Bayan Muna dares economic managers to live on 40 pesos a day

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Press Release, Bayan Muna, 04 January 2017

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate and Chairman Neri Colmenares challenged the so-called economic managers blocking the P2,000 Social Security System (SSS) pension increase to live on a P40 only daily budget  to see if they can live comfortably and decently with such an amount.

Forty pesos (P40) is the present daily equivalent of the P1200 monthly base pension of the country’s SSS pensioners.

“Ang dali para sa kanilang harangin ang pension hike dahil hindi naman sila yung nakakaranas na di makakain ng tama o mabili ang mga gamot para humaba pa ang buhay ng ating mga pensioners. Ilang milyong pensyonado po ang matutulungan ng pagtataas ng pensyon pero mukhang mas mahalaga pa sa kanila ang sinasabing credit ratings kesa sa buhay ng mga senior citizens natin,” said Rep. Zarate.

The progressive leaders made the challenge following recommendation by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director-General Ernesto Pernia “blocking, albeit,  sabotaging the  Congressional measure to give immediate relief to millions of SSS pensioners now and in the future.”

“The P2000 SSS pension only translates to P66 per day for the much needed additional fund for our senior citizens’ food, maintenance medicine and other expenses but this would be a big help for them to somehow have more comfortable lives,” said Rep. Zarate.

“In fact, with the initial P1,000 increase  beginning this month, that would mean just P33 per day of additional funds for the elderly pensioners,” added Rep. Zarate, one of the principal authors of House Joint Resolution No. 10 granting the increase, beginning January 2017.

Zarate added that the proposed P2000 SSS pension hike would only raise to  P106 per day  the base pensioners’ budget, a far way off  from the P183 per person daily budget or P1,096 daily living income for a family of six members, according to a study by the independent thin-tank IBON Foundation.

Former Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares also questioned the figures and data put out by the economic managers of the Duterte administration to justify their position against an SSS pension increase.

“SSS announced during the deliberation of our bill last Congress that a P 2,000 increase will deplete SSS funds by 2029.  The current proposal is only P1,000 increase in 2017 and the other 1,000 increase sometime in 2020 and yet, the economic managers threatened that this will deplete the fund life further to 2027” Colmenares said.  “How come a P1,000 increase will result in a shorter fund life than a P2,000 increase. This is absurd.”

Colmenares also questioned the unfunded liability data of the economic managers. “In June 2015 former SSS Chairman de Quiros declared that the unfunded liability of SSS is P1.2 Trillion but SSS will mop it up to P908 Billion.  Now,  a little more than a year later, the economic managers declared a current P3.5 Trillion unfunded liability. Either SSS suffered massive losses last year or someone is playing with the data.”

Colmenares also questioned the reported losses of SSS in its 2014 Report. “There is an item in Page 53 of the 2014 SSS Actuarial Report called  “Items that may be reclassified subsequently to profit or loss” which says that there is a “reclassification adjustment” loss of P1.712 Billion and net loss of P16.266 Billion on fair value adjustment in 2013 to 2014. However SSS said net income grew by 6 percent in 2013 to P38 billion from P36 billion in 2012, while total assets also grew by 6 percent to P385 billion. In 2014 SSS reported that its net revenue rose to P44.47 billion, up 15.9% from the P38.36 billion recorded in 2013” said the progressive former solon. “These conflicting data must be explained by the economic managers.  We don’t want data to be manipulated to scare us into opposing the P2,000 increase.”

“Hindi mababankrupt ang SSS kung ayusin lang nila ang koleksyon nila. Out of the 40.8 Million employed labor force, only the contribution of 11.8 Million SSS  members are remitted.  If SSS will be able to collect from 16 Million members instead of its current 11.8 million, its fund life will increase by many years.  Hindi maba bankrupt ang SSS kung ayusin lang ang collection. There must be reforms in SSS first before government can demand increase in contribution” said Colmenares.

Colmenares, said that Budget Secretary Diokno is “again misleading the public in passing to Congress the blame for the pension hike now being held hostage by these economic managers.”

“Secretary Diokno should be reminded that the Social Security Act of 1997 clearly mandates that any rule or regulation promulgated by the SSS Commission related to benefits, like increase in pension as in this case, needs the approval of the President of the Philippines,” Colmenares said.

According to Republic Act 8282,  Section 2 (a), the powers and duties of the SSS Commission, includes:

“(1) To adopt, amend and rescind, subject to the approval of the President of the Philippines, such rules and regulations as may be necessary to carry out the provisions and purposes of this Act;

(2) To establish a provident fund for the members which will consist of voluntary contributions of employers and/or employees, self‐employed and voluntary members and their earnings, for the payment of benefits to such members or their beneficiaries, subject to such rules and regulations as it may promulgate and approved by the President of the Philippines.”

“Clearly, it is not Congress that is unfair;  in truth,  it is Secretaries Diokno, Dominguez and Pernia who are unfair to President Duterte for putting him in such a bad light in the eyes of our pensioners,  especially that the new SSS leadership already approved a staggered pension hike that they proposed to Congress,” added Colmenares, who was the principal author of the pension hike bill in the previous  congresses.

According to Rep. Zarate, before they went into Christmas break, the House of Representatives passed a resolution allowing the pension increase in two (2) tranches as a concession to the new SSS leadership, which   made strong representations for such an arrangement so that the agency can institute internal reforms and raise more funds.

“Thus, it is utterly ridiculous for the three (3) Cabinet secretaries to say that the agency would go bankrupt.  Initially the fund life of SSS may be shortened, but,  to recover  and increase it, reforms have to be instituted, precisely, like aggressive increase collections, expansion of membership base and good investments, among others,” Rep. Zarate added.

“During the House and Senate hearings, SSS Chairman Amado Valdez even explicitly said that the P1,000 initial pension increase can be done as early as December 2016 and the SSS would not go bankrupt. He even added that raising membership premium is also the least, even last, of their options to raise the  funds of the agency. Furthermore, if at all, government subsidy for the pension fund  as provided for by the SSS Charter is even higher in their options,” said Rep. Zarate.

“These cabinet members are especially favoring big-business through their neo-liberal economic prescriptions, yet, they are abandoning the government’s mandate to provide genuine  social  protection and security to our people. Mali ito at dapat palaging inuuna ang buhay at interest ng mamamayan,” ended the Davao-based progressive solon. (Bayan Muna)

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