Lawmakers behind flaws in laws

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2016 - 9:00am

Passions are still high since Malacañang officially announced last week the presidential veto on the Congress-approved bill that has stirred mixed but mostly emotional reaction on behalf of affected pensioners. Two days before the bill could lapse into law, President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III vetoed the controversial measure seeking to legislate a P2,000 across-the-board increase in the monthly pension for 2.5 million retirees of the Social Security System (SSS).

On his last six months in office, President Aquino made it loud and clear his veto of this bill is for the greater good of 31 million SSS-card bearing members. These future pensioners would suffer if this proposed legislation became a law, either in terms of paying higher premium contribution, or the grim prospect of the state pension fund getting depleted and no longer serviceable to SSS members once they retire.

President Aquino offered last Friday a possible compromise. The affected SSS pensioners could be given a much lesser amount of increase that actuarial study could show will not result to depletion of the state pension fund.

How to implement this shall perhaps come out sooner than later to stem the growing backlash of the bill’s veto on administration-backed candidates, especially to P-Noy’s anointed presidential bet in the coming May 9 elections.

Actually, there is no need for a legislated increase in SSS pension. All that is needed is mere executive action by the President to compel the SSS to grant pension increase.

As I said before, had there been more competent and professional fund managers at the SSS, they could have recommended to President Aquino to grant generous, even token increase in the monthly pension.

For more than five years of the Aquino administration, my mother’s SSS pension stagnated at P3,029 a month. The lame excuse of the Aquino-appointed top SSS management and board members was point to the actuarial study showing it would shorten the financial sustainability of the state pension fund.

The irony of it all is the fact the SSS hiked members’ premium contribution by 0.6 percent since January, 2014. All SSS members – including yours truly – are being deducted 11 percent our monthly salary for premium contributions. It used to be 10.4 percent. This translated to an additional monthly contribution of P6 for every P1,000 increment in the monthly salary ceiling. The Palace justified the hike in premium contributions as something that would help the SSS to prolong the life of the state pension fund until 2043.

Wily politicians saw an opportunity out of this obviously very popular measure. The proposed House Bill 5842 sought to amend Section 12 of Republic Act No. 1661, or the Social Security System Act of 1997. Its principal author is Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, who is running for the Senate in May. He outsmarted Aquino allies in the 16th Congress to steer its approval at the House on June 9 last year. Or were they part of the charade?

There is no counterpart measure of HB 5842 in any Senate bill. But the Senate adopted the House version en toto on November 9, or five months later. Sen. Cynthia Villar sponsored the measure as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises.

Lawmakers trying to gain brownie points for their election threaten to initiate moves to override the presidential veto in Congress. But leaders and members of the House administration bloc have declared no override of the veto would succeed.

Sessions of both chambers of the 16th Congress resume starting today. For the next three weeks we shall see if any such attempts would indeed be made before they adjourn again on February 5 in time for the start of the official election campaign period.

Speaking of campaign, major media entities including The STAR and our sister-company TV5 (and BusinessWorld), have signed up last week the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Commission on Elections in the conduct of presidential debates. Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista cited the significance of holding the televised presidential debates to assist voters in making informed choices in the coming elections.

The presidential debate is pursuant to Republic Act 9006, or the Fair Elections Act. Veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal called my attention to my previous column on the right of reply (ROR) which I said was “smuggled” into the Comelec’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA 9006.

I deplored in my previous column that what many lawmakers have failed to legislate in Congress has apparently been smuggled into the Comelec IRR of the Fair Election Act.

So during these 120 days of election period in the country, all media entities are mandated to comply with this under Section 16 of the IRR though there is no penal provision attached to it.

According to Macalintal the ROR was provided under Section 10 of RA 9006. Signed into law on February 12, 2001, Macalintal told me it was implemented as early as in the May 14, 2001 polls under Section 23 of Comelec Resolution No. 3636, dated March 1, 2001, or the original IRR for the Fair Election Act.

Although guaranteed in our country’s Constitution, Congress has not passed any enabling law for ROR. This is because the ROR provision, which mandates guaranteed space in news for rebuttals, is strongly opposed by anti-corruption groups and news organizations. But we were told during the Comelec public hearing held last Monday, this constitutional provision and jurisprudence from a Supreme Court case is the legal basis for the inclusion of ROR into the Fair Election Act.

Unfortunately, the Fair Election Act is among several laws of the land that contain flaws that were the product of lawmakers’ vested interests inserted into our country’s statutes.

* * *

Customs commissioner Alberto Lina and election lawyer Romulo Macalintal are the featured guests in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay this Wednesday (Jan.20) in our new venue at the Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle, Malate, Manila.

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