House sets SSS probe

Chamber takes up cudgels for members

HOUSE Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. demanded Friday that the Social Security System justify an increase in the monthly contributions of its 30 million members.

Belmonte’s position directly contradicted the Palace, which on Thursday defended the increase in SSS premiums.

Belmonte ordered the appropriate committee in the House to act on pending resolutions calling for a review of the financial status of the SSS when Congress resumes sessions on Jan. 20.

Belmonte said “there must be an actuarial reason” behind the increase in the SSS premiums, which took effect Jan. 1.

“That benefits cannot be sustained by income. This must be explained in plain talk to the members,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard in a text message.

While Belmonte acknowledged that the increase was intended to improve member benefits, he said many lowly paid workers could no longer afford the higher cost.

“Because of its impact on millions of members, certainly the appropriate House committee can, and will look into it,” Belmonte said of the SSS increase.

On Thursday, Palace spokesman Herminio Coloma defended the increase, saying “benefits are not for free.”

“The increase in contributions has been studied carefully based on costs and benefits because certainly, the benefits are not for free. Someone has to assume the burden of those benefits,” Coloma said.

Several resolutions have been filed at the House seeking a review on the financial standing of the SSS, particularly after it was revealed that the board members voted P1 million bonuses for themselves in 2012.

The resolutions were pending before the House committee on good government chaired by Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez.

Rodriguez earlier vowed to attend to the resolutions.

The monthly SSS contributions of at least 30.04 million individual members and 871,642 employers will rise to 11 percent from 10.4 percent effective January 2014.

Employed SSS members will be paying an additional 0.3 percent for their monthly contributions while self-employed, voluntary members and overseas Filipino workers will be paying 0.6 percent more every month.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares urged the SSS to defer the increase.

“Many of their members are still experiencing price shocks from the rising prices of oil and electricity,” Colmenares said.

He also urged Congress to investigate the hefty bonuses granted to the board.

“It is not the premium that should increase but the pension for its members,” Colmenares said.

House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption said that both the increases in the monthly contributions for members of the SSS and the Philippine Health

Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) are valid issues that have to be reviewed by Congress, given that the public interest is involved.

Employed PhilHealth members who used to pay monthly contributions of P175 will now have to pay P200, to be shared equally with their employers.

Self-employed PhilHealth members or individually paying members who used to pay a monthly contribution of P150 are now also required to give P200.

Two militant groups, the Bukuran ng Maggagawang Pilipino (BMP) and Bayan Muna demanded that the SSS increase be suspended indefinitely, saying it was “totally unjustified and grossly detrimental to the interests of the members of the state pension fund.”

The BMP said the government’s justification for the premium increase was “devoid of logic.”

“How can it go bankrupt when the SSS has more than 30 million members and... it has invested

billions of pesos of its members’ funds in highly profitable industries such as real estate, mining, telecommunication, banking and power?” labor leader Gie Relova said.

SSS officials say the state pension fund has accumulated an estimated P1.1 trillion in unfunded liability since 1980, which has been increasing at 8 percent annually, and would wipe out the fund by 2041. To address this, President Aquino approved a 0.6 percent increase in employee contributions in September.

But Relova said there was nothing wrong with employees availing of their benefits because the funds were theirs to begin with.

He added that mismanagement of the SSS funds was the reason for the state agency’s problems, and that the solution was not to raise premiums.

“The depletion of the SSS funds by 2041is simply a scare tactic by the Aquino government since the premium-paying members of today shall be pensioners by then,” Relova added.

The militant workers called for an independent investigation into the SSS operations and how it used its funds.

“Only after an investigation and transparency measures are in place and services are improvd can the government justify the contribution increase. Until they do so, wave upon wave of protest actions shall be launched against the parasitic and unmistakably anti-worker policy of the Aquino government,” Relova said.

The BMP and Bayan Muna also demanded the SSS board members return the P9 million in bonuses they voted for themselves in 2012.

“The callousness of the SSS directors on the premium increase is consistent with their failed promises to return the bonus they awarded themselves,” Relova said.

“The SSS Board of Directors must return the bonuses and suspend indefinitely the anti-worker premium increase or face the wrath of the more than 30 million SSS membership,” Relova added.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares added that the SSS should collect some P90 billion in unremitted premiums from delinquent employers instead of raising contribution rates.

Colmenares also dismissed the explanation of SSS president Emilio de Quiros Jr. that the premium hike is part of the fund’s “reform agenda” aimed at lengthening the actuarial life of the SSS.

“If they are saying that they are running low on funds, then why give out huge bonuses for themselves? They cannot claim lacks of funds while at the same time give themselves large bonuses,” Colmenares said.- With Joyce P. Pañares and Merk Maguddayao



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