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Duterte still studying P2,000 SSS pension hike

An SSS branch office in Makati. file photo
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - As his verbal retreat on a promise to clear the hike in Social Security System pensions has drawn flak, President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to study first the proposal upon the recommendation of his economic managers, Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said on Monday.

"The President is looking for a win-win solution where he can give pensioners the increase they have been asking for while that SSS will remain solvent at all times," Andanar said in a text message.

"As the President said, he does not want to use taxpayers' money, especially money of non-SSS members, should a funding problem arise because of the increase," he added.

In a series of year-end TV interviews, Duterte said he got advice from the economic managers that the SSS might go bankrupt if the P2,000 pension hike is granted to SSS retirees. Some militant lawmakers are upset by this, noting that Congress in fact had compromised on the matter by providing for a two-stage hike, with only P1,000 to be made available this year.

Senate President Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel III, President Duterte’s close ally, welcomed the President’s decision to study first the pension hike.

"We should always be cautious and be extra careful in spending money raised or collected under mandate of the law (like taxes and SSS premiums). Hence, if President Duterte needs time to study the matter then let us give him the study time he needs," Pimentel was quoted in a report.

11-year cut in fund life; militants want Pernia out

According to SSS chairman Amado Valdez, the SSS’s current fund life would be shortened from 2042 to 2031 if half of the P2,000 is given beginning January this year based on the SSS Board’s proposal.

Andanar said Duterte will again confer with his economic managers to solve the impasse.

Bayan Muna party-list has pinned on the NEDA chief the blame for the President's retreat from a promise to grant the pension hike that his predecessor had vetoed.

The party-list asked Duterte to consider firing Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia and his Cabinet allies for refusing to allow the P1,000 pension increase.

On New Year’s Day, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate and Bayan Muna Chairperson Neri Colmenares also urged Duterte to immediately sign the P2,000 SSS pension increase “as this only translates to P66 per day for the much needed additional fund  for our senior citizens’ food, maintenance medicine and other expenses.”

According to the militant bloc, Pernia opposes practically all of Duterte’s policy pronouncements, including his vow to ensure rice self-sufficiency, his pledge to stop land conversions to prevent more arable land from being transformed into commercial centers, residential subdivisions and industrial parks, and his commitment to raise the monthly pension of SSS retirees.

In the matter of the SSS pension hike, Pernia has the support of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez II and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno.

Zarate and Colmenares accused the three Cabinet members of “junking and sabotaging Congressional measure to give immediate relief to millions of SSS pensioners now and in the future.” 

“The concession to give the pension increase in two tranches, upon strong representations  by the new SSS leadership, was in fact allowed by Congress so that the SSS can still raise more funds. Thus,  it is utterly ridiculous for the three Cabinet secretaries to say that the agency would go bankrupt,” Zarate insisted.

“In fact, with the initial P1,000 increase  beginning this month, that would mean just P33 per day of additional funds for the elderly pensioners,” he added.

Zarate, one of the principal authors of House Joint Resolution No. 10 granting the increase beginning January 2017, condemned the Pernia bloc's move.

“During the House and Senate hearings, SSS Chairman Amado Valdez even explicitly said that the P1,000 initial pension increase can be done as early as December 2016 and the SSS would not go bankrupt. He even added that raising membership premium  is also the least, even last, of their options to raise the  funds of the agency. Furthermore, if at all, government subsidy for the pension fund  as provided for by the SSS Charter is even higher in their options,” he argued.

“It is also not unfair to future pensioners because the P2,000 pension hike bill and the subsequent Joint Resolution No. 10 states that through this legislation the base of the SSS pension would be raised so all pensioners from now on would enjoy higher pension,” added the Davao-based solon.

Duterte said the only thing needed for the SSS pension increase to be implemented is his signature, but added he wants to discuss the matter to be “fair” to everybody.

Pernia, Dominguez and Diokno claimed that without an accompanying SSS premium increase, the proposed pension hike would supposedly unduly jack up the unfunded liabilities of the SSS from P3.5 trillion to P5.9 trillion. 

Meanwhile, former Bayan Muna Rep. Colmenares said “the Cabinet secretaries should stop trying to delude the people and Duterte that it has no funds for the P2,000 pension increase because this is not true. They are trying to sabotage the distribution of the P2,000 pension increase, even if it has actually admitted several times that it has the funds for the pension increase. At most, the increase will only shorten the SSS fund life to 2025-2029 instead of the current 2042,” he added.

“Assuming this is true, 14 years is more than enough time for the government and SSS to find ways to increase its fund life. In 2001, SSS declared that it has a fund life of only five years and yet it was able to increase this to 2042 in just 14 years. If it previously survived a five year fund life, then surely it can also survive a 14-year fund life. Truthfully speaking, we are in a better shape than the United Kingdom (UK) which has a fund life of only up to 2027 and Canada which has a fund life of 2022 or merely seven years,” added Colmenares. 

“Instead of harping on increasing contributions SSS should (1) improve its collection efficiency from the employers of its 31 million members;  (2) collect the billions in contributions, which delinquent employers failed to remit in the last ten years; (3) cut down in bonuses and perks given to its Board members and collect the disallowed more than P200 million retirement package given to SSS board members in 2009 and (4) collect the fines imposed by the courts against employers who violated the SSS law,” Colmenares said.  

“If this is not enough, then Congress can always provide for subsidies as provided under Section 20 of RA 8282 as amended. There is no way that the SSS will go bankrupt since under Section 21of the said law, the Philippine government guarantees the benefits and solvency of the SSS,” added Colmenares.

“More important, the Joint Resolution mandating the SSS pension increase does not allow for an increase in premium contribution. Again, it is best for the members of the Cabinet to support the pension increase and together with the new SSS leadership  and Congress to look for means in increasing its current fund life,” said Zarate.