Malacañang and Congress appear headed for a collision after President Benigno Aquino 3rd vetoed a recently-enacted bill mandating a P2,000 across-the-board hike for two million pensioners of the Social Security System (SSS).
Incensed by the presidential rejection, lawmakers at the Senate and House of Representatives said Aquino does not have the last say because Congress can override his veto.
Explaining his decision, the President said he returned the enrolled House Bill 5842 unsigned because of the bill’s “dire financial consequences” that may compromise the entire benefits system.
“While we recognize the objective of the bill to promote the well-being of the country’s private-sector retirees, we cannot support the bill in its present form,” he told Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
The bill was transmitted for the President’s signature on December 15, 2015.
But Aquino said approving the pension increase would leave the SSS bankrupt.
“Approving the corresponding adjustment of the minimum monthly pension will result in substantial negative income for the Social Security System. More specifically, the proposed pension increase of P2,000.00 per retiree, multiplied by the present number of more than two (2) million pensioners, will result in a total payout of P56.0 billion annually,” he explained in his letter.
“Compared against annual investment income of P30 billion-P40 billion, such total payment for pensioners will yield a deficit of P16 billion-P26 billion annually,” the President pointed out.
Aquino said that once passed, the measure will bleed the resources of the SSS, which “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.”
The proposed hike would have amended Section 12 of Republic Act 1661, as amended, or the Social Security Act of 1997.
Lawmakers said the pension increase can still be implemented if Congress exercises its power to override the President’s veto.
Under Article VI, Section 27 of the 1987 Constitution, the House of Representatives and the Senate can overturn a presidential veto with a two-thirds vote of the members of each chamber.
If two-thirds of the members of the House vote to pass the bill, the measure shall be sent to the Senate, or vice versa, for similar consideration.
If two-thirds of the members of the other chamber approve the measure, it shall become a law.
Senators Francis Escudero and Ralph Recto, as well as House Deputy Minority Leader Neri Colmenares, called on their colleagues to overturn the President’s decision.
“We need to muster the two-thirds majority vote to override the veto. It may be difficult but we will try for the sake of our SSS pensioners,” Escudero said.
Recto said it will be difficult to get a two-thirds vote but he will support any move to override the President’s veto.
The Senate President Pro-Tempore also noted that if Aquino finds the P2,000 pension increase too high, he should offer a compromise.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also deplored the President’s decision.
“Governance is about caring for the people especially those who are incapable or less capable of taking care of themselves. I hope the President is not missing this point,” Marcos said.
He noted that pensioners, most of them sickly, depend on their monthly SSS pension for their basic needs.
“I am one of the authors of the Senate version of the measure and now that the President has decided against it, I hope the government has other plans to uplift the living conditions of SSS pensioners,” Marcos said.
Senator Grace Poe, who was also saddened by the rejection, called on the SSS board to come up with an alternative to the proposed pension hike.
“There is no doubt that there is a need to increase SSS pension while ensuring the fund of the agency is stable,” she added.
Senator Cynthia Villar, the sponsor of the SSS bill, said Aquino’s decision will affect the chances of his candidates in the May 16 elections this year.
Colmenares insisted that the P2,000 pension increase is reasonable.
“The P2,000 hike is badly needed by pensioners and their dependents. There are pensioners who only receive as low as P1,200 monthly and we have 1.9 million pensioners. Has the President lost his heart? This [move]is anti-pensioner, anti-poor and anti-worker,” the lawmaker said.
“The President’s concern that the SSS will go bankrupt is a phantom fear. I am now calling on the House of Representatives and the Senate to side with the people and override the Aquino veto. The fight is not yet over,” he added.
Former Justice Secretary and 1-BAP party-list Silvestre Bello 3rd and Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio echoed the call of Colmenares.
“If Congress knows what’s good for our pensioners, then it should move to override the President’s veto,” Bello said.
“President Aquino has denied desperately needed relief to two million SSS pensioners, many of whom receive as little as P1,200 per month. The convenient bugbear of reduced actuarial life [for SSS]cannot be used to justify the veto because there’s more than enough time to implement measures that would improve the revenues of SSS,” Tinio said.
Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon of Kabataan and Luz Ilagan found the President’s action “callous.”
“All it takes is to trim the perks of fat cat executives in the SSS. It is unjust and immoral to get millions while members get paltry pension payments,” Ridon said.
“Congress should override the veto. The President gives this very flimsy excuse after the bill hibernated in Malacañang waiting for his signature. He is so insensitive to the plight of pensioners who need additional support for medicines and other basic needs. So dense!” Ilagan said.
Even the President’s allies namely Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe and fellow Liberal Party member and Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo were disappointed.
Batocabe said the feared SSS “bankruptcy” can be addressed since the next administration can certify urgent a bill that will increase SSS premium payments.
“It is unfortunate that the President vetoed a pro-people and social justice legislation that will enhance the way of life of our pensioners. It could have been one of his great legacies,” he noted.
“The veto of such an important piece of legislation is disappointing. It shows that the economic achievements talked about by the administration are either not true, or at the very least, exclusive to a few,” Romulo said.
Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano warned that the President’s rejection of the proposed pension hike could be detrimental to Malacanang’s candidates in this year’s polls.
“The decision of the President might adversely affect his [candidates’ chances in the May 2016 elections],” Albano, head of the House contingent for the Commission on Appointments, said in a separate statement.
WITH JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA AND LLANESCA T. PANTI