(File photo)

MANILA – The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on second reading a measure lowering the optional retirement age of government employees from 60 to 56.

During the plenary session, the chamber passed through voice vote House Bill 206, which seeks to amend Section 13-A of Republic Act 8291, otherwise known as the "Government Service Insurance (GSIS) Act of 1997."

Government workers who have reached the age of 56 years may file for retirement and be entitled to an old-age pension for life from the GSIS.

ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro, principal author of the bill, said rigorous work and the physical and psychological burdens it causes applies to all those working in government, particularly public school teachers.

Castro said earlier retirement is one of the demands voiced during consultations with public school teachers, noting that retiring at a late stage would not allow them to fully enjoy their retirement years with the hazards and level of stress accompanying their duties.

"Teachers usually leave the profession not with satisfied smiles but assaulted by various illnesses; whatever retirement benefits they receive will be spent not for their rest or their own businesses but solely for medical bills," Castro said.

Citing the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, she said the Philippines ranked among the countries with the most dismal statistics descriptive of teachers' working conditions, with average pupil-teacher ratios from 31 (primary level) to 45 students to each teacher (secondary level), and average class size of 42.4 (primary) and 43.7 (secondary).

Castro said teachers in the Philippines retire five years later than those in most countries, noting that the retirement age is 60 in most North American, European and Asian countries.

“Respect and humane consideration demand that a person of 55 years -- a few years shy of being a senior citizen -- should not be required to perform the arduous functions expected of a public-school teacher in the Philippines. At such stage of their lives, public school teachers should at least be given the choice if they wish to rest from the profession and enjoy better and healthy years ahead,” Castro said. (PNA)