PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III vetoed a bill Thursday that would have raised Social Security System pensions by P2,000 a month across the board, and increased the minimum monthly pension from P1,200 to P3,200, arguing that the move would deplete the agency’s funds in 13 years.
The veto was criticized by lawmakers who slammed the President’s lack of compassion for pensioners and their dependents.
“The President has informed Congress… that he has vetoed the enrolled House Bill No. 5842, which provides for a P2,000 across-the-board increase in the monthly pension of Social Security System [SSS] pensioners and adjustment of the minimum monthly pension from P1,200 to P3,200, for members who have contributed the equivalent of 10 credited years of service [CYS], and from P2,400 to P4,000, for those with at least 20 CYS,” a statement released by Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
“In his message, President Aquino said the stability of the entire SSS benefit system, whose present membership comprises about 31-million individuals, will be seriously compromised in favor of two million pensioners and their dependents,” the statement said.
In a press briefing, Coloma said the SSS would run out of funds in 13 years if the bill was passed.
“We have 2.1-million SSS members who are receiving pension and if each one would receive the proposed P2,000 a month increase, times 13 months, the amount we are looking at is P56 billion a year,” Coloma said. “And the immediate effect on this is that funds will be depleted for the 31-million members in 2029 or 13 years from now.” Coloma said the responsibility of the government is to ensure the increase could be justified.
The stability of the SSS also had to be ensured so that the majority of members—particularly the retirees—would benefit.
“The government would be irresponsible if it allowed the depletion of the funds,” Coloma said.
The SSS, he added, is studying other measures to increase benefits to its members, without hurting its stability.
Asked if the move would hurt the President politically, Coloma said the long-term effects of his decisions were more important. He said the Palace would leave it to Congress, if it wanted to override the veto with a two-thirds vote.
Coloma also denied allegations by the Kilusang Mayo Uno that the problem was that the government failed to collect SSS contributions from several employers.
“The truth is the collection efficiency improved. From 2010 up to 2014, net revenue increased. During the five-year period [2010-2014], the average was P33 billion compared to the average of only P8 billion from 2000 to 2009. So their allegations have no basis at all,” Coloma said.
The proof is there is a 50-percent growth in assets in the last five years, he added.
Coloma also defended the hefty bonuses that top SSS executives voted for themselves, saying these were just a fraction of the total operating expenses of the SSS.
But opposition lawmakers slammed the President for vetoing the bill.
The leader of the minority bloc in the House, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, denounced the move as being anti-poor and anti-people, and showed the lack of compassion and concern for the plight of pensioners and their dependents.
“The beneficiaries represent the real working class during their time who may not be benefitting from government’s dole out program. This is a pro-poor policy that gives social justice,” Romualdez said of the vetoed bill.
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., however, said the President’s action was understandable.
“He had no choice as the SSS could not afford it from an actuarial point of view. The House passed a sister bill giving the SSS board powers similar to that of the GSIS board to increase premiums, but it was not yet approved by the Senate. [Aquino] chose to be a fiscally responsible leader, and not just one driven by current politics,” Belmonte said in a text message.
Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, principal authors of the measure, said the President’s decision summarized what the government’s policy of Daang Matuwid or the straight path is all about.
Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said veto would hurt administration candidates in the May elections.
“This is patently anti-pensioner, anti-poor and anti-worker,” Colmenares said. “The P2,000 hike is very reasonable and is badly needed by pensioners and their dependents,” he said.
Zarate said the President was “callous and heartless for the ordinary people but very generous and accommodating to the whims and caprices of his cronies as well as his business and foreign patrons.”
Both Zarate and Colmenares vowed to urge their colleagues in the House of Representatives and the Senate to work together to override the Aquino veto.
Albano warned the decision of the President might have repercussions on the popularity of his candidates in May elections but added that he might have had his own reasons for vetoing the bill.
“There must be something that he knows that we don’t,” Albano said.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. chided Aquino for being insensitive to the plight of 1.9-million SSS pensioners.
“It seems that the President has chosen to look the other way, instead of being sensitive and looking at the realistic conditions of the pensioners who dedicated their active and healthy years to labor,” Marcos said.
“This is a sad day for all SSS pensioners and I am sure they are disappointed with the President’s veto of the measure granting a P2, 000 across-the-board increase to their monthly pension,” said Marcos.
He noted that governance is about caring for the people especially those who are incapable or less capable of taking care of themselves.
“I hope the President is not missing this point,” he said.
He said the pensioners, now most of them old and sickly, depend on their monthly SSS pension for their medical requirements and daily basic needs. An increase in the pension would definitely have been a relief.
“I am one of the authors of the Senate version of the measure and now that the President has decided against it, I hope the government has other plans to uplift the conditions of the pensioners,” said Marcos, who is running for vice president in the May elections.
Senators Cynthia Villar and Grace Poe said the vote was “unfortunate and sad.”
Villar said the elderly and the retired pensioners had been eagerly awaiting the enactment of the bill.
“It remains my position that the additional P2,000 can be given without putting the stability of the SSS fund in jeopardy. Nonetheless, we will try to look for alternative ways to help the pensioners. If unable, we will prioritize the passage of the same bill next Congress,” Villar said.
Poe, a candidate for president, said the SSS should give a concrete alternative if it believes it cannot afford the additional P2,000 a month.
Senators Ralph Recto and Juan Edgardo Angara said they would seek a compromise to the P2,000 increase.
“If the President finds the P2,000 per pensioner too high, then my unsolicited advice to him is to recommend an amount which he thinks is suitable, and supportable by SSS finances; then convey this to the SSS Board--whose members are his appointees--for possible implementation,” said Recto.
Senate President Franklin Drilon on Thursday said he respects the decision of the President to exercise his veto power.
“It is within his prerogative as President to do so and this is part of the system of checks and balances that is a critical component of our democracy,” said Drilon.
Drilon said se should fully respect the judgement of the President if after a thorough review of the bill, he believed the enactment of the measure would, in the long run, harm the agency’s fund life and ability to provide meaningful social security protection to its members and beneficiaries.
“We may have a different opinion with the President on this particular matter, but I am confident that the executive branch is looking into other alternatives that will help the pensioners, without compromising the viability of the SSS as an institution,” Drilon said.
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.