MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte appears poised to break his campaign promise to give a P2,000 across-the-board hike in the monthly pension of Social Security System (SSS) members.
Duterte will give an “honest explanation” of the situation, likely within January, he told state-run PTV4 ahead of the new year.
“Naunahan ko lang (I am preempting it) because marami na kasing pumapasok na tawag (I’m getting a lot of calls about) what happened. ‘Is there or is there not anything to expect in the days ahead?’ I’ll try to give you the honest explanation maybe in the month of January,” Duterte said.
“I promised that it would come your way before the year ends. I’m very sorry, but that’s how it is. I do not own the money,” Duterte added.
In the interview – the 6th in a string of media interviews on Thursday, December 29 – Duterte was more categorical in expressing agreement with the assessment of his economic managers about the risks of SSS going bankrupt if the pension rates were raised.
“I would really give kung wala lang (if only there are no) [problems]… They had a very bleak assessment of what’s in store for us in the days ahead. And, the risk is not really that good,” said Duterte, citing Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia.
But Duterte said his economic managers are set to meet again and find an alternative so that SSS members are not entirely left disappointed.
“We in government are trying our very best to come up with the, at least the barest of your expectations,” Duterte said.
The proposals in Congress set the minimum monthly pension from P1,200 to P3,200 for members who have made contributions equal to 10 credited years of service. The minimum monthly pension for those with 20 credited years of service will also increase from P2,400 to P4,400.
The 16th Congress passed the measure but then President Benigno Aquino III vetoed it in January 2016. He said increasing the pension of SSS members would result in a substantial negative income for SSS and would risk the future of other pensioners.
Duterte, then a presidental candidate, criticized Aquino for vetoing the measure that he said the elderly badly need. He said back then: “I beg the President, ‘yung 2029 fear that [the SSS] would go bankrupt, you can correct it along the way,” Duterte said.
In one of his first pronoucements after his electoral victory, Duterte said in June he will make sure that SSS members will receive higher pension.
A year later, Duterte changed his tune and effectively echoed Aquino’s veto message. In the interview with PTV-4, Duterte expressed concerns about the possibility of SSS suffering severe “shortages.”
“If anything goes there, it will be passed on to the taxpayers. Those who are not members. That’s the problem. Because hindi naman kasalanan ng buong bayan (it’s not the fault of the entire country),” Duterte said.
But Bayan Muna party-list representatives assailed the position of Duterte’s economic managers.
It is not true that SSS will go bankrupt, they argued in a statement released on Sunday, January 1, adding that there is enough time for the government and the SSS to increase its funds.
They said SSS should improve collection efficiency, and cut down bonuses of its officials. Congress can also provide subsidy if the situation is going to call for it, they added. – Lian Buan/Rappler.com