By Uriel C. Quilinguing
MANY took sudden interest on mental health issues the past days, perhaps because of the designation of Oct. 10 of every year as World Mental Health Day by the World Health Organization. Many may have been reminded on the importance of the state of the human mind, even just for a day and, of course, that human life is lost every 40 seconds due to suicide.
Education Secretary Leonor M. Briones gladly discussed her department’s predicament and thanked the person who raised that concern to her in a news conference, after the World Teachers Day celebration last Oct. 5 in Cagayan de Oro.
But the discussion was cut short, perhaps the committee behind the activity does want the topic tackled lengthily, when journalists waited for three hours just for them to raise questions. The consolation though was the Mayor’s Night sumptuous dinner which the host Cagayan de Oro city government sponsored.
Setting that aside, the context by which mental health concerns surfaced needs a second look.
It was also last year when suicide incidents among teachers and students were on newspapers front pages and got primetime broadcast treatments.
One of these was in a far-flung barangay high school in Cagayan de Oro, when a senior high school hang himself with shoe laces on a flagpole. But his case, like the rest, just ended in cold statistics, their deaths did catch much stir in the education agencies and there was no perceivable steps to prevent similar incidents. There were stress and trauma debriefings, though, for those who witnessed these suicides.
Monday last week, city council member Jocelyn B. Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro appealed to her colleagues for the enactment of a mental health ordinance, citing latest statistics from the Philippine Mental Health Association to make her discourse convincing. But being an opposition lawmaker, others may deprived her of the credit as principal author of an ordinance. If nothing is done, the 24 cases of suicide in the city for the past nine months this year may increase.
Last year, DepEd posted on is Facebook account an infographic that showed more than half of the 3,553 guidance counselor plantilla items, or a total of 2,070 (58%) of the Department of Education remained vacant, as of June 2018. And, of the 1,483 filled positions, only 393 (12%) are occupied by registered guidance counselors and 1,090 the DepEd hired were non-RGCs.
There are 118 colleges and universities offering guidance and counseling subjects under the baccalaureate and masteral degrees in education. But those taking it for a college degree could be few, knowing they could not expect immediate hiring; having a masteral degree and passing the licensure examination do not ensure appropriate compensation.
The proposal to upgrade the salary grade from 11 to 16, whereby increasing pay scales from P21,000 to P31,000, could have fallen to deaf ears. It’s understandable though since lobbying in Congress for legislative measures, including amendment of existing laws, is not a priority for the education department, not even the Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list.
Keeping these items vacant means huge savings and compounded interests on unspent money is advantageous for the education department. State auditors may just ignore where the generated interests on unused deposits went. Who knows, these are deliberately done for purposes the public does not know.
But this has been at the expense of lives that were snuffed off due to stress, depression and suicide, painful and horrifying episodes which could have prevented if there were persons who know what empathy is, and those who were willing to listen— traits most guidance counselors possess.
(Uriel C. Quilinguing is a former president of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club who, for more than three decades, had been editor in chief of Cagayan de Oro-based newspapers, including this paper. For reactions, e-mail them to uriel.quilinguing@yahoo. com.)