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Freedom to obtain pension information

The two presidential debates in Cagayan de Oro and Cebu provided leading candidates Mayor Digong Duterte and Senator Grace Poe the opportunity to commit them into enacting to law the long-awaited freedom of information bill.

For us senior citizens, those commitments were the best things that came out from those debates. We are now assured of the passage of the FOI bill if either one— especially the maverick and more results-driven Mayor Digong—is elected president.

An FOI law would enable us to know and understand the happenings and developments at the Social Security System, the Government Service Insurance System and PhilHealth.

Without enough information, how could we agree with the continuing grant of SSS officials to themselves of performance bonuses while they turn a deaf ear to our cries for a pension increase?

Without yet publishing its 2015 accomplishments, SSS has again asked the Governance Commission for Government-Owned or -Controlled Corporations for a performance bonus as if it had met its 2015 targets.

The highlights of these targets —which were published in the GCG Website only recently—are its P38-billion net income and 6-percent return on investments.

No wonder SSS officials had stubbornly resisted Rep. Neri Colmenares’ P2,000 pension increase—granting it would have wiped out its 2015 net income and thus disqualify its commissioners, officials and employees from receiving a performance bonus!

Worse, it did not set any target amount in pension and benefit payments, which is an unforgivable snub of the institution’s most important goal.

GSIS definitely underperformed in 2015. Its net income dropped to P48.85 billion from P140.22 billion in 2014 while its financial assets lost P2.51 billion in value.

Conveniently, its 2015 performance targets were not published in the GCG Website.

Neither has PhilHealth disclosed its 2015 targets. It has reported, nonetheless, that its actual benefit payments exceeded premium collections by P1 billion despite massive government subsidies.

Due to rapid increase in highly subsidized beneficiaries, PhilHealth’s annual benefit payments have grown almost threefold to P97 billion since 2011. Yet its benefits to contributing members have remained stagnant.

It is the same for the SSS pension system. With more underfunded informal sector members being covered, huge subsidies are being diverted toward them to the detriment of current pensioners.

SSS isn’t disclosing to us this significant policy of providing huge subsidies to newly retiring pensioners from the informal sector and none for the pension adjustment of current pensioners.

Of course, all these may sound speculative without the actuarial studies that are mandated by law but which our social protection institutions deny us.

Indeed, we as contributors and beneficiaries of their programs must know everything that happens at these institutions. In that way, we won’t have to constantly and unfairly demand for adjustments in our benefits while we refuse to add to our contributions.

Ideally, we should be contributing to these institutions unmindful that we aren’t receiving any benefit from them because we are confident that we would receive our pension and hospitalization benefits in the future.

In fact, some of us could be receiving benefits without having contributed any because we are the dependents, widows or widowers of a contributor.

In the case of PhilHealth, we could be benefitting from its hospitalization program by simply being senior citizens. We or our relatives need not have contributed a single centavo to it.

These things don’t imply that we don’t have a right to know what officials of SSS, GSIS and PhilHealth do inside their walled and air-conditioned offices.

They should still account to us their recent performances and outline their immediate and long-range plans.

SSS and GSIS could do this by complying with their charters’ provisions to submit to the President and to Congress public reports about their activities in the administration and enforcement of their programs, including information and recommendations concerning broad policies for the development and perfection of these programs.

SSS and GSIS have to submit annually their reports not later than April 30 and June 30, respectively. As of today, GSIS has published its unaudited financial statements in its Website but not SSS.

The PhilHealth law is more specific on what must be reported—“status of the National Health Insurance Fund, its total disbursements, reserves, average costing to beneficiaries, any request for additional appropriation, and other data pertinent to the implementation of the Program.”

It must also “publish a synopsis of such report in two newspapers of general circulation.”

But for unknown reasons, PhilHealth’s charter has omitted the deadlines for such submission and publication.

A model for us to emulate is the American Social Security Administration, which makes available to the general public through various media its annual performance plans, financial reports, strategic plans and actuarial studies.

It does this to comply with its FOI Act that was signed into law on July 4, 1966. Very straight-forward, its objectives are “to promote transparency and prevent agencies from having secret policies.”

Senator Poe must have been thinking about this FOI Act while she was sponsoring at the Senate the passage of its Philippine version.

Topics: Horace Templo , freedom of information bill
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