Our scale of values

The other day, my youngest daughter, who finished college two years ago, offered to buy my old car so that, she said, I could get myself a new one.  It was a chance for me to ask how much her monthly pay was.  She assured me it was more than enough.  I found out that, in fact, she earns more than I do after 34 years of teaching.  I was happy for her, but I felt sorry not so much for myself as for my younger colleagues in the university who are just starting to raise families.

One of them is her own brother, our eldest, who, at 30, is an instructor at UP.  He is on study leave, but next year, after 5 years of grueling graduate work, he will come home hopefully with a doctorate.  The university will promote him one full rank as a reward, but financially this will offer him little consolation.

As an assistant professor, he will earn a little less than P20,000 a month.  This is much less than the stipend he gets as a graduate student.  He knows that at this level of income he won’t be able to support a family, rent an apartment, or buy a car even on installment. He loves teaching and will likely stay in UP for the rest of his life, but like many of his generation who have opted for academic careers, he worries about the future.

I do not recall that things were this bad when my wife and I were just starting out as instructors in UP.  We rented a modest apartment just outside the campus for P200 a month.  We bought a used car for P5000 and we could afford a yaya for our son.  Our finances were tight but with both of us working, we could buy books, go to the movies and even occasionally eat out.

A few years before our time, UP professors were given the chance to acquire homelots near the university, which they amortized over a 10year period.  This was no longer available when we joined the faculty.

But even so, salaries in the State University were comparable then with those of Ateneo and De La Salle.  This state of affairs came to an end with the Salary Standardization Law (SSL).  The law prescribed a uniform salary scale for all government employees, effectively eroding the special status of UP as the premier state university.  We could not complain without antagonizing our colleagues in the other state universities.  The principle of equality of compensation for comparable work is enshrined in Article IX-B, Sec. 5 of the 1987 Constitution.

That provision states: “The Congress shall provide for the standardization of compensation of government officials and employees, including those in government-owned and controlled corporations with original charters, taking into account the nature of the responsibilities pertaining to, and the qualification required for their positions.”  The UP is a chartered university with a position classification system that had evolved over the years, but we could not invoke this to exclude ourselves from the effects of the SSL.

But some GOCCs that were not dependent on the government budget got Congress to pass laws exempting them from the SSL – in violation of the Constitution.  When I became UP Faculty Regent in 1999, I voiced the alarm of the faculty that we were losing more Ph.D.s than we were gaining every year.  The main issue was compensation.  After reimbursing the university for the fellowships they enjoyed, many move to the corporate world or transfer to other schools that could pay them decent salaries.  The Department of Budget people understand what is happening, but there is no way they can exempt UP from the SSL.  Freedom from the SSL is possible only if UP becomes financially independent.  That is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

I can therefore appreciate the argument of those who believe that the compensation for top executives of government corporations should be comparable to those in the private sector.  Government service need not be a job for selfless missionaries, although one wishes a young nation like ours were blessed with such heroes.  Government has to compete with the private sector and with the rest of the world to keep its best brains.  And that means being able to pay competitive rates.

But, having said this, I now ask: By what morality or concept of management do some government executives justify the kind of salaries and benefits they pay themselves?  The salary of the President of the Republic is only P666,000 per year.  Why does the president of Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) get P4.3 million?  The Vice-President of the Philippines receives P528,000 per year.  By what logic does the GSIS Executive Vice-President deserve a basic annual pay of P3.6 million?

I don’t think the president of UP gets more than P500,000 in salary and benefits per year.  But the Chair and the General Manager of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) do.  The Chair gets an annual basic pay of P440,000, per diem of P156,000, bonus of P230,718, RATA of P198,960, and a fabulous “discretionary allowance” of P4,755,287.  The GM gets a slightly lower basic salary of P325,291, per diem of P147,000, bonus of P168,783, RATA of P181,245, and a “discretionary allowance” of P4,403,626.  In our scale of values, running a lottery is clearly a higher function than running a university.

During the colonial period, government was synonymous with subjugation and plunder.  Despite the foreigner’s pretense at benevolence, the people treated it as an enemy.  When independence came, however, the elite-led government did not give up these offensive functions.  In addition to these, it acquired one more – to serve as the milking cow of state officials.  We cannot continue running our country like this.


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