Bicam deadlocked on government pension, salary hikes

Jess Diaz, Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate and House of Representatives failed to reach an agreement on the proposal to increase the monthly pension of about 1.53 million retired government personnel.

Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, House appropriations committee head, argued in yesterday’s bicameral conference that he does not want to give people false hopes by passing a Salary Standardization Law – 4 (SSL4) that doesn’t have enough funds.

But Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV also stood his ground, threatening to blame the President and to “tell everybody that the President is insensitive” if the indexation of pension hikes for retired police and military officers is not included in the proposed law.

As a compromise, he is willing to give in to the inclusion of the line “subject to the availability of funds” in the indexation provision, although he stressed that the retired military and police officers deserve the pension hikes because they risked their lives serving the country.

Trillanes and Ungab led the Senate and House panels, respectively, that tried to reconcile the two versions of SSL4. The House version is fully funded under the approved P3.002-trillion national budget for 2016, while the Senate version would need additional funds because of the inclusion of the increase in the pension rates, a provision that is absent in the House version.

If enacted, SSL4 will raise the salaries of all government personnel, bringing it closer to the compensation received by their counterparts in the private sector.

At least P57.9 billion has been set aside to fund the first tranche of salary standardization in the House version.

If the pension hike is to be included, the government would need about P19 billion to P21 billion more to fully fund it.

Ungab said the House has the responsibility of ensuring that laws approved by Congress would have sufficient funds for its implementation and could not just accept Trillanes’ proposal.

“We don’t want to pass a law with no funds and give false hopes to the people,” Ungab stressed.

Trillanes was stern in his stand as well.

“If this is not approved, I will tell everybody that the President is insensitive. I will make sure that, politically, the President and his allies will suffer,” Trillanes said.

He added that it was clear to him that the House panel went into the meeting yesterday following orders from someone that is known to all of them, a point that House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II objected to and which resulted in suspension of the meeting.

Gonzales said the inclusion of pension increases in the proposed law would double the cost of salary hikes. He also said that increasing the pension for military and police personnel would also mean an increase in the pensions of other retired government workers, like teachers and health personnel who worked as hard as those in the armed and police forces.

Both sides would have to come up with an agreement by Feb. 5, the last day of session before Congress goes on break until May 22, although a special session could also be called if necessary.

Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said Filipinos would be hit by a double whammy “if Congress fails to approve the proposed SSL4 after the veto (by President Aquino) of the P2,000 social security pension bill.” – With Paolo Romero

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