‘Aquino allies in Congress panicked over possible veto override’

SSS pensioners
Senior citizens awaiting House of Representatives’ session especially on overriding the vetoed SSS P2000 pension hike (Photo by Mon Ramirez)

“This means the Majority did not have the votes to quell the override and decided to even sacrifice the passage of their priority bills like the PPP bill, just to avoid losing the vote on override.”

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Senior citizens who joined the picket protest by workers and women’s groups at the House of Representatives last Wednesday, February 3, expressed outrage at the abrupt adjournment of the day’s session.

They were barred at first from entering the Lower House’s session hall, then made to fall in line for what many decried as overly strict security check, and when finally allowed entry, the lawmakers soon suspended the day’s session around 5 p.m., then adjourned it altogether nearly three hours later without the House Speaker saying his closing remarks at the podium.

It was the last working day for lawmakers before the start of the election campaign season. The sudden adjournment was greeted with jeers from the floor by senior citizens and pensioners who flocked to the gallery that day.

Makabayan senatorial candidate Rep. Neri Colmenares, author of the House Resolution seeking reversal or override of President Aquino’s veto of pension hike, said Thursday, February 4, that many senior citizens came there to Congress with the hope to witness what could have been an historic override of President Aquino’s veto of P2,000-Social Security System (SSS) pension increase.

“They braved the heat of the sun and the rains to lobby their congressmen to vote for the override,” he said, noting there was a quorum that night with at least 213 congressmen in the House premises as confirmed to him by the House Secretariat itself.

“This means the Majority did not have the votes to quell the override and decided to even sacrifice the passage of their priority bills like the PPP bill just to avoid losing the vote on override,” Colmenares said.

Aquino and allies “in panic”

In statement, Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap said Aquino and his allies may think they have succeeded in blocking the veto override, but in so doing, “they are actually exposing their panic that they could not even face it on the floor, be witnessed by the pensioners themselves, and so they resorted instead to an escapist, sudden adjournment of the session.”

The labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno whose members picketed he House of Representatives last Wednesday condemned House Speaker Sonny Belmonte and the leadership of the House of Representatives “for refusing to override Pres. Noynoy Aquino’s veto of the P2,000 hike in Social Security System pensions.”

“While it is expected that the Congress leadership would act to prevent an override, the means by which it prevented the override is most brazen and shows its isolation on this issue from most congressmen,” said Roger Soluta, vice-chairperson of KMU. He was at the gallery with the pensioners chanting, “Override! Override!” when the session was abruptly adjourned.

Congress as an institution and all congressmen will be blamed by Filipinos for this move, said Hicap.

Although the issue at hand is just the clamor for P2,000 pension hike, pensioners and sectors supporting it pointed out that the House leadership’s behavior has also shone light on the unchanged corruption and patronage politics under the Aquino administration. Soluta of KMU said the House move shows the bias of the Congress leadership against workers and the poor and for big capitalists and bureaucrats. He added that it also shows Aquino’s continuing hold over the Congress leadership, which the labor center ascribes in part to Aquino’s preservation of the scheme of patronage through the pork barrel system.

Anakpawis described the House leadership’s action as an example of “palpable subservience to Aquino,” which negated even the fact that the bill had gathered majority 211 votes at the Lower House and 15 votes at the Senate.

“The issue of the SSS pension hike has exposed that the house being an independent branch from the executive is all but an illusion — the bill could have been a legacy law of the 16th congress, but Aquino���s allies betrayed the pensioners.They’d rather please a ‘heartless’ president than millions of beneficiaries,” Hicap said.

The Anakpawis representative said refusing to hike the pension and doing it in such a way is “totally undemocratic.”

“The correct idea of increasing the pension came from the people, it was expressed in congress as a bill, both houses approved it, with hundreds of lawmakers who deliberated on the bill with the data even supplied by the SSS, hence, Aquino’s veto is nothing but a head-on obstruction of the fulfillment of the people’s aspiration,” Hicap said.

Reasons cited for refusing pension hike ‘ heartless, baseless’

Gabriela Women Partylist Rep. Luz Ilagan said the P2,000 pension hike which SSS officials estimate to cost an additional P56 billion, can be sourced from foregone revenues from idle assets (P198 million); collections from delinquent employers (P13.5 billion); uncollected revenue as of 2009 (P325 billion) and the P447 billion in assets as of October 2015.

Senior citizens holding a picket in Cagayan de Oro, Feb 3 (Photo courtesy of Kdamay)
Senior citizens holding a picket in Cagayan de Oro, Feb 3 (Photo courtesy of Kdamay)

“SSS officials are always quick to claim financial stability and strength every time we question the huge bonuses given to SSS officials. Now that pensioners are asking what is due them, they are painting a picture of doom with claims of being on the brink of bankruptcy, how convenient!” Ilagan said.

Funded by 33 million members, the “SSS fund is a provident fund and not a hedge fund,” Hicap reminded the Aquino government. He added that it is a provision for the future and the pensioners’ future is the present. He said the likes of Emilio De Quiros, Jr. sitting as CEO and president of SSS when he is a commercial banker, also totally contradicts the mandate of providing service to SSS members. He said the likes of De Quiros at the SSS show how they function instead for the profits of giant firms.

De Quiros worked with Far East Bank and Trust Company from 1989 to 2000, became an executive of the Ayala-controlled Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) from 2004 to 2008, a board member of the Belle Corporation, a high-end real estate developer, controlled by SM Investments Corp., a board member of the Union Bank of the Aboitiz. He also trained with Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. of New York, Merrill Lynch, a division of Bank of America.

Who is really electioneering?

A Liberal Party executive and Caloocan 2nd District Rep. Edgar Erice was quoted as dismissing the pension hike as mere electoral issue for Colmenares’ senatorial bid.

But that is not the case at all, said Hicap, who reminded his fellow congressman that the proposal to hike the pension had been filed last March 2011 as House Bill No. 4365. At the time it was proposing a P7,000 increase in pension.

Hicap added that it is understandable traditional politicians would see it that way.

“Traditional politicians only see bills for the people’s welfare as electioneering because that is what they do — they promise the moon and make various claims no matter how improbable just to win the election,” Hicap said.

Anakpawis urged various sectors to transform the issue of SSS pension hike from being a legislative issue to a political issue and hold Aquino accountable for his anti-people governance by totally ending ‘daang matuwid’ this May elections.

"President Aquino, di makakalimutan ng taumbayan itong pagtraydor mo sa interes ng ating mga senior citizens!"

Video grabbed from Neri Colmenares on Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Colmenares said he will push for a vote on his resolution to reverse Aquino’s veto of the pension hike when Congress reconvenes from May 23 to June 10.

“While the senior citizens are dismayed and angry for the refusal of Congress to give them a chance to override the veto, they were heartened by the fact that they were strong enough to push the Majority to retreat from the battle for override,” he said in a statement Thursday, a day after House session was abruptly adjourned. He said the senior citizens are also thankful of the Congressmen who supported their fight.

The Makabayan bloc of lawmakers have distributed copies of the resolution supporting the override to all members of Congress. As of this writing, they have gathered 57 signatures. He expressed hopes it will be more than 192, the number needed to override Aquino’s veto.

Bayan Muna Rep Carlos Zarate, meanwhile, said the struggle to reverse Aquino’s veto should be continued also during the election campaign season. He urged the pensioners, their families and all contributors of SSS to bring up the matter to campaigning candidates. ()

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