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There’s the Rub

What’s in a name?

/ 09:29 PM October 14, 2013

Friends of mine have been asking why I haven’t written about the Social Security System. I’ve replied that my hands are tied, the case involves my brother, Emil. But after seeing the extent to which he has been savaged in the social media and the tabloids, some of the latter masquerading as TV radio stations, I figured I’ve defended so many people unfairly attacked, why in hell shouldn’t I do that for him?

It seems strange that I should be writing about the SSS, or Emil, at a time when the issue against it, or him, seems to be tapering off. But I figured as well that if I didn’t, the taint would dog him long afterward. For honest people, a good name isn’t just something, it is everything.

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What finally clinched it for me were several idiots calling for a congressional investigation of the SSS. Investigate what?

Is this a case of corruption?

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No. Nothing has been stolen from the SSS. Nothing is missing from the SSS. Which is the mind-boggling thing, how you can create the impression of it by the sleight of hand of linking it to the current furor over pork and other pillage. I dare the people who have been hounding Emil to show a single centavo that has disappeared, been misplaced, or is unaccounted for under his watch.

They do that and I will stop writing this column immediately.

Are the benefits and/or bonuses given to the SSS employees illegal?

No. These things are not given whimsically, they follow strict rules. They go through the scrutiny of the Governance Commission on GOCCs (GCG), which reviews and approves them. The benefits and bonuses given to the SSS employees who did their jobs—which is why they are called performance-based bonuses; no performance, no bonus—were reviewed and approved by the GCG. Everything was aboveboard, everything was upfront. Nobody discovered an “anomaly,” nobody exposed an “anomaly.” There is no anomaly.

Are the benefits and bonuses given to the SSS employees immoral?

No. But which brings us to the heart of the matter.

In the case of the SSS directors/board members, that amounts to P1 million each. Critics and intriguers have made of this a horrendously scandalous thing, particularly given that members’ contributions have been raised. That is, wittingly or unwittingly, a gross misconception. That is, maliciously or innocently, a gross misrepresentation.

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The SSS is not like an ordinary government office. Government offices get regular budgets every year. The truly scandalous thing is seeing some of them scrambling to use up their money toward the end of the year lest they be seen to not really need what they have and be given less the following year.

By contrast, the SSS gets contributions from its members. That is where the misconception or misrepresentation lies. Those contributions do not remain constant or unchanged, they are used the way corporations use capital—to make profit for the company. That is what makes the SSS a corporation, albeit a government one with limits and a public-service orientation. It supports itself and its services only by making profit.

That is what Emil does, and does very well. I did not, as the intriguers keep saying, cajole Malacañang into putting him in the SSS. He was recommended by the banking community after he retired as BPI executive vice president and president of Ayala Assurance, the latter earning for him various plaudits.

Has he made the SSS profitable? Has he made the SSS viable? Has he put the SSS in a position to give more and better service?

Yes.

I leave the SSS to show the range of services now available to members. I’ll just cite one: Where before you needed to go to Manila to check your SSS, the amounts kept changing from province to capital, you can now know it with certainty where you are. Like an ATM, it won’t change anywhere you go.

As to the SSS’ performance, it collected a net income of P36.2 billion last year when the bonuses were approved (but which were released only recently, allowing detractors to link it to the current furor over pork). Compare that with P23.3 billion in 2008 (Corazon de la Paz-Bernardo’s time) and P22.8 billion in 2010 (Romulo Neri’s time). SSS contributions had to be raised a couple of years ago and will be so again next year to meet the gigantic liabilities the SSS has incurred since the 1990s. Either that or lessen the benefits to members. The latter the current SSS finds unacceptable.

The bonuses for the directors and board members are fat only in relation to ripping off or goofing off, they are not so in relation to working your ass off and hitting the ball off the park. Those benefits/bonuses are nowhere near corporate ones. You can always get someone who is incompetent, or worse crooked, who can lose you hundreds of millions of pesos in bad investment, or worse billions in theft, but which you will not see. Or you can get someone who will tell you to your face: “I do not steal, I do not laze about, I work to give SSS members a fair shake. In return I expect my people—and myself—to be shown the same fairness.”

You hear someone say: “I will not get my salary, I will not get my bonus, I will only work for the greater glory of you,” that’s the time to worry.

The rest is just noise. Neri Colmenares says the SSS deserves congressional attention because its performance is subpar. Quite apart from that he might want to look at his own performance—he saw no problems with pork, enjoying millions of it before it became unpopular—he may want to present facts and figures in lieu of assertions and ululations. Ted Failon complains about the bedlam in the SSS ground floor, having nothing left to rant about after Bienvenido Laguesma took him to the classroom when he invited him to his program. What, the current SSS administration created this problem? It’s been there for a long time, as he’ll know if he will bother to check before he shoots his mouth off, and is far less of a bedlam now than before.

As to those harping on Emil’s trips, well, not all who travel are like congressmen, regular or partylist. Some actually work. Emil is currently in the United States attending to the SSS concerns of the Filipinos in America and Canada.

What’s in a name?

Everything.

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