No veto override; compromise eyed
Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – As public protests mounted, President Aquino said yesterday Congress could override his veto of a bill raising monthly Social Security System (SSS) pension by P2,000.

But most congressmen appear cool to an override, with administration supporters saying it would look bad for the President.

Leaders of the House of Representatives have ruled out overriding the presidential veto, although Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said they are looking for ways to address the need for higher pensions for retirees without compromising the fiscal health of the SSS.

“We are also studying the matter and other options,” Belmonte said in a text message.

Lawmakers are considering a compromise, which is a smaller increase of P1,000. President Aquino, however, may go along only with P500.

Senate President Franklin Drilon was unavailable for comment yesterday, but several senators voiced support for a congressional override of the presidential veto.

On Thursday, Drilon said “the Senate will not be hindered by this veto” as he vowed the chamber “will work hard to perfect the bill” and give the people what they deserve.

“That’s just wishful thinking on the part of some in the minority group in the House,” Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said yesterday of plans by some opposition lawmakers to override Aquino’s veto of the bill.

He said that with Belmonte and Drilon defending the President’s veto, “there is no chance at all for any override call to prosper.”

He said an override would not address the concern of the President and SSS officials that the proposed pension increase could result in the collapse of the private workers’ pension fund.

Gonzales was commenting on the call of Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares for the House to overturn Aquino’s rejection of the pension hike bill.

Colmenares, one of the measure’s authors, said: “It’s incumbent for me to work for the override. We approved the bill, we studied it very well, why don’t we stand and fight for it?”

Gonzales said an override would embarrass the President.

“You don’t do that to your President. You cannot do that to a popular President like P-Noy,” he said.

He said he doesn’t think any member of the pro-administration House majority coalition would support an override initiative. 

“The SSS board can increase the pensions with the President’s approval. They can give a smaller increase,” Belmonte said.

Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, for his part, said the SSS should heed the mandate of Congress for an adjustment in pension.

“While we all agree that keeping the SSS financially viable is of paramount importance, there is no doubt about the necessity to raise pensions. The SSS leadership must extend economic relief to their pensioners who are already in their sunset years,” he said.

“Compassion must be shown to our senior citizen-pensioners. A little amount of increase is better than ignoring their plight totally,” Romualdez said.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said the SSS should find a way to satisfy the collective will of Congress. He expressed doubts, however, that an override move would prosper.

“The President still enjoys wide support in Congress. I don’t believe those who are proposing that we veto the presidential veto can get the needed two-thirds vote of all members,” he said.

He added that the President’s rejection of the SSS pension hike bill shows that Aquino is prepared to make an unpopular decision as long as he believes it is the right thing to do.

Albano pointed out that it would have been easier for Aquino to affix his signature on the bill and spare himself from criticism.

“But he believed that his veto would save the SSS pension fund and the contributions and benefits of 30 million active members, a number far greater than the more than two million pensioners,” he stressed.

Agreeing with Albano, Marikina Rep. Romero Federico Quimbo said, “President Aquino’s style of leadership is always about championing the interest of the greater number of people and not about earning ‘pogi’ (brownie) points for him and his candidates in next year’s elections.”

“People should accept by now that P-Noy makes decisions not for political convenience but on the basis of what is good for the country in the long term. He recognizes that he is first and foremost the father of the nation and not simply a politician or campaign manager,” Quimbo said.

At the Senate, Majority Floor Leader Alan Peter Cayetano vowed to lead his colleagues in overriding the presidential veto.

“It is time for Congress to stand up for our millions of pensioners and give them the pension that they need,” he said. 

“We must stand up against the executive’s awesome powers and ensure the passage of important laws that will help alleviate the lives of our people and show that we are the people’s voice and not just a rubber stamp of Malacañang,” Cayetano, a member of the Nacionalista Party and a vice presidential candidate, said.

Cayetano maintained that social security is meant to help retiring pensioners cope with the high cost of living without their regular salaries. “But what good is social security if what they get is so low that it cannot even meet their barest needs?”

He squelched insinuations that his position was politically motivated.

Presidential aspirant Sen. Grace Poe, who was in Pangasinan with her senatorial candidate Colmenares, said yesterday she would support the move for the override.

She said if government feels the increase is not proper,  “they must explain to the people the maximum amount it can afford to give.”

Uphill battle

Cayetano said the legislative would require two-thirds vote of the House and Senate, voting separately.

“It is an uphill battle but a fight that must be waged nonetheless. We owe it to the people, especially the vulnerable such as the elderly, the sick and the unemployed who are at the bottom of the barrel. Sobra-sobra na ang hirap nila (They’ve suffered so much),” he said.

In his veto message, Aquino explained that the stability of the entire benefit system would be “seriously compromised” if the proposed pension hike would be implemented.

Cayetano, however, said Aquino’s fear was based on wrong assumptions. The senator explained that the SSS should institutionalize long overdue reforms like increasing its rate of contribution collections and expanding its investment reserves.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said he would consult with his colleagues at the NP on a possible override of the presidential veto.

“I will ask for a meeting with the NP, we could have a solid party position in this regard. But to be sure, the LP candidates would be adversely affected by this veto,” Trillanes said.

Sen. Francis Escudero has also urged his Senate colleagues to override President Aquino’s veto, saying “there is no better time than now to have the SSS pension hike bill enacted into law.”

Saying senators were unanimous in approving the measure, he called the President’s veto “ill advised.”

Under Article VI Section 27 of the 1987 Constitution, Congress can override a presidential veto by passing the bill with a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

“We need to muster the two-thirds majority vote to override the veto. It may be difficult but we will try for the sake of our SSS pensioners,” Escudero said.

Sen. Cynthia Villar, who sponsored the measure on the floor, express doubts the two chambers can muster enough quorum for the override. Congress has until Feb. 5 to work on the override, which would set a precedent if it succeeds.

P-Noy’s dare

In Malolos, Bulacan, President Aquino explained he was not being “heartless and careless” when he vetoed the bill and that he would gladly accept any move by lawmakers to override his veto if he would later be proven wrong.

“Now, ‘heartless.’ The government has other mechanisms for all those who are truly in need. What I read was that (the P2,000) could be used to buy maintenance medicine. The DOH can help, there is also PhilHealth, we also have other social safety nets,” Aquino said. DOH stands for Department of Health.

“So I am ‘heartless’ now, if in 2027 it (SSS) goes bankrupt, the 30 million or more – by that time… would say I am careless and heartless at the same time,” he said.

Aquino said a P500-increase instead of P2,000, for instance, could be looked into but he could not promise anything definite until all figures were computed and all factors were considered.

Aquino also said the retirees, being senior citizens, could avail of the government’s other social services for their medical and other needs if their SSS pension could not be increased.

The President also noted there was no reason to cite the supposed big bonuses of SSS officials as ground to show they were being insensitive or lacking in compassion because these were evaluated by the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations.

The President said he was certain his political opponents would ride on the issue.

The President also said what must be clear with the people was that for every one peso contribution, what the SSS must give back in the future would be from P6 to P15, depending on how it would invest the funds collected from members.

“SSS has the obligation to invest their funds to come up with (funds) to pay for the pension and other benefits,” Aquino said, adding that based on the computation of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, SSS would need long-term investments to raise all the money and meet all its obligations in the coming years.

Middle ground

Meanwhile, the pro-administration Koalisyon ng Daang Matuwid said it understands the President’s decision to veto the bill hiking the SSS pension but voices openness to a “middle ground” to address the concerns of retirees.

“It was a difficult decision but we understand why it had to be done,” coalition spokesman and Akbayan Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez said.

“If you grant a P2,000 increase, the funds of the SSS would be depleted within 13 years. How about the 31 million people who are working now? They won’t get anything when they retire,” he added.

The administration coalition, however, is not closing its doors to pension hikes.

“We are open to finding a middle ground. If we cannot afford to increase the pension by P2,000 maybe we can raise it by P1,000. What is important is we find a solution to this,” he added.

Gutierrez is convinced that the President vetoed the bill for the sake of all SSS members who pay premiums.

He admitted though that the candidates being endorsed by Aquino might get the blame for the veto. Jess Diaz, Marvin Sy, Aurea Calica, Janvic Mateo, Eva Visperas


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