by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera
I have always liked Dick Gordon as the architect of the "Subic miracle", as a very articulate Senator who produced the computerization of elections law (among other advocacy's), and as a life-long Red Cross official who best exemplifies the meaning of the word "volunteer".
This admiration is one of the main reasons why I make it a point to exchange political tsismis with him every time I am in the Senate. And I am always amazed by his off-the-cuff commentaries on the floor debates and the side stories in the Senate.
Dick Gordon has made the plight of government workers (teachers and health workers in particular) one of the pillars of his Platform of Government. He promised to increase the salaries of teachers to P40,000/month in the early presidential debates. Lately, he extended his promise to health professionals who will get P50,000/month under a Gordon presidency.
As an underpaid educator teaching at the University of the Philippines, I am happy that he has decided to give the plight of public sector workers the much needed attention. The University has lost so many of its top-notch professors to the private sector and private universities because it simply can't provide competitive wages. This is the reason why UP officials batted for the exemption from the Salary Standardization Law when they were pushing for the UP Charter. UP got its wish, only to find out later that it could not produce the needed funds to increase salaries.
Upon closer examination, however, Gordon's proposal raises some very disturbing questions that if left unanswered, would show that his promise is a pipe dream, or worse, a terrible nightmare.
First, how much will his proposal cost and where will the money come from?
There are almost 600,000 public school teachers in the country today (www.deped.gov.ph/factsandfigures). The Department of Health (DOH) website has no data on health workers but one can imagine the huge number given the many tertiary and specialty hospitals in this country.
Multiply P40,000 x 600,000 teachers and P50,000 times the number of health workers and you get an idea of the cost of Gordon's proposal.
And it gets worse.
The 40,000/month salary of public school teachers will be higher than the monthly salary of a Full Professor at the University of the Philippines! And a UP Professor must have a PhD, must have published articles in recognized journals, and be judged by his/her peers are worthy of the title "Professor".
Increasing the pay of teachers and health workers will distort the current salary structure and fuel calls for an increase by other public sector workers.
And then imagine the cascading effect of a P40,000/monthly salary of a public school teacher on the rest of the 1.2 million public servants in this country.
Where will the money come from? Gordon has not provided any details.
Second, what will happen to the Salary Standardization Law III (SSL III) that is just being implemented?
The Senate has just passed a joint resolution empowering the Department of Budget and Management to rationalize the pay scale of government workers. Gordon was one of those who voted for this measure. Is his proposal now a new amendment to the SSL III which can not be fully implemented because of funding problems?
Thirds, increasing the salaries of public sector workers will worsen the already distorted personnel salary (PS) cost of the national budget.
Personnel salaries now account for more than 30% of the national budget. Some departments, like the DepEd, have PS costs that take up close to 90% of their budget.
Salaries of government personnel + the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) of local governments + automatic appropriations for debt servicing now account for close to 80% of the budget.
Since the IRA allocation, debt servicing, and PS cost are protected by existing laws, any increase in government salaries will result in budget cuts for critical government programs.
Unless of course Gordon can provide additional funds through new taxes, rationalization of fiscal incentives, and of course the famous "I will reduce corruption".
Finally, assuming some funds will be available, aren't these funds better used to address critical development constraints on infrastructure; address classroom, teacher, and book shortages; modernize agriculture; or make us comply with our Millennium Development Goals obligations?
Running for the Presidency requires the presentation of clear and implementable promises. Gordon needs to provide specifics on his promises. Otherwise, his fiscal irresponsibility will only produce impossible dreams.