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No ‘papogi’ in SSS pension increase

12:11 AM January 26, 2016

A number of observers, including Inquirer columnist Solita Collas Monsod, have accused members of the House of Representatives and the Senate of playing politics in approving the P2,000 Social Security System pension increase. Praising President Aquino for vetoing the measure, Monsod and company allege that legislators were merely advancing their political careers at the expense of the President and the SSS.

Ordinarily I would agree, since our politicians are notorious for populist posturing. But this time, their posturing was actually matched by legislative action. In fact, the proposed SSS pension increase was approved unanimously, 211-0, in the House despite objections by Malacañang and with members crossing party lines to approve a measure that they knew was just, urgent and doable.

When we filed the original bill in 2011, I, together with Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, were responding to the request of almost two million retired SSS members who were struggling with pensions of as little as P1,200 a month. Instead of enjoying their “payback time,” these senior citizens, who worked most of their lives to keep their families and the country afloat, have had to endure such a measly sum that can’t even cover their medicines, much less their other basic needs like food, shelter, clothing, or the occasional blowout for their grandchildren. The clamor for a higher pension was just, as admitted even by the SSS management. It was too strong and compelling for us to ignore.

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Four years and many committee hearings later, a compromise formula was reached: an across-the-board increase of P2,000 for all pensioners. This would raise the minimum monthly pension to P3,200, still a far cry from the actual needs of our retirees but a significant increase nonetheless.

When members of the 16th Congress finally approved the measure, they knew this would affect the SSS’ actuarial status. In their presentation to the Senate in October 2015, SSS officials said the increase would result in a projected annual deficit of P4 billion and would shorten the SSS’ actuarial fund life by 13 years, from 2042 to 2029. Considering, however, that as of 2008 the SSS had collectibles in the staggering amount of P325 billion and that collection efficiency was in the dismal range of 38-45 percent, Congress held the view that the P4 billion deficit could substantially be covered by improving collection efficiency.

Aside from improving collection efficiency, legislators suggested a reduction in the controversial perks and privileges granted SSS officials, as earlier recommended by the Commission on Audit, plus other measure to cut costs, considering that SSS operational costs are 3-5 times higher compared to its counterparts in Malaysia and Singapore. Colmenares, the measure’s principal author in the House, stressed that all these efforts to improve collection efficiency and reduce costs could be completed in five years, well within the projected 13-year fund life.

And if things still wouldn’t work out, there would always be the government that could subsidize the deficit, as provided for in the SSS charter. After all, if the government can subsidize P62 billion worth of doles to the nonworking poor via its Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, then what’s P4 billion to senior citizens who have given a lifetime of productive work to the economy? It would be money well spent, as other countries have learned, translating to a direct subsidy for the health and wellbeing of a vulnerable sector of society.

Imagine everyone’s surprise, therefore, when the President vetoed the bill on the ground that the pension increase would run the SSS to the ground. We wonder where the President, the SSS, and Monsod got their projected deficit of P16-26 billion when the figure presented by the SSS to the Senate three months earlier was only P4 billion. How the deficit figures got bloated four times over in such a short span of time is a mystery to us.

Monsod and others like her make much ado over the SSS suffering bankruptcy 13 years from now while ignoring the fact that two million of its members are suffering NOW. Congress presented a win-win solution—provide relief to our suffering pensioners now even as we work on ensuring the SSS’ financial viability within the next 13 years.

That the people’s representatives in the House decided to address the needs of the pensioners even as it pushed and committed to help the SSS improve its collection efficiency as well as subsidize the agency if needed, as provided by law, is an example of how legislators should act on the people’s needs.

Contrary to the view of Monsod and company, it was not the legislators but the SSS officials who were thinking only of themselves in pushing the President to veto the bill. Despite wallowing in their huge salaries, allowances and other perks and privileges, SSS officials do not want to go the extra mile in improving their operations for the sake of their pensioners. Maybe it’s they who Monsod should berate, and not our legislators who, for once, are actually doing their job.

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Activist Teddy Casiño served for three terms, from 2004 to 2013, in the House as a Bayan Muna party-list representative. He is now back in the parliament of the streets.

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TAGS: column, sss pension issue, Teddy Casiño
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