Wanted: New SSS fund managers

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 - The Philippine Star

It was a given. Even before the 16th Congress could formally adjourn their last regular session this year, there was surely no certainty on the planned override of a presidential veto.

The required number of at least 192, or two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives was certainly not there at the halls of the Batasan Pambansa last Wednesday night. Thus, the attempt to override the presidential veto on the P2,000 hike in monthly pension of Social Security System (SSS) retirees never took off from the House floor.

Largely composed of pro-administration House members and allies led by the Liberal Party (LP) of President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III, the planned override of the veto of the SSS pension hike bill was good as dead from the start, anyway.

But it was a never-say die Bayan Muna party-list representative Neri Colmenares, principal author of the vetoed bill, who steadfastly kept up the hopes – no matter how misplaced – that they could do it. Unfortunately, however, for the poor senior citizens who were herded into the Batasan with the same false hopes.

Having earlier circulated a House override resolution, Colmenares was able to collect as many as 57 congressmen to sign it before they convened. But really, it was obviously enough for a lost cause.

Another party-list representative Lito Atienza from El Shaddai-led Buhay vowed yesterday to re-file the bill. That is if they win again in the party-list elections in May. Colmenares, now on his third and last term as representative of Bayan Muna, is eyeing a Senate seat.

He is in the senatorial ticket of the presidential and vice presidential tandem of Senators Grace Poe and Chiz Escudero. Colmenares is also one of the adopted senatorial candidates of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino headed by former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada. This, despite the fact Colmenares belonged to the leftist Bayan Muna groups that rallied for the ouster of Estrada from Malacañang during EDSA-2 in January, 2001.

It was good showmanship though for Colmenares at the last session night at the House. Militant senior citizens rallied at the Batasan to support the override attempt but it was obviously one of those orchestrated ones.

But as far as I am concerned, Colmenares earned brownie points from me personally after he motored all the way from Quezon City to join us in our weekly media forum at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay which we hold every Wednesday at the Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle, Malate in Manila. En route to the venue, his vehicle got bumped by a passenger jeepney in Quiapo. That was why he came a few minutes late. Nonetheless, he still came.

Aside from Colmenares as one of our panel of guests, we also had with us business leader and financial executive Eddie Yap who is board governor of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), and SSS board member Sister Eva Arcos from the Associated Labor Unions (ALU). Arcos is one of three labor representatives to the nine-man SSS board and the rest from management and government in this tripartite commission. 

Through Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) spokesperson Alan Tanjusay, we were able to invite Arcos to speak for the unionized labor groups as represented at the SSS board.

With this tripartite composition of the Kapihan panel of guests, we had a very dispassionate debate on this important issue affecting more than three million private sector workers who are SSS contributors.

Through Marisu Bugante, SSS vice president for public affairs and special events, we invited last week the top management of the SSS from its president/chief executive officer Emilio de Quiros – but who declined. Bugante offered the attendance of SSS senior vice president and head actuary George Ongkeko. On Tuesday, however, Bugante informed me Ongkeko could not make it because he was taken ill.

I asked Bugante to extend my invite instead to SSS board chairman Juan Santos, but who reportedly was out of town. Then I suggested the name of another SSS board member, ex-Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma who unfortunately was on a foreign trip. At the last minute before we started our weekly Kapihan, Bugante herself texted to apologize she could not also come to our public forum due to pressing schedule she had for that day.

These SSS officials chose to snub this public forum that was offered to them for free and at no cost to this government financial institution. Yet the same SSS officials cried all over the place to claim the pension fund will suffer bankruptcy if the proposed P2,000 pension hike was not vetoed.

As SSS contributors, we’re supposed to be their “bosses.” These high-paying executives of the SSS could not care less since President Aquino already vetoed this bill and that the quorum-less 16th Congress could not muster the override this late.

The same kind of haughty indifference of top executives of the SSS was the reason this pension hike bill was vetoed. They sent minor officials during the House public hearings.

For obviously flawed basis, it got approved in both chambers of Congress. Its enrolled bill was transmitted to President Aquino. And two days before it lapsed into law, President Aquino vetoed it.

Aside from the override attempt by the minority bloc, the House adjourned with no final action on the following bills: Salary Standardization Law IV; the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL); the Anti-Political Dynasty Law; the Freedom of Information Law (FOI); and the bills institutionalizing the Private-Public Partnership (PPP) bill; and the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, among other economic measures.

These bills though are already in various advanced stages of the legislative process. Thus, there is still hope that the 16th Congress can still act on some of them when they resume session on May 23. However, Congress will have to juggle legislation with its primary duty – to canvass the votes for the May 9 elections and proclaim the winners – the new President and Vice President.

Only after that can we look forward to new SSS fund managers who can run it better than De Quiros and company.













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