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First-Person Commentary:
Trip to Bicol: A Snapshot of Poverty and the

Teachers’ Resolve to Organize
BY DANILO ARAÑA ARAO
Bulatlat.com/reposted Kaiba News and Features

Camarines Sur, Bicol --- Going to Sorsogon City, I committed the
mortal sin of taking a Philtranco bus (ominously labeled Trip #13)
that made a supposed 12-hour travel from Manila an 18-hour ordeal.

It did not cross my mind that discounted rides meant a capitalist's
maximization of equipment, which for us 50 passengers meant pushing
the bus with a conked-out engine to start in Alabang, a 30-minute
stopover in Sta. Rosa, Laguna as mechanics tried to fix what's wrong,
a two-hour wait in Gumaca, Quezon due to a busted tire and still
another 30-minute stop at Iriga City to check the engine anew.

We sweated profusely as the air-conditioning unit broke down from
Alabang to Laguna. But its restoration upon repair in Sta. Rosa
neither cooled down our heads nor assuaged my treacherous plots
against the owners of the bus company.

That our driver and conductor had the knack to go to every stopover
did not help any to shorten the trip and our agony. Some passengers,
however, seemed used to the situation, as their side comments during
our unwanted stops recounted past horrendous experiences with the bus
company. Just the same, they still take the Philtranco bus given that
it is relatively cheaper compared to other air-conditioned trips.

The reason, apparently, is economics. Poor people avail of products
and services like bus rides not based on quality but mainly on the
price. Given their low purchasing power, it does not matter much if
it gets very much delayed for as long as they eventually get to their
destination in one piece.

Pay for it

The same is true for basic and tertiary education, especially when no
less than officials of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED)
proclaim that people who want "quality education" should be prepared
to pay for it.

Based on such pronouncement, those who are forced to take "regular"
education end up in public schools where the dearth of facilities is
an accepted reality, along with low wages and unjust working
conditions.

Arriving obviously late at the Sorsogon State College (SSC) in (where
else?) Sorsogon City– the venue of my first of three speeches–I
observed that the roads in the campus are not cemented and generally
muddy. More important, buildings are underutilized and some of them
appear to be already condemned. Some classrooms look like abandoned
refugee centers given their decrepit state and the squalor within.
The training center where we held the lecture remains unpainted, and
there are a lot of open spaces which only reflect the lack of funds
to even buy chairs and benches.

According to an SSC employee, the school's low budget prevents them
from maintaining and maximizing the SSC's buildings as well as
purchasing the necessary equipment. For instance, the sound system we
used is very old though still working.

The 15 Sorsogon-based teachers who attended the lecture, which also
served as an occasion to strengthen the militant Bicol Concerned
Teachers Alliance (BCTA), explained how they had to make do with
limited facilities like books and other teaching aids. Out of sheer
dedication, some even go to the extent of spending their own money
for the reproduction of materials and the purchase of some books even
if their take-home pay is not enough for their family's needs.

Daraga, Albay

The same working conditions are disclosed by the 10 Albay-based
teachers when we went to the Immaculate Conception High School in
Daraga, Albay, a one-hour ride from Sorsogon City. Though it is a
private school, the facilities are also old and wanting. Some
restrooms do not have any lights and some parts of the building have
already accumulated molds, an evidence of lack of funds for proper
maintenance.

Spending the night at the Camarines Sur State Agricultural College
(CSSAC) for the next day's last leg of the two-day lecture series, I
also noticed how the backward state of our country's agriculture
reflects on the state of agricultural education, at least in the case
of Camarines Sur.

Enrollment in agriculture-related courses, according to BCTA acting
regional chairperson Prof. Joel Batanes who also teaches at CSSAC,
remains low. He confides that most students are practical, opting to
take business administration and computer-related courses which
assure them of high income, as well as the opportunity to work
abroad.

Batanes says that this is reflective of the government's thrust
toward globalization, where the liberalization of agriculture, among
others, results in a more outward-looking perspective in terms of
food sourcing and technology.

Unlike most state universities and colleges (SUCs), the CSSAC has
less buildings and administrative staff and college officials
actually work in designated houses converted into offices.

Housing

There are housing units for the faculty and staff within the campus,
though they should give up such benefit when they resign or retire.
This, Batanes says, makes it uncertain for the faculty and staff as
to where they will go once they leave CSSAC. "Our income is barely
enough for our needs, so how can we afford to buy a decent house and
lot which we can really call our own?"

This is the reason for the need to organize and strengthen the ranks
of teachers, according to Batanes. "The BCTA has taken pains to
strengthen its chapters in Sorsogon, Albay and Camarines Sur to
ensure that the teachers' democratic and economic rights are upheld.
Aside from that, the teachers' involvement in national issues and
concerns must also be harnessed, given their influence on the youth
who are the hope of the nation."

As I left for Naga City to take the scheduled bus ride to Manila (I
took AM Trans instead of Philtranco for obvious reasons), Batanes
says that they are hopeful that the organizing of teachers will go
full swing nationwide once more, reminiscent of the 1980s when
hundreds of thousands of public school teachers were mobilized to
fight for their rights.

Batanes is not discouraged by the relatively low turnout of
participants during the lecture series, since, after all, a movement
starts with only a few and the challenge lies in how to both deepen
and expand the membership.

Come to think of it, teachers' organizing is very much like my recent
trip to Bicol. The ride may be bumpy and tortuous, but if we never
give up and continue performing our Herculean task, we will get there
eventually. Bulatlat.com/reposted by Kaiba News and Features.

 
end
 

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