To keep politics out of SSS
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - July 13, 2018 - 12:00am

It’s Friday the 13th of July. Well, my topic has nothing to do with ominous things to come. But definitely, the 36 million members of the Social Security System (SSS), including yours truly, have many things to look forward to better management of their pension funds and other benefits due them. This we learned from SSS president and chief executive officer (CEO) Atty. Emmanuel Dooc a day after presiding the bimonthly meeting of the nine-man SSS Board.

The SSS chief attended last Wednesday our Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast forum at Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate. A schoolmate of President Rodrigo Duterte in San Beda College of Law, Dooc also sits concurrently as the acting chairman of the SSS Commission. Dooc previously served as chairman of the Insurance Commission in the previous administration. He once worked as corporate legal counsel of Philamlife, AIG.

Dooc cited the SSS now has 2.3 million pensioners who have been enjoying the fruits of their years-long contributions. Their pensions and the other benefits of active SSS members have increased through the years out of their monthly contributions. Of 36 million registered SSS members – composed of employees and workers in the private sector, including self-employed and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) – only 15 million are actually paying their contributions.

In our weekly news forum, Dooc announced the SSS Board decision to allocate P10 billion as funds for their new loan program to financially assist SSS pensioners. Starting September this year, Dooc said SSS pensioners can avail of as much as P32,000 depending on their age brackets.

“We want to provide relief to our pensioners and protect them from loan sharks,” Dooc cited. He noted with concern about reports they receive that unscrupulous loan sharks charge usurious rates and get the ATM cards of SSS pensioners as collateral to ensure they collect the payment for their loans.

Under the soon-to-be-launched SSS pensioners’ loan, he explained, qualified borrowers would only pay 3% per annum, payable within one year, and is covered by credit life insurance. In this way, Dooc pointed out, the heirs or survivors of pensioners can still get the full amount of death benefits should there be a default of payment of the borrower.

Also, the SSS would start cracking the whip against delinquent SSS members, particularly more than half of the 36,000 employers who don’t remit to the SSS their employees’ contributions and employers’ counterpart contributions. Under existing SSS charter, Dooc warned delinquents the SSS is empowered to assess, to issue levy and distraint against them.

By October this year, Dooc disclosed, the SSS shall have already trained its assessors, sheriffs and legal teams to go after delinquent employers in coordination with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) whose secretary sits as ex officio board member of the SSS.

The SSS expects to generate an additional P4.5 billion from enforcement of collection dues.

Dooc, however, admitted the SSS would not be in a viable financial position to implement anytime sooner the second tranche of the P2,000 monthly SSS pension hike as promised by the former Davao City Mayor during the campaign for the May 2016 presidential elections. He admitted that SSS could only afford to grant half of the promised pension hike, or P1,000 that took effect already last year.

The first tranche was implemented without any increase in monthly premium payment of active members of the SSS. The last increase in monthly contributions by SSS took effect in 2013 when this was raised from 10.4 percent to the current 11 percent.

According to the SSS chief, the actuarial life of our country’s social security fund has been reduced to only 10 years with the P1,000 pension hike last year. Or this was shortened from year 2042 to last only up to 2032. The ideal is about at least 60 years, he cited.

“I do not want to bankrupt the system. I did not join SSS to preside over its demise,” Dooc quipped.

If the second tranche of pension hike is implemented next year, he warned, the SSS will run out of money in seven years. Thus, Dooc conceded the grant of the other half, or second tranche of the pension hike is not feasible unless otherwise there would be at least an increase in members’ contribution to between 12.5 percent to 14 percent.

Any additional deductions would naturally mean lesser take-home pay for fixed income earners among us SSS members. Dooc appealed for understanding on their predicaments in tying to find ways to beef up the funds to pay the monthly pensions of both existing and soon-to-retire SSS members.

Among other measures, Dooc disclosed, the SSS is pushing for the enactment of the proposed amendments of the SSS charter that was already approved by the House of Representatives of the 17th Congress. Sen. Richard Gordon is the author of the counterpart bill that remains pending at the Senate.

The proposed SSS bill, among other things, would enable the fund system to diversify its investments to more aggressive instruments to boost earnings. As a state fund, SSS is a major capital market player in the Philippine Stock Exchange like the GSIS. He revealed most of SSS investments though, or P200 billion were locked in government securities.

The SSS chief pins hope to the passage of the SSS bill which also seeks to make the Social Security Commission an independent policy-making body. As proposed in this bill, it will empower the Commission to raise the contributions, improve its benefits system, and condone penalties of delinquent employers on its own, without having to seek prior approval by the Office of the President.

For now, Dooc vowed they strive to deliver President Duterte’s campaign promise of improving the life of SSS retirees within his term. “So we will do our best to keep his word,” he assured SSS members.

What behooves us though is why should our SSS pension and benefits be part of any election campaign promise? Politics should be kept out of our SSS.

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