Abad confirms lack of funds for salary, pension hikes

Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - January 28, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Budget Secretary Florencio Abad confirmed yesterday that there is lack of funds for the Senate version of the proposed Salary Standardization Law (SSL) 4 or the pay hike for government personnel and military retirees.

“The financial impact of the indexation of MUP (military and uniformed personnel) pensioners’ pension to the increase in pay of their counterparts in the active service is P19.52 billion in 2016 alone,” he said in a text message.

“The 2016 GAA (General Appropriations Act or national budget) does not provide for that additional amount. That is because the GAA assumes the suspension of the indexation privilege,” he said.

The House version of the proposed SSL4 does not include indexation of military retirees’ pension to the envisioned increase in the salaries of active-duty personnel.

Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said the congressmen’s version of the planned salary increase is limited to government personnel.

“It will benefit 1.527 million state workers – 1.181 million civilian employees and 346,000 military and uniformed personnel, including those in the police, Coast Guard, Bureau of Fire Protection, and the jail system,” he said.

Gonzales said at present, taxpayers shell out more than P70 billion for the pensions of 211,584 MUP retirees.

“That amount is bigger than the P58 billion needed for the first-year implementation this year of the House version of SSL4. If there is indexation, there will be a deficit of P19.5 billion for this year alone,” he stressed.

Gonzales pointed out that the proposed salary increase would have been approved last month and would have taken effect Jan. 1 had the Senate not reconsidered its passage of the House version to allow Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile to present his indexation amendment, which senators approved.

The House version of the planned salary increase is fully funded in the 2016 national budget.

The bicameral conference on the pay hike plan hit a blank wall on Wednesday when the House and Senate panels stuck to their respective versions of the draft SSL4.

False hopes

Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, who led the House panel as appropriations committee chairman, said they could not agree to the Senate version because of the funding problem.

“It was easy for us to accept the senators’ version and be popular with retired military and uniformed personnel. But without the funding, we will just be giving them false hopes if we did that. We will also be passing the funding problem to the next administration,” he said.

During Wednesday’s conference, lead Senate conferee Antonio Trillanes IV insisted on the indexation proposal “to protect my constituents.”

He accused the House panel of receiving orders from someone to block the proposal and vowed to expose the congressmen’s principal, apparently alluding to President Aquino.

But Gonzales said they are not getting any order from anyone.

“We are just defending the House version of SSL4, which is the more prudent version,” he said.

The bicameral conference broke up without any agreement on when it will convene again. Lawmakers will hold sessions for three more days next week before adjourning for the long election campaign.

Win-win solution sought

Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, meanwhile, appealed yesterday to his fellow lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives to patch up their differences over the proposed SSL4 to pave way for wage increases for the estimated 1.5 million government workers.

“I am very hopeful that their dedication to extend compassion to our state workers will bring them to a win-win solution aimed at saving the approval of the pay hike measure in the remaining days of session,” Romualdez, a senatorial candidate, said.       – With Paolo Romero

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