FROM one calamitous event to another in 2013, we try to be optimistic that 2014 will be less disastrous.
The New Year brings us new hope. But as things are going, the future does not look as bright as we hope it would be, at least for salaried workers. As utility rates and prices go up while salaries remain unchanged, our buying power is diminished.
On the last day of 2013, oil companies raised the price of gasoline by P1.15 per liter, diesel by 75 centavos per liter, and kerosene by 60 centavos per liter. Oil companies attributed the latest price hikes to international fuel price movements and developments in the biofuels sector.
With the price increase, the year 2013 ended with a net increase for major fuel products of P3.59 per liter for gasoline and P4.68 per liter for diesel.
On the first day of 2014, news reports reminded us that the Social Security System (SSS) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) will begin collecting higher contributions from members this month.
The SSS has increased its member contributions by 0.6 percent, divided between employees and their employers. The increase, SSS justified, will cut its unfunded liability of P1.1 trillion and lengthen its actuarial life until 2043.
Philhealth’s monthly premium has been doubled, from P100 to P200 or from P1,200 to P2,400 a year for individually paying members with salaries of P25,000 and below. Those receiving more than P25,000 will still pay the annual premium of P3,600.
According to Israel Francis Pargas, acting vice president for corporate affairs, the adjustment is in accordance with Republic Act 10606 or the National Health Insurance Act, providing that the sponsored members shall have the lowest premium. A 10606 mandates enrolment of all Filipinos in PhilHealth.
Sponsored members refer to Filipino families certified by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) as “poorest of the poor.” PhilHealth and the Department of Health (DoH) shoulder their premium payments.
For the increased SSS contributions, employers will pay 70 percent of the monthly contributions, and the remaining 30 percent will be automatically deducted from the member’s salary.
Self-employed and voluntary members will pay the full 0.6-percent increase in monthly contributions, approved by President Aquino last year.
This means employees’ monthly contributions will rise from 10.4 percent to 11 percent of a member’s monthly salary.
If you look at individual contributions, the 0.6-percent increase may be considered minimal. But SSS has at least 30.04 million individual members and 871,642 employers. The increased contribution translates to billions of pesos a year.
What makes these increases revolting was the fact that government-appointed executives in these entities that are bleeding us dry received at least P1-million bonuses each in 2013, purportedly as a just reward for their performance in 2012.
For employees whose monthly salary is from P2,250 to P2,749, their total SSS contribution will be P285, of which P90.80 will be deducted from their payroll while their employers will shoulder P194.20.
Most domestic helpers whose minimum monthly wage in Metro Manila is P2,500 would fall under this bracket.
A slightly lower rate applies for the self-employed, voluntary members and members who are overseas Filipino workers, according to the new contribution schedule posted in the SSS website.
The daily minimum wage rate for workers in Metro Manila is P429, which amounts to P8,580 for 20 working days in a month. At this wage level, the SSS contribution is P945, of which P308 is the employee’s share and P636.20 for the employer.
The monthly earnings of these low-income bracket workers constitute not even a drop in the bucket of the executives who travel overseas in business class, wades through heavy traffic congestions in SUVs with drivers and escorts, those with household staff and grocery bills are charged to the entities they serve.
How can live be better for the lowly-paid servants with constantly rising prices of services and goods?
It is of little consolation that the Supreme Court ordered the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to revert to its old generation charge of P5.67 per kilowatt-hour for the December billing. But it’s just a temporary relief.
Meralco’s generation charge rose last December because of the one-month maintenance shutdown of the Malampaya gas field, which supplies natural gas to three power plants in Luzon. The power plants had to use the more expensive liquid fuel as a result, and the cost had to be passed on to the consumers.
Indirect taxes, higher utility charges, increased service rates, high prices of consumer goods are truly bleeding us dry. Yet, we continue to suffer from inefficiency and incompetence despite the higher bills.