Let the Ombudsman do her job
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - October 16, 2017 - 4:00pm

I think that President Duterte is treading on dangerous ground if he continues to pursue his investigation of the Ombudsman. After all, this was just a knee-jerk reaction due to the fact that the Ombudsman is investigating his family and their allegedly ill-gotten wealth. A classic example of how the president often reacts before he has had sufficient time to think.

This has happened more than once after all. President Duterte drops a bombshell and the next thing you know those under him are hurriedly trying to contain the fallout and explain what the president “really meant” by his proclamation. He has been doing it since he got into office and he has certainly given his spin masters a run for their money. In fact, it has sadly become a regular thing in the country. Whenever the president says something shocking we usually give it a day or two and wait for the explanation to follow.

In this case, President Duterte is reacting badly to the ongoing Ombudsman investigation into his family’s wealth. I don’t understand why he is so concerned. As per the president’s own words – “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” Why isn’t he taking his own advice? The more he violently reacts and squirms or makes threats, the more it seems like he has something to fear, ergo something to hide.

I think it’s important for the president to let the Ombudsman do her job. In fact this was also the stance of several lawmakers who urged the president to stop “vilifying and threatening” the Ombudsman and Conchita Carpio-Morales for the inquiry. They are asking reasonable questions and again if there’s nothing to hide then he shouldn’t be worried. In fact, he should even be open to helping them out to make it all go faster.

Personally my fear is that where there is smoke there is probably fire and the president’s reaction certainly seems to back up this fact. Although frankly, what can his threats really do except make a simple inquiry become that much more complicated? The office of the Ombudsman is well within its functionality to investigate the president, an impeachable public official as prescribed in the Constitution. One can only surmise that if the president does not want to cooperate then there is a good reason.

It’s sad because it’s quite the opposite of the candidate Duterte who was making a bid for the presidential office before the May 2016 elections. Back then Duterte was daring his competitors to offer complete transparency and put all their cards on the table in the name of stamping out corruption. In fact, I think this is one of the things that endeared him to so many. He seemed like he had nothing to hide and wasn’t afraid of exposing himself to the people. It’s too bad the bank waivers he and running mate Alan Cayetano signed back then were invalid, as they did not specify any particular banks or accounts. We all know how the president feels about signing bank waivers now.

In the end, it boils down to a trust issue. The allegations against Duterte and his family are grave and serious and can’t be solved by fist fights or blustering threats. The president needs to back up his words and “walk the talk” and the only way he can do that is to be fearless and transparent with the people and not fight with the very office tasked to weed out corruption.

And he needs to stop targeting Ombudsman Carpio-Morales. In fact, she has recused herself from the investigation in the interest of transparency as her brother and President Duterte’s cousin are related. It is the Deputy Ombudsman who will be handling the investigation. I say let it happen. This is a good chance for the president to show that he truly means what he says and that he can abide by the same rules that he wants to impose on everyone else.

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I agree with Budget and Management Secretary Benjamin Diokno that the life of the Social Security System is in jeopardy if changes aren’t made and soon. Naturally the initial reaction to the need for an increase in funds was to increase member contributions. It’s the move that makes the most sense right away – increase contributions now and increase benefits you get in the future.

However, for understandable reasons members and legislators are against a contribution hike citing that employees already give up so much of their monthly salary to taxes, contributions, and others that the take home pay has become harder and harder to live with. However, without a significant change the life span of the SSS will be in jeopardy and that will put in danger thousands of workers who have contributed their whole working lives for a little security in retirement.

There are several measures being looked at now and I can only hope our lawmakers can come up with the best happy medium for all. One idea is for the SSS to dispose of various real estate properties to bump up fund values. And while this is just a one-time gain it’s still a good start. We all know at this point an increase in members’ contributions is an inevitability. The question is how much of an increase and when?

Initially the increase was supposed to take effect in 2018 when personal tax reform would take effect. This means that workers would get taxed less depending on their salary bracket and therefore a slight increase in SSS contributions won’t be as damning on their monthly take home. It’s important to realize how these increases will impact the day-to-day life of contributors after all, because it seems pointless to plan for tomorrow when you can’t live today.

At the same time, another important step is going to be for SSS to beef up its collections and go after delinquent companies and contributors with billions in unremitted contributions. Fines need to be implemented against these companies and collected as well. What’s the point of increasing contributions when you still have those who haven’t paid in the past?

I hope they figure out a way to make it work. SSS is important to everyone. I have contributed regularly and faithfully throughout my working career and now am enjoying the benefits. I can speak honestly when I say that what is currently being given to pensioners is not enough to cover their needs. I have spoken to several retired friends and colleagues about this. With hospitalization and medicine so expensive in the Philippines, retirees need a bigger safety net later in life.

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