Don’t compromise stability of SSS, Congress urged

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang yesterday urged Congress not to compromise the stability of the Social Security System (SSS) following reports that some lawmakers want to override the President’s veto on the bill seeking to raise monthly pensions by P2,000.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. reiterated that the vetoed bill would shorten the life of the SSS reserve fund by 13 years.

“President Aquino recognizes the power of Congress to override a presidential veto. He emphasizes that his veto decision was reached after carefully considering the implications of the proposed pension increase that would seriously undermine the viability of the SSS’s investment reserve fund and drastically shorten its life from 2042 to 2029,” Coloma said.

“Hence, our people would expect their elected representatives not to decide in favor of compromising the stability of the SSS fund,” he added.

Coloma said lawmakers should take into account the need to ensure the viability of the SSS and to provide the benefits of the 30 million members of the state-run pension fund.

“It is important also for leaders to consider the effect of their decision on the future,” he added.

The minimum SSS monthly pension is P1,200.

Aquino earlier vetoed the bill that aims to increase SSS monthly pensions by P2,000. Critics described the President’s move as “heartless.”

In defending the veto, Aquino said that while the pension hike would benefit 2.15 million pensioners, it would be disadvantageous to 30 million other SSS members.

The finance department also defended the veto, saying the proposed measure would have pushed the SSS into “a fiscal cliff of insolvency.”

Finance officials said the measure would have doubled the pension fund’s unfunded liability from P1.2 trillion to P2.4 trillion.

Aquino’s decision was heavily criticized by groups who said the government deprived retirees of basic social protection.

Lawmakers have expressed plans to lead the override of the veto, believing a pension hike would improve the retirees’ standard of living. Article VI, Section 27 of the 1987 Constitution states that Congress can override a presidential veto by passing the bill with a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said Congress should stand up for the pensioners and give them the pension they need.

Sen. Francis Escudero said overriding the veto is “the right thing” as the pension increase would enable senior citizens to maintain an acceptable living standard.

Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II said the House of Representatives could still revive the vetoed bill.

“That is if the Senate will pass a House-approved measure increasing the monthly contribution of SSS members to fund the proposed increase,” he said.

When the proposed increase was pending in the House, Gonzales said SSS board members and officials met him, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and other leaders of the chamber.

“Our agreement with them was that we would approve the proposed pension hike and the bill mandating an increase in members’ monthly contribution. The latter will fund the increase in pension,” he said.

Gonzales said the House approved the pension increase last June 9, while the Senate adopted the congressmen’s version of the measure five months later on Nov. 9.

However, senators did not approve the proposal to increase SSS members’ contributions, he added.

“We don’t know why they did not approve it, but its non-approval probably prompted President Aquino to veto the pension adjustment because there was no funding for it,” Gonzales stressed.

He pointed out that if the Senate would pass the bill on increased members’ premium contribution, the House could revive the pension hike measure.

“If the President and SSS officials will agree, we can expedite the approval of the resurrected bill,” Gonzales said.

The proposal in the House was to adjust members’ contribution to about five percent from the present rate of less than four percent of basic salary. The employer’s counterpart would be correspondingly adjusted.

Belmonte and other congressmen have urged the SSS board to grant a pension adjustment smaller than the Congress-approved P2,000.

Belmonte has suggested the amount of P1,000, which he said the SSS board could give with Aquino’s approval.

His colleagues have supported his suggestion.

Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez 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,” he said.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said the SSS should find a way of responding to the collective will of the Senate and the House to raise the pension even if the President has vetoed the bill.

Albano added he does not believe that senators and congressmen would override Aquino’s veto.

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

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, one of the authors of the vetoed bill, said he and other supporters of the measure would campaign for an override.

Another possible veto

Senators were warned yesterday that the proposed Salary Standardization Law (SSL) 4, which seeks a government-wide salary increase, might suffer the fate of the vetoed SSS pension hike bill.

Gonzales issued the warning following President Aquino’s decision to reject the pension hike proposal because there was no funding support for it.

The Senate is expected to tackle the proposed SSL-4 and the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law starting today, when lawmakers reconvene after a month-long Christmas break.

Before Congress adjourned last month, the House had passed the fourth version of the bureaucracy-wide salary adjustment as recommended by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

“That measure was good as approved until the Senate moved to reconsider its own passage of the bill so that retirees from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police could be included in the planned pay hike,” Gonzales said.

As in the SSS pension bill, Gonzales said funding would be the problem in the proposed SSL-4 if AFP and PNP retirees were covered.

“While we support their inclusion, we will be having a serious funding problem for this. If the President vetoes it, the entire bill is vetoed,” he said.

The Senate had reconsidered its approval of the House version upon motion of Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, who is proposing that AFP and PNP retirees’ pension be increased if the salaries of active military and police personnel would go up. – With Jess Diaz

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