GUAGUA - Guagua National Colleges (GNC) president Ricardo "Dong" Puno, Jr. said Thursday he is willing to settle the controversial Collective Bargaining Agreement with the school's Faculty Labor Union.

Teachers and faculty members have assailed Puno, a former press secretary, for allegedly withdrawing the CBA and not giving their benefits and privileges.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

The school's faculty has staged a silent protest, wearing black and red ribbons since June 29, even if they continue with their mentoring jobs.

Union president Delia Pangan said: "We were supposedly having our CBA negotiation and signing in for our benefits and yet everything has been withdrawn. We now have no privileges for protégée, rice subsidy and pilgrimage," she said, adding the CBA remains as a protection among faculty members where they have "security of tenure."

The protégée privilege entitles every regular teacher who has been teaching there for more than five years to free tuition for the whole semester for their children. The rice subsidy of one cavan is given quarterly.

"The privilege for protégée is implemented by the school already long before the CBA was established but we now fail to have one. Sa rice subsidy naman, the last time we had it was last March. Last month it stopped ganun din sa pilgrimage," which Pangan described as a benefit for socialization and "bonding".

This provoked, she said, the faculty to file a case last November, which is currently now at the National Conciliation Mediation Board (NCMB) and the decision is expected to come out soon.

According to lawyer Emmanuel Cruz, Puno has been employing "delaying tactics" in signing the CBA...The school also had a 15 percent increase in tuition and we should also have a 70 percent increase in salary, pero that was injected to the Private Education Retirement and Annuity Association (Peraa). Months later, they have withdrawn P14 million from there. We just don't know kung saan napunta 'yun. We have also some teachers who have signed for early retirement dahil hindi na nila siguro gusto ang patakaran ng school and they get no benefits," he said.

But in an exclusive interview with Sun.Star Pampanga, Puno denied taking away the faculty members' benefits and the CBA.

"No. I'm not taking out benefits. That issue is a lie. In fact I'm willing to give them the benefits they need to get. Dahil meron tuition hike, we should also comply with their benefits but this depends on the school's best effort basis and generation of savings," he explained.

He said GNC has the lowest tuition fee with only P630 per unit and the total tuition for some courses at around P16,000.

"Ang GNC ang pinakamababa as compared to Holy Angel University and Angeles University Foundation. With that total savings, we also consider the cost of rebuilding. I'm only the president among the previous who was able to establish new buildings and major renovations for the school. Totoo 'yun," he said.

On the issue of early retirement, Puno firmly stated that he is against early retirement.

"In fact I am against it. Those who retired were under the previous presidents. With this retirement among teachers, we lose the best. Our population declines...My objective as a president is to keep the enrollment stable; to have more students and to purchase products for the I.T course. This course is, I think, the school's future," he said.

He added: "Ang hirap nga ng trabaho ko. I should keep the professors happy and the stakeholders at the same time. Pero sila, they misstate what I want. On the rice subsidy issue, we give them in kind. Ang gusto nila cash when in fact it's our privilege to give them rice subsidy in kind and not in cash. On the 70 percent increase of salary nila, paano naman 'yun? We have also other concerns aside from that increase. Kung profitable na ang school then I'll give what they want especially their benefits. But for now have just financial problems and even other schools have also. If I let them have what they want, we'll soon announce bankruptcy, probably. "

However, Puno never denied what's lacking between him and the faculty members.

"I think I should explain it to them. We lack communication with one another. Ewan ko kung bakit may CBA negotiation. Ewan ko kung bakit may ganitong issue when in fact all the benefits are all given. I'm not delaying anything. I'm willing to sign anytime. Ang problema, ayaw nila. I'm not getting back the benefits they are entitled to. I can give benefits anytime. Kaya lang, as I said, it depends on the school's best effort basis," he explained.

Puno said that the professors are important to the institution that's why he implements the faculty development program. More specifically, the students are the most important in every school's existence, he said.

"I hope there will be a settlement for this," Puno added. (Marlon P. Beltran)