#WalangPuso | Aquino’s veto of pension hike draws flak

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA –President Aquino’s veto of the pension hike bill angered workers, netizens and other sectors.

Aquino stated he could not support the bill because of its “dire financial consequences.” The House Bill 5842, mandates a P2,000 ($42) across-the-board increase in SSS monthly pensions.

The principal author of the bill, Makabayan senatorial bet Neri Colmenares, quickly denounced the veto. “Walang puso ba talaga si President Aquino? This is patently anti-pensioner, anti-poor and anti-worker!”

Colmenares called on the House of Representatives and the Senate to side with the people and override the Aquino veto.

‘SSS has enough resources’

Contrary to Malacañang’s claim that the SSS pension hike would result in a deficit of P16 billion to P26 billion ($334 million to $543 million) and “compromise the stability of the entire SSS system,” a labor NGO said SSS has enough financial resources to shoulder the pension hike cost.

The Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, Inc. (Eiler) said Malacañang did the wrong computation to make it appear that the cost of the SSS pension hike outweighs SSS income from investments.

Eiler research coordinator Carlos Maningat said SSS total revenues, which consist of members’ contributions and income from investments, amount to P160 billion ($3.34 billion) annually on average. The group noted that the amount is way bigger than the projected annual payout of P56 billion ($1.17 billion) for SSS pensioners.

Maningat added that aside from its annual revenues, SSS has also over P428 billion ($8.95 billion) in investment reserve funds as of April 2015, which is being invested in equities, bank deposits, securities and real estate.

“With billions in investment reserve funds, increasing income from investments, and growing contributions from a widening member base, SSS is definitely poised to extend its fund life. There is no way that the state pension fund will go bankrupt just because of the pension hike,” Maningat said.

One of the memes that circulate on Twitter following Aquino's veto of the pension hike bill.
One of the memes that circulate on Twitter following Aquino’s veto of the pension hike bill.

Based on Eiler’s study on social protection, it is clear that contribution collections continued to outpace benefit payments, yielding a contribution surplus of P12 billion ($251 million) in 2013, 16 times higher than the surplus posted in 2012 and five times more than the surplus earned in 2010.

Sub-human level

Colmenares said the proposed P2,000 hike “is very reasonable and is badly needed by pensioners and their dependents.”

Since 1997, the SSS minimum pension has been a measly P1,200 per month, which Colmenares said is “a certainly a sub-human pension level.”

Based on actual inflation figures, the value of P1,200 ($25) month is worth P519 ($11) in 2014. The pension of those receiving P2,400 ($50) per month is now worth P1,038 ($22). These, the author of the bill, said, are way below the living wage of P5,333 ($112) a month for a single person.

Colmenares originally proposed a P7,000-per month ($146) minimum pension. He said the P2,000 ($42) increase, a compromise amount, is not actually enough to meet the needs of SSS pensioners but hopefully can start to increase the ability of pensioners to meet basic necessities.

Colmenares said the SSS refused to fix the low pension level and the dismal state of its pensioners for almost two decades. Under Section 4 of Republic Act 8282, the SSS is supposed to submit a review of the pension system every four years to find ways to increase the pension of its members, but no such study was undertaken.

#WalangPuso

Netizens responded to Kilusang Mayo Uno’s call to use social media “to express their disappointment, dismay, condemnation and anger over Aquino’s move.”

Using the hashtag #WalangPuso, netizens condemned the veto via Twitter and Facebook.

KMU announced it would hold a protest action near Malacanang January 15.

Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), posted on Twitter the Commission on Audit’s report on salaries and allowances of SSS officials in 2014.

A report from Commission on Audit on the salaries and allowances received by SSS officials in 2014 was posted by Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr.
A report from Commission on Audit on the salaries and allowances received by SSS officials in 2014 was posted by Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr.

Reyes pointed out that SSS chairperson Emilio De Quiros Jr. received a total of P6.8 million ($142,000) in 2014.

“The long-awaited pension hike had to go through the whole legislation process only to be vetoed by the President, while SSS executives award themselves humongous bonuses and put our workers’ hard-earned money to risky investments,” Maningat said.

Government subsidy possible

Colmenares said under the RA 8282, the government has the obligation to appropriate funds should the SSS fail to replenish the projected P4-billion deficit resulting from the pension increase. There can never be a bankrupt pension system because government will always intervene if necessary.

The senatorial candidate said the SSS itself failed to do institutional reforms for nearly 20 years, so it has only itself to blame.

He said that instead of being deluded by the promise of SSS of pension increase after institutional reforms, Congress will have to assert its power to mandate a pension increase and at the same time work for institutional reforms in the next five years to strengthen SSS and enhance its fund life. ()

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  1. Paasa (Raising false hopes).

    This in a nutshell sums up and aptly describes the effects of President Aquino’s recent veto of the bill proposing a P2,000 across-the-board increase for SSS pensioners.

    The presidential veto has brought to the fore the serious lapse in the liaison and advisory works of both the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) and the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC). For how could such a bill have passed both houses of Congress without the usual Completed Staff Work (CSW) – or whatever term they may wish to call it — that would fairly apprise the President and the members of the legislature as well about the possible impacts – social, political, economic, fiscal, etc. – of key legislative measures under consideration by Congress?

    With such a CSW, the President is given a blow-by-blow account of the actions in Congress and is promptly advised by his subordinates relative to the appropriate decision or course of action to take on certain pending bills and avert, where proper, their being elevated to the portals of Malacañang for final decision by using his innate power of suasion over his allies in Congress. The timely information given the Chief Executive on crucial bills would spare him from being put “on the spot,” so to speak, and effectively shun a situation where members of Congress advocating a bill would earn “pogi points” and gain undeserved political mileage at the expense of an unwary President. That, too, would save Congress hundreds of deliberation hours and, of course, millions of people’s money!

    We thought that the presidential staff learned their lessons well from the 15th Congress (2010-2013) during which period the President vetoed nearly 80 bills submitted to him for signature. Such number of rejections speaks of the kind of coordination and linkage which the executive and the legislature had then. Proposed measures which are unlikely or have a very remote chance of being approved by the President owing to certain foreseeable considerations should, following an extensive research and CSW, be “nipped in the bud” and “dumped outright” at the legislative mill.

    While the SSS bill may be the first bill ever vetoed by the President among those passed by the current 16th Congress (2013-2016), still the recurrence of the old and unpalatable practice by Congress of passing the buck and eventually shifting the burden to the Office of the President at crunch time as well as the oft-laid-back approach and slip-shod treatment by the President’s men of legislative proposals which is akin to a “let’s-just-cross-the-bridge-when-we-get-there” attitude is something to be abhorred and despised.
    That the poor old SSS pensioners were made to believe that the bill would merit nothing less than the approval of their President, it having been given the imprimatur by hundreds of their representatives in Congress, made its rejection all the more painful and difficult to accept by those would-be beneficiaries. The two branches of government should by now have learned their lessons from this sad chapter and should forthwith become more prudent and circumspect in ensuring that what is finally delivered to their constituents are “true and concrete services” and not “paasa lang” or mere “hollow promises.”

    ATTY. ALVIN T. CLARIDADES
    PUP College of Law Faculty
    Manila

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