WHEN the President decided to reject the Social Security System (SSS) pension hike for senior citizens in mid-January, it seemed like a brave act of leadership. At least that’s how the Palace tried to spin it: look at this President, not caring about the May elections, and deciding to make the unpopular decision of refusing to raise the monthly pensions of our grandparents.
But three weeks since, one gets the sense that this was not at all about bravery; nor was it about being a good leader. It was about deciding quite simply against giving SSS members what is due them, paying as they have for their contributions for most of their working lives.
But also what one realizes is that this is a measure of matuwid na daan’s refusal to actually affect reforms in GOCCs like SSS, in the same way that it refuses to change the system of revenue collection in an agency like the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
In lieu of reforms, we are made to imagine that to decide in favor of the people, in favor of our senior citizens, in favor of our workers, would mean sacrificing the future of our government agencies.
This is the burden this government puts on its people. And we let them get away with it.
The one who promises continuity
Because of course the anointed one of the Palace, Mar Roxas, insists that this veto was the right decision. That this was the President thinking of our future. He also thinks there will be no backlash, because the electorate’s more broadminded than to vote based on this veto.
And yet what he might not have anticipated is this electorate’s ability at compassion and malasakit – the kind that this government has so often proved it does not have for the people.
Because we might be bogged down by the mathematics of it all, but government will be hard put to answer why it is that our senior citizens are getting pensions that cannot even pay for their maintenance medicines. They will say, well there is PhilHealth, and look! The Department of Health (DOH) has come out with a way to give out free maintenance medicines for the usual old-age ailments of high blood pressure and diabetes!
But then Roxas would need to answer: what about this pension is equal to actually having a decent retirement fund for our senior citizens? Would any of our rich politicos, would Roxas and Aquino – owners of haciendas as they are, and coming from old rich families – would they be able to live off that pension that they insist is all that they can give our grandparents?
The one we silence
And of course we would rather not discuss at all the fact of reform in the Pag-IBIG Fund.
It’s that reform that allowed for the fund to grow by the year, the one that improved the system of collection. It was reform that decided to give members better services, and which decided to make it easier to avail of calamity and emergency funds given the fact of a nation that is in a constant emergency situation.
This was reform that grew the Pag-IBIG Fund, without increasing the contributions that members would be required to put out: P100 pesos per month. An amount that’s stayed the same since the 1980s.
I’m sure there is a more nuanced discussion of the kind of reforms that happened in Pag-IBIG, and I imagine there is value in looking at whether or not these reforms were truly a good thing. But right now, given available data, it sure looks good enough on the page.
If at all, given what is going on with the SSS, the Pag-IBIG Fund allows us to think reform possible. That it can be done without having to burden citizens, the ones who already live with employers who get away with not paying what is due them, the ones who already unduly suffer the consequences of systems on breakdown, if not ones that are always in the service of the ruling class.
But of course we would rather not talk about the Pag-IBIG Fund as a measure of how reform is possible in GOCCs. Because we all know who effected those reforms right?
Matuwid na daan picks on the people
The President had said after his veto, that if he had agreed to the pension hike, the “SSS will be constrained to draw from and use its Investment Reserve Fund (IRF) to support the pension increase. Consequently, the IRF will diminish over the years, eventually reaching zero by the year 2029.” (GMA News Online, 21 Jan)
From the same GMA News Report: “SSS Chief Actuary and Senior Vice President George Ongkeko Jr. said the SSS has brought down its accumulated uncollected revenues from employers which have failed to remit contributions to some 13 billion as of 2014. Ongkeko estimated the uncollected dues from members who have yet to pay their loans at P60 billion to P66 billion. <He also said that> the pension fund is looking at options on how the agency can sustain its fund life, and if ever, how much will contributions have to be increased to minimize the effect on paying members.” (21 Jan)
Operating just on common sense, it seems important to ask: if there are billions that have yet to be collected in contributions and loans, why is SSS’s foremost concern hiking up contributions? And shouldn’t the President himself explain what exactly is being done about these uncollected billions?
Because SSS collections happen between employers and SSS, between companies and corporations and SSS, yes? And yet there is no clear sense that the SSS is clamping down on the capitalists who are supposed to be putting out the cash for their employee’s savings.
This is exactly what matuwid na daan’s BIR is doing: instead of monitoring employers and making sure that companies and corporations are paying their contractual workers’ taxes withheld, the workers are now required to issue receipts, so that the BIR can double-check if companies are in fact, paying our taxes. Of course that also means an additional 3 percent in taxes that we are being charged as tax payers other than the taxes already deducted from our paychecks.
Ultimately, it’s making citizens pay for the inefficiency of government collections on the one hand, but also and ultimately: it is choosing to burden citizens versus forcing offices like the BIR and SSS to do their jobs and make collections more efficient, fix the systems that allow employers and big corporations and capitalists to keep their workers’ money for themselves.
This is what the President’s veto was about, as far as I’m concerned. And this anti-people policy is what we’re going to be stuck with for another six years if matuwid na daan wins.