Congress fails to OK Salary Standardization Law

Jess Diaz, Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Government employees will have to wait a while longer for their salary increase as Congress failed to approve the Salary Standardization Law-4 (SSL-4) when it adjourned its sessions for a month-long Christmas break, leaving the salary increase plan for the 1.5 million government personnel hanging.

Due to a last-minute hitch, the House of Representatives and the Senate failed to finally approve the bill containing the pay hike on Wednesday, their last day of session for this year.

The problem arose on Tuesday when senators decided to reconsider the approval of their own version of the SSL-4 to cover retired personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) personnel in the planned salary adjustment.

The scheme recommended by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) did not include AFP and PNP retirees because their inclusion would bloat the already huge cost of the plan.

The DBM has estimated that the pay hike plan would cost taxpayers at least P226 billion over four years starting next year.

The House adopted the DBM version, approving it on third and final reading as early as Dec. 9.

The Senate approved the SSL-4 on Monday but the bill was brought back to plenary upon the motion of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, who introduced a number of amendments.

Enrile introduced the indexation of the pension for retired military personnel with the salaries of the active members.

Sens. Ralph Recto and Vicente Sotto III supported the indexation of the pension with the salaries, which they said would entail a significant increase in the funding needed for the implementation of the SSL-4.

In the P3.002-trillion national budget for 2016 that was approved by Congress last week, P57.9 billion was included for the implementation of the first tranche of the SSL-4.

The amount would cover only the increases in the salaries of government personnel, the intention of which is to make them closer to the prevailing rates enjoyed by their private sector counterparts, according to Recto.

He cited as example the nurses who are receiving P24,887 per month (under Salary Grade 15) will have their salaries raised to P26,192 next year. In the final year of the implementation of the SSL, their monthly salaries would go up to P30,531.

The minimum basic salary for civilian government personnel (Salary Grade 1 or administrative aide) would be raised from the current rate of P9,000 to P11,068.

A similar hike would be applied to the pay of military and uniformed personnel as army privates, apprentice seamen and police officers of the lowest rank would have their monthly salaries raised from P14,834 to P16,597.  

Aside from the increases in the monthly salary of government personnel, the proposed measure also introduces an improved set of allowances and benefits, such as 14th month pay, a mid-year bonus and an enhanced performance-based bonus which can be equal to or double the monthly salary.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, the sponsor of the bill, said that all of the senators were supportive of the indexation of the pension to the salaries as introduced by Enrile.

“The pension levels of the retirees will also increase along with the increase in the salaries. We believe that they have earned it. They have risked their lives just to keep us safe, to let us enjoy the fruits and blessings of democracy. So we believe that they deserve this indexation,” Trillanes said.

Trillanes said that he expects strong resistance from Malacañang to the indexation provision in the SSL-4 so Congress would have to work out a compromise before the resumption of sessions on Jan. 18, 2016.

The indexation could mean an addition of around P9 billion for the first year of implementation.

“But of course, the proposals from Malacañang, to be fair with them, they are concerned with the severe budgetary constraints that it may cause. So that’s where we are right now. For Malacañang, it’s more long term than that specific amount so we’re still negotiating. We’re still looking for a formula. The senators are one in pushing for the retention of the indexation,” Trillanes said.

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