DOLE says veto of P2,000 SSS hike wise, P500 more viable
MANILA, Philippines – Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz defended President Benigno Aquino III’s rejection of a P2,000 hike ($41.81) in the monthly pension of Social Security System (SSS) members, saying the President’s decision would benefit pensioners in the long run.
“While the objective of enhancing pension is ideal, the SSS is also duty-bound to safeguard its financial viability and its future liabilities, such as pensions and other benefits of contributing members. It is also imperative to protect the claims and rights of future pensioners,” said Baldoz on Tuesday, January 19.
The labor secretary, who is also an ex-officio member of the SSS Board of Trustees, reasoned that if the SSS implements the P2,000 across-the-board increase proposed under House Bill (HB) No 5842, the SSS “will be forced” to use its Investment Reserve Fund.
“This could diminish over the year and eventually dry up by 2029 only, or 14 years from now. Ideally, the fund life should be 70 years, which is the global standard,” said Baldoz, echoing the same arguments Aquino used in defending his veto.
“It was a judicious move to uphold the greater welfare of a greater number of members and the stability and long-term sustainability of the state pension fund,” she added.
Baldoz thus urges the public to have “a more enlightened, objective, and sober assessment” of the decision of Aquino, who appointed her as secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in 2011.
Baldoz in turn supports the proposed P500 increase in pension every year as an alternative.
“We support the viable option to grant a modest increase in pension, say P500 this year, and work for a regular and predictable increase of similar magnitude, maybe P500 every two years. Alongside, the investments’ income must also be increased, together with the contributions, including improved collection of premiums,” the labor secretary said.
However, SSS president Emilio de Quiros Jr said in a press briefing on Monday that they cannot accommodate the proposed P500 and P1,000 increase without raising the rates of member contributions.
Aquino’s veto on the SSS pension hike has irked many, with one lawmaker calling the President “heartless and callous.” Some of the two million retirees also cried foul, saying they were depending on the P2,000 hike to help pay for their medication.
Some legislators believe Aquino would have approved HB No 5842 had the Senate passed HB No 6112, a complementary bill to HB No 5842 which authorizes the SSS board to increase the rate of monthly member contributions without the President’s approval.
Social security benefits under Aquino
According to Baldoz, the SSS enhanced its benefits for workers both in social security and employees’ compensation during the Aquino administration.
“We must view the President’s veto of the proposed measure in the full lens of what the SSS has provided to private sector workers during the last 5 years,” she said.
Under Executive Order No 16, Series of 2014, Baldoz said the President has increased employees' compensation (EC) pension by 10%.
“He has also increased funeral benefits to P20,000, compared to only P10,000 before 2010; and extended rehabilitation services to workers receiving EC temporary total disability or sickness benefit, where before, only permanent and total disability beneficiaries can avail of rehabilitation services provided by the Employees' Compensation Commission, an attached agency of the DOLE,” she said.
The SSS also granted a 5% across-the-board pension increase to about 1.9 million SSS pensioners in June 2014.
“This led to an exceptional increase in benefit disbursements to P102.6 billion, 12.3% higher than in 2013. The bulk of these disbursements was largely for retirement benefits at P56.1 billion or 54.7% of the total, while nearly 1/3 or P33.5 billion went to death benefits,” Baldoz said.
Baldoz also said that the Aquino administration worked to increase the social security coverage of informal sector workers through the AlkanSSSya Program, which included tricycle and jeepney drivers and operators, market vendors, farmers, fishermen, and prison detainees.
During the program’s implementation from 2011 to December 2014, it covered 122,387 members from 1,236 informal sector groups, leading to a total of P167 million in contributions.
Baldoz said the SSS “stepped up” in its efforts to provide social security and protection for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) as well.
“As of end-2014, the number of OFWs registered to the SSS totaled 1.03 million, 11.4% higher than the number of OFWs registered in 2013, and the 3rd time in a row that it posted a two-digit growth rate,” she said.
The SSS said that there have been been 21 across-the-board pension increases since the 1980s, but the increases remained insufficient for members.
The June 2014 hike mentioned by Baldoz, for example, only included an additional P158 to the average P3,500 monthly allowance. – Rappler.com
$1 = P47.78