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Equal benefits for seniors

05:01 AM August 23, 2017

I recall the great American President Abraham Lincoln’s famous line: “All men are created equal.” Based on this universal principle, democratic countries developed and adapted it. Hence, governments endeavored to adhere to this principle.

However, in this country that is supposed to be democratic, this octogenarian discovered that not all laws are enacted equal.

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I worked in the House of Representatives’ committee affairs bureau for 10 years from 1989-1999 before retiring at age 65 under the Civil Service rule. Government employees are entitled to pension if they have rendered 15 years of service upon retirement. I would not have been entitled to pension since I rendered only 10 years in government service.

Luckily, the Portability Law (Republic Act No. 7699) was enacted by Congress and signed by President Ramos on April 27, 1994, which allows adding employment credit in the private sector with that in government in order to qualify for pension. The Portability Law entitled me to receive pension from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) so I thought it was fine.

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However, there are many laws governing retirement in the Philippines, particularly in government service. Before the enactment of the Portability Law, those who lacked years of service in government were reimbursed of their contribution or premium plus interest.

Here are the examples that retirement laws are not equal. Retirees under the Portability Law according to GSIS Board Resolutions No. 177 dated Dec. 12, 2007, and No. 187 dated Nov. 18, 2009, ARE NOT ENTITLED TO: 1) cash gift given at end of the year; 2) increase in pension; and, 3) milestone bonus given to retirees who reach 90, 95 or 100 years old.

Retirees under other retirement laws are given the above benefits by GSIS. The irony of it is that RA 9994 or the Expanded Senior Citizens Act enacted in 2010 mandates that benefits of retirees (without distinction as to under what laws they retired) shall be the same as those in actual service. The employees in “actual service” get the cash gift or 13th-month pay in private sector and the right to an increase. Hence, retirees under the Portability Law are entitled to cash gifts and the right to pension increase, like those in actual service since RA 9994 revoked or rendered null and void GSIS Board Resolution Nos. 177 and 187. Laws are superior to board resolutions, more so because this particular law was enacted later than the resolutions.

Another case of “laws not being enacted equal” are the different tax deductions for private firms that employ senior citizens under RA 9994 and private firms that employ persons with disability (PWDs) under RA 10524. Private firms are allowed to deduct 15 percent of total salaries and wages paid to senior citizens they employ from gross income, while private companies are allowed to deduct 25 percent for PWDs. Why the difference?

Having worked in the committee affairs bureau engaged in research on bills that deal on similar subjects, I think the deduction of salary expense for seniors and PWDs for tax purposes should be at the same rate.

Another case of “laws not being enacted equal” is the pension system of other government employees. I attended a public hearing conducted by a Senate committee headed by Sen. Antonio Trillanes, who commented that pensions for the military are appropriated annually in the General Appropriations Act and not solely sourced from the GSIS. Government offices created by the Constitution have other pension laws governing them.

Seniors like us would welcome a uniform pension system with equal benefits for all retirees, who deserve comfort and security during their sundown years. Separate laws may lead to different rates of benefits. Congress can do this through appropriate legislation. The sooner the better. If later, it will be too bad. After all everyone believes all men are created equal, entitled to equal benefits, especially senior citizens who have paid their dues to society.

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MAFEO R. VIBAL, consultant on legislative matters and vice president-external affairs, Philippine Association of Retired Persons, [email protected]

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TAGS: democracy, Equality, GSIS, Inquirer letters, Mafeo R. Vibal, Portability Law, retirement benefits
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