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Insulate veterans’ pensions from annual budgetary whims

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - May 5, 2021 - 12:00am

Old soldiers never die; they’re just forgotten. Veterans’ pensions were in fact delayed for decades. Other annual budgetary priorities kept overtaking their direly needed retirement benefits. Only in 2019 were those updated, though still with part of 2018 unpaid. And exigencies are again looming to block the annual allocations for veterans.

A few numerate members of Congress foresee an “imminent existential threat.” One shudders at the consequences on a society unable to pay the promised pension of its old fighting men. The actuarial figures are staggering. The number of military and other uniformed personnel (MUP) necessarily grows by the year. So do the retirees. In 2021 the need for 137,000 retired soldiers or their widows and orphans is P60 billion. Another P75 billion is for 220,000 aged policemen, firemen, coastguards, jail and prison guards and hydrographers of the National Mapping and Resource Information Agency. Twenty years hence that will accumulate to trillions of pesos. A ready source of funds must be devised for their pensions without need for yearly legislation.

The instant thinking is to place all MUPs under the Government Service Insurance System or similar retirement plan. Parallel bills in the Senate and House of Representatives propose all or some of these:

• Nine percent deduction from the monthly pay of MUPs, to be matched by 12 percent from the government, as retirement layaway, just like any public employee;

• Extend the uniformed service tenure from age 56 to 65 to delay pensioning;

• Delay the optional retirement service from 20 to 30 years; and

• No longer index to or equalize the pension with the salary of an active-duty officer with the same rank.

Demoralization may set in, however. That soldiers are guaranteed pension is a gift of the Filipino people, reminds retired Admiral Ariston delos Reyes. The very first act of the Commonwealth in 1936 was to set aside P100 million as seed money for retirement in the Armed Forces, plus P200 million in the Constabulary. To take away the gift for whatever reason is unjust. Law and jurisprudence frown on diminution of accustomed salaries and benefits.

The Constitution also guarantees soldiers’ benefits. Article XVI, General Provisions, Section 7 declares: “The State shall provide immediate and adequate care, benefits and other forms of assistance to war veterans and veterans of military campaigns, their surviving spouses and orphans. Funds shall be provided therefor and due consideration shall be given them in the disposition of agricultural lands of the public domain and, in appropriate cases, in the utilization of natural resources.” All retired soldiers are veterans.

The rationale for the Commonwealth Act and the Constitutional provision is age-old. A state needs soldiers to protect its people, territory, government and sovereignty. To do so they are given special training and weaponry, to fight to the death if need be. They are even deprived of civil rights to choose what to wear, where to live, when to rest and sleep.

The gift granted to Filipino soldiers was not wasted. They fought in Bataan and Corregidor, suffered the Death March and turned into guerrillas during World War II; battled in Korea; quelled domestic insurgencies and terrorism; and served as United Nations peacekeepers. Though outgunned, they guard our West Philippine Sea, Kalayaan Islands and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal against the regional bully.

Under the bill, two classes of uniformed servicemen will be created, delos Reyes foresees. The first are those in the service before passage, and thus not subject to pay deductions. The second class are those who will join after enactment who must shell out nine percent for retirement and survivorship. Same with pensioners. Earlier retirees will receive pensions equal to the pay of those in active duty. Later ones will get lower. Notably, retirees from the judiciary and constitutional commissions receive exactly the same pay as counterpart ranks in active service, non-contributory.

Uniformed service extension to age 65 years is impractical. Eighty may be the new 60 in this time of medical advancements and prolonged lifespans. But many aspects of soldiery obviously are not for seniors, delos Reyes says.

Delaying the optional retirement to 30 years can be unkind. A retiree at age 55 on his 30th year of service will receive two-and-a-half-year lump sum, then wait eight years till he’s 65 to start receiving monthly pension.

Delos Reyes, the mathematician of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1971, has been advocating better terms for retirees. The answer to his quest may be in the constitutional provision above. Is it possible for automatic contributions to soldiers’ pensions be made from concessions in mining, oil and gas, geothermal, forestry, water, fisheries, reefs, soil, solar, wind, tide and other natural resources?

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“Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” is available as e-book and paperback. Get a free copy of “Chapter 1: Beijing’s Bullying and Duplicity.” Simply subscribe to my newsletter at: https://jariusbondoc.com/#subscribe. Book orders also accepted there.

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