SSS reaches out
Hard as it may be to believe, the days of tortuous lines before counters at the Social Security System may soon be over. In an effort to reach out to the 30 million or so SSS members, current or retired, SSS president Emil de Quiros said the agency had targeted to establish 24 new branches in the country by the end of the year. At the same time, to bring SSS services and benefits closer to overseas Filipino workers, the government insurance fund has also established offices in such locations as Macau and Bahrain, with branches in Canada (Toronto) and Japan set to open before the year closes.
The outreach effort doesn’t stop at putting up “bricks-and-mortar” offices. Speaking at yesterday’s Bulong-Pulungan sa Sofitel, De Quiros said they have also made possible online inquiries and transactions, as well as “new payment platforms” such as online payments via credit cards and even via SMS.
Speaking of the “SSS Reform Agenda,” De Quiros said the agency is mainly aiming at “increasing the number of contributions” from all employees in the private sector and those who are self-employed as well as “voluntary” members. At the same time, he said, they were striving to increase the amount of pensions enjoyed by retirees, starting with a 5-percent across-the-board increase.
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DE QUIROS also spoke at length on the “P.E.S.O. Fund,” a voluntary provident fund for members who want to widen the pot of money available upon their retirement. A voluntary program, the “P.E.S.O. Fund” welcomes added contributions from members (but only those 55 years old and below) with an eye to receiving “bigger benefits” than the standard monthly retirement benefit, once the member retires.
Among the guidelines of the fund, the member cannot touch 65 percent of the money, but 35 percent of this savings can be tapped for use for medical needs and other expenses. What makes it particularly attractive, said De Quiros, is that the Fund pays higher interest rates than even private banks.
Crucial, though, for the growth of any fund is the reliability of the institution behind it. “This is why we cannot stress enough the need for transparency” in SSS operations, said De Quiros. He added that there are “structures in place” within the SSS, such as the “risk committee” that scrutinizes transactions to limit their exposure in investments, as well as an investment oversight committee to safeguard the money due to members and retirees.
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ANOTHER way to ensure transparency in SSS operations, added De Quiros, is their policy of “exposing our data base to members.” By logging on to the SSS website, a member gets not only an overview of the agency’s performance, but also an instant view of his/her account, including total contributions, the status of loans and the date availed, and the expected amount of retirement benefits.
With time and technology, De Quiros said, they may even be able to do away with the admittedly inconvenient annual requirement for retirees to show themselves at SSS offices or the banks where they do their transactions to prove that they are still alive and rightfully receiving their monthly pensions.
“We are exploring working with the National Statistical Office so we can be informed about the issuance of death certificates so we can check who among our retirees had passed away,” he disclosed.
Indeed, tune into any public service radio program and questions about SSS rules, benefits and policies are sure to be among the hottest topics (along with the never-ending complaints related to birth certificates). Part of the problem, it seems, is that the public rarely bothers to keep updated on developments in the continuing efforts of agencies like the SSS to serve their public better. Maybe we can do our part and avail ourselves of the many opportunities available to know more about our SSS memberships and make sure the precious money for our retirement years remains intact and available.
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WE WERE, according to my journalism classmate Ignacio Dee, the last batch of students at the Faculty of Arts and Letters to have Rev. Fr. Frederik Fermin, OP, as dean of the faculty before he was appointed rector of the University of Santo Tomas.
I’m no longer sure if it was at a party to bid him au revoir from “Artlets” when I glimpsed another side to the quiet, gentle and reticent Father Fermin. Faculty members had formed an impromptu chorale to perform one of his favorite Filipino songs, “Buhat.” But the Dutch-born Father Fermin was clearly puzzled when the faculty members began acting out the lyrics of the song, holding their arms up like they were bearing a heavy load. “Why do they look like they’re carrying something?” he asked. We all laughed as we explained that “buhat”—which in the context of the song meant “ever since,” also meant “to carry a load.”
Father Fermin, in his effort to be “more Filipino,” reportedly took lessons in our native language and could understand it quite well. But he would rarely, if ever, speak it, afraid, his friends said, to offend Filipinos with his bad pronunciation and usage. I could have told him that Filipinos love it when the foreign-born even just attempt to speak our language, and will forgive a multitude of sins, even if they end up mangling words and botching meanings.
But that was Father Fermin for you, a stickler for scholarship and exactitude, but a kindly soul and gentle person.
Father Fermin passed away Monday evening in the Dominican House in Baguio where he spent his final days. He was 90. There will be a funeral Mass in his memory today at 2 p.m. at the UST Chapel. Please remember him with fondness as our generation of Thomasians surely does.
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