LEFTIST groups on Wednesday accused economic managers of President Rodrigo Duterte of misleading him into rejecting proposals to raise Social Security System pensions.
The secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno was wrong in saying that Duterte’s campaign vow to raise pensions could not be kept now that he is President.
“Diokno’s statement that Duterte the candidate is different from Duterte the President is unacceptable. No one would believe candidates’ promises then. The economic managers should be helping the President fulfill his promise to the people, instead of finding ways to abandon these promises,” he added.
“President Rodrigo Duterte should be wary of the neo-liberal triumvirate of Dominguez-Diokno-Pernia,” he added, referring to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Diokno and Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia. He said the three economic officials opposed Duterte’s pro-people policies while upholding “the discredited neo-liberal macro-economic policies of the Aquino regime.”
Speaking at a Palace briefing on Tuesday, Diokno said it was unfair to hold the President to his campaign promise to raise pension funds by P2,000 a month amid concerns over the viability of the Social Security System.
Reyes, however, accused the economic managers of opposing any pro-people measure that Duterte himself promised.
“The so-called economic managers oppose the SSS pension hike. They previously opposed the two-year ban on land conversion. They now want to raise the excise tax on oil products. It seems that they are systematically trying to undermine whatever pro-people and progressive policy pronouncement Duterte has in his government,” he said.
“If economic managers can offer this much resistance to such a basic reform measure as a pension increase, what more can we expect in peace negotiations with the NDFP on far-reaching socio-economic reforms? These developments do not bode well for negotiations on socio-economic reforms.”
Bayan said Duterte should listen to ordinary people and not the pro-business, pro-foreign, economic managers. The group also said protests loom if the government fails to keep its promises to the people.
Proponents of the P2,000 pension hike on Wednesday dared the administration’s economic managers blocking the proposal to live on a P40 daily to see for themselves if they can live decently on such an amount, which is the daily equivalent of the P1,200 monthly base pension.
“It is easy for these economic managers to block the proposal because they are not the ones suffering from the difficulty of coping with the high cost of medicines, which they need to keep them alive,” Zarate said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate also accused President Duterte’s economic managers of sabotaging the congressional measure to give immediate relief to millions of SSS pensioners now and in the future.
“The P2000 SSS pension only translates to P66 per day for the much needed additional fund for our senior citizens’ food, maintenance medicine and other expenses but this would be a big help for them to somehow have more comfortable lives,” said Zarate.
In fact, Zarate said the initial P1,000 increase beginning this month would mean only P33 per day of additional funds for the elderly pensioners.
Zarate added that the proposed P2,000 SSS pension hike would only raise to P106 per day the base pensioners’ budget, far from the P183 per person daily budget or P1,096 daily living income for a family of six members, according to a study by the independent think-tank Ibon Foundation.
Former Bayan Muna congressman Neri Colmenares also questioned the figures and data put out by the economic managers of the Duterte administration to justify their position against an SSS pension increase.
“SSS announced during the deliberation of our bill last Congress that a P 2,000 increase will deplete SSS funds by 2029. The current proposal is only P1,000 increase in 2017 and the other P1,000 increase sometime in 2020 and yet, the economic managers threatened that this will deplete the fund life further to 2027,” Colmenares said.
“How come a P1,000 increase will result in a shorter fund life than a P2,000 increase. This is absurd,” he added.
Colmenares also questioned the unfunded liability data of the economic managers.
“In June 2015 former SSS Chairman de Quiros declared that the unfunded liability of SSS is P1.2 trillion but SSS will mop it up to P908 billion. Now, a little more than a year later, the economic managers declared a current P3.5 trillion unfunded liability. Either SSS suffered massive losses last year or someone is playing with the data.”
Colmenares also cited conflicting profit and loss data in the 2014 SSS annual report.
“These conflicting data must be explained by the economic managers. We don’t want data to be manipulated to scare us into opposing the P2,000 increase,” Colmenares added.
On the other hand, Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin said Diokno was only being realistic.
“Secretary Diokno is talking sense since governance is all about data and evidence-based policy decision. The SSS pension fund is a private fund managed by government. It is not within the ambit of presidential largesse and should be beyond patronage politics,” he said.
“The Philippines is not Davao City where he [Duterte] is king and can just spend the budget any way he chooses. His campaign promises are only good for courting votes come election time. Beyond that the President has to come to grasp with realities of governing and not ruling,” Villarin said.
Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu said the pronouncement of Diokno should not be taken against the Duterte administration.
“The pronouncements made before the presidency were done by President Duterte without the privileged information that go with his current position,” Abu said.
“It is noteworthy that we have a President who listens to the realistic and practical advice of his trusted advisers and calibrates his decisions accordingly,” Abu said. “It also shows that President Duterte’s administration is consultative and not arbitrary.”
But Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano said Duterte’s campaign promises are turning out to be a joke.
“That was the point when during the campaign Duterte made impossible promises to the people just to get votes... Classic examples of this aside from the provision of an SSS hike was to eliminate drugs and crimes in three to six months, jetski to Spratlys, and solve traffic problems in six months,” he said.
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