By Filane Mikee Cervantes

PNA file photo 

MANILA – The chairman of the House Committee on Labor and Employment on Thursday said the Department of Education’s (DepEd) plan to provide teachers with legal and financial advice is a step in the right direction to protect them from falling into debt.

Rizal Rep. Fidel Nograles said the department’s move to coordinate with lawyer groups and other institutions to provide teachers with free consultations on loan contracts they might sign would equip them with the necessary financial knowledge and legal resources to avoid the debt trap.

“Magandang hakbang ang planong ito ng DepEd sa pangunguna ni Vice President Sara Duterte upang maprotektahan ang ating mga guro laban sa mga loan shark at iba pang mapang-abusong uri ng pagpapautang (DepEd’s plan, which is spearheaded by Vice President Sara Duterte, is a great step to protect our teachers from loan sharks and other predatory lending practices),” Nograles said.

He emphasized the need to implement steps to ensure that the teachers’ vulnerability is not taken advantage of by predatory lenders.

Dahil sa kagipitan, marami sa ating mga guro ang pumipirma ng mga kontratang ikapapahamak nila para may pangtustos sa kanilang pamumuhay, o ‘di kaya’y uutang para pambayad sa iba pang utang (In desperate times, several teachers would sign (loan) contracts that are abusive in order to provide sustenance, or they would get more loans to pay for their increasing debt),” he said.

Nograles said he would be volunteering his services to help support DepEd’s endeavor, particularly engaging his colleagues at the legal aid foundation, Lakbay Hustisya, and urge them to offer their services to teachers.

“Matagal nang hinaharap ng mga guro natin ang banta ng mga loan shark, at panahon nang kumilos tayo laban rito. Umaasa akong mas marami pang mga abogado ang mag-aalay ng kanilang tulong sa kanila (The threat of loan sharks has been a persistent problem faced by teachers, and it is high time for us to fight this. I am hoping that more lawyers would extend their assistance to our teachers),” he said.

Last December, the DepEd also issued a memorandum that bans private lenders and loan sharks not connected with the agency from collecting payments at designated payout sites of the one-time service recognition incentive for public school teachers and non-teaching personnel.

He noted that teachers’ debt has been a long-standing issue in the agency.

According to DepEd, teachers’ outstanding loans and accrued interest to the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) reached at least PHP157.4 billion in 2019.

In a speech during the 50th founding anniversary of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Duterte, being the concurrent education chief, said she considers their advice to aid educators in legal matters.

“I sought their advice on how to help our public school teachers with regard to their loan obligations,” she said. “They gave me good advice and I am looking forward to partnering with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to help our public school teachers with regard to their problems sa mga utang nila at sa mga kontrata nila (in their loans and contracts).”

Besides legal assistance, Duterte assured the DepEd is doubling its efforts to address the concerns of teachers.

These include the review and updating of the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers with the aid of legislators, the provision of free medical checkups through a partnership with the Department of Health, and addressing concerns of teachers for their insurance and benefits through coordination with the GSIS, among others. (PNA)