classes in Miriam College will begin on August 4. This marks the end of the availability of the early separation package for the GE faculty members who stayed behind.

But the package is the least of their worries.

"Dapat wala na kami ng May 2015, nilaban lang. That's why na-extend to 2016 (We should've been out of the school by May 2015, but we fought for it. That's why we were extended to 2016)," Tan said. – Rappler.com

*US$1 = P45.19

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.