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01:14 AM October 16th, 2013

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By: Conrado de Quiros, October 16th, 2013 01:14 AM

If you want to spin a story, twist a story, make what is black white and white black, you can always do it. There are plenty of PR groups for hire in this country that specialize in it. But what a spin this has been!

This of course concerns the Social Security System. And the spin has been to turn a case of “adding to” to “subtracting from.”

I grant it’s not the hardest thing to do by a confluence of events. Not the least of it is the amount of the bonus that has been given to its directors and board members—P1 million even for a year’s work is huge by any reckoning, but especially so by this country’s, whose wretchedness and poverty I have harped on all this time.

Coupled with the fact that the SSS raised members’ contributions a couple of years ago and is all set to increase them again early next year, the bonus of P1 million per director/board member, the amount repeated again and again and the proposition made that it is being taken away, or subtracted, from those contributions, it becomes damning in the extreme. Little wonder Emil de Quiros has been pilloried in the social media.

Behind this neon-lit facade, however, is a completely different reality.

I don’t know what the case is with the other government-owned and -controlled corporations that got bonuses, but it’s this with the SSS:

Last year alone, it added P13 billion to its coffers. Last year alone, it added P13 billion for the benefits of its members. Last year alone, it made SSS members richer by P13 billion.

Except for P-Noy who mentioned this in his State of the Nation Address last July, nobody has been thundering forth on this accomplishment. Certainly not the current SSS, which believes not in hiring PR but in hiring pros, the better to serve the public. Certainly not the current SSS itself, which believes not in advertising itself but in letting its work speak for itself.

Alas, in this country work talks like a saxophone with a plunger while spinning blasts forth like giant loudspeakers in a stadium. Alas, in this country more than any other Mark Antony’s lament rings true: “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.”

The figures again: In 2008, the last year of Corazon de la Paz-Bernardo’s term, the SSS made P23.3 billion in net profit. In 2010, the last year of Romulo Neri’s term, the SSS made P22.8 billion. Last year, the SSS made P36.2 billion. That amount—P36.2 billion—is a little less than P13 billion more compared to the first; it is more than P13 billion more compared to the second. That is easily a third more than was made in the past.

That is what SSS members have become: They have become richer by a third more than they were in the past. They have become richer by P13 billion more than they were in the past.

That is not an accomplishment, that is a feat.

This year, from January to August alone, the SSS already accounts for a net income of P25.4 billion. With four more months to go, it could go past last year’s record.

All this, however, is dwarfed by the SSS debt, accumulated over the years, not least from the profligacy of the past regime, which now stands at P1.1 trillion. That’s what made increases in contributions necessary. The current SSS of course can always do what past administrations have done, which is to leave it to the next administrations to raise contributions so they’ll be the ones to be blamed and reviled and cursed. But it’s a matter of character, it’s a matter of what one is. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for the public, my brother does not subscribe to Oscar Wilde’s witticism, “I will not put off for tomorrow what I can do the day after.” He believes instead that “The buck stops here.” Alas, he’s paying the price for it.

Not a centavo of the additional P13 billion that has been added to the coffers has been stolen, is missing, or is unaccounted for. Every centavo of it has gone to service SSS members. Again, I will not go on to enumerate what the current SSS has done and is doing, remembering what Tom Hanks said in “Sleepless in Seattle” when asked by the radio host to tell the world about his wife. Which was, if I recall right: “How much time does your program have?”

I’ll say this, however: If another set of SSS officers did not charge a single centavo in bonuses but either made only the same net income as in the past, or let’s be charitable and add another P2 billion to make it P25 billion, will you be crowing, “Ah, what loftiness, what grandness”? Maybe. But then you will be poorer by P11 billion (P36 billion minus P25 billion). You will have P11 billion less in pension, you will have P11 billion less in benefits.

The butal alone from the P13 billion the current officers have added to SSS is far more than enough to cover the P8 million bonus for the eight directors/board members. Which, it must be said again, is nowhere near corporate rates—the SSS may be a corporation, but it is also government. And we begrudge them that?

Of course we can always say, “Ah, but it should be enough na sabitan na lang kayo ng medalya,” the work is reward enough. But let me ask the people saying this: Would you agree to it? Would you agree to not getting honest reward for honest work? If your record has gone platinum, would you agree to not getting anything from it, the honor is reward enough? If you are a lawyer and your client has won, would you spurn the incentive pay because the victory is reward enough? If you are a reputable architect or painter or columnist, would you agree to not being paid what you’re worth (though I do at the Inquirer, ahem)?

If you are a self-respecting person, would you agree, especially if you are asking for infinitely less for infinitely more, to be called greedy and callous and lacking in conscience?

Who’s leaving a bad taste in the mouth?

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