BY JP LOPEZ AND WENDELL VIGILIA
LAWMAKERS and labor groups yesterday opposed the increase in monthly contributions of Social Security System (SSS) members to finance the pension hike of retirees, with senators saying that the move is contrary to law.
President Duterte approved a P1,000 pension hike for SSS members beginning next month but there will be a 1.5 percent increase in the contribution of members starting May.
Social Security System President Amado Valdez said the 1.5 percent increase in the contribution of members would go to the investment reserve fund of the agency and would not be used to fund the pension hike.
Valdez said it is the proceeds of the investment fund that is used to finance the pensions.
“All this increase in the contribution is for the investment reserve para mapalaki natin doon because, actually nanggagaling iyung pension at saka other benefit from the proceeds of our investment in the current collection,” he said.
He, however, admitted that indirectly the increased contribution would eventually go to the pension hike since it will augment the investment fund.
Senate President pro tempore Franklin Drilon said the SSS Law prohibits SSS from raising benefits that would require an increase in contribution.
“While the executive’s decision to finally grant the long-awaited increase in the pension of SSS retirees is commendable, it should not be used to justify an increase in the premium payment,” Drilon said.
He said the SSS can only implement an increase in the benefits of its members, subject to the approval of the President, “if such increase is based on the actuarial soundness of the reserve fund” and as “such shall not require any increase in the rate contribution.”
Drilon said while the adjustment in the rate of contribution will take effect by May 2017, it is clear that such action is carried out in order to fund the pension increase.
Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said senators and employers were surprised by Malacañang’s move. He said he supported the move to raise the SSS pensions.
Aquino said what is needed is to increase the efficiency in the collection of contributions, instead of raising the premiums.
Sen. Francis Escudero said the SSS should explain the increase in premium and back it up with actuarial studies.
But Sens. Juan Edgardo Angara and Joel Villanueva said the increase is SSS premium is justifiable.
Angara, chairman of the Senate ways and means committee, said the agency’s funds would be depleted if the increase in SSS pension has no accompanying measure to recover the expected cash outlay.
Villanueva claimed Angara’s position is actually the sentiment of the Senate.
“Someone has to pay for the additional benefits. We are happy that our retirees will receive the additional pension and hopefully, the SSS management will be able to effectively manage the fund and improve their collection and that the increase in premium will be sufficient to make the fund sustainable,” he said.
Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the committee on government corporations, hailed the decision to increase the SSS pension and vowed to provide legislative support to ensure the stability of the fund agency.
Left-leaning congressmen from the Makabayan bloc led by Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said the President’s decision to approve the P1,000 pension hike for SSS pensioners cannot be undertaken at the expense of contributors.
“Pwede nilang (Palace) sabihin na hindi magkasabay (ang increases). January (ang) increase (sa pension), May (naman) ‘yung contribution hike,” he said. “That is certainly a legal question kaya nais nating makita yung fine print ng (SSS) board resolution,” Zarate said.
He said Bayan Muna will continue to help the SSS board in finding ways to lengthen its fund life without increasing SSS contributions.
Zarate said the issue may lead to a legal question before the Supreme Court “and that is why we will have to thoroughly study because the law clearly states that is not the process.”
Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin, a member of the House minority bloc, said: “The challenge now is for the SSS to have an efficient and effective collection of its members’ contributions instead of raising its premium which a big burden on the part of its members and employers.”
Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejan said Duterte is delivering a campaign promise at the expense of other people.
Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao urged members to oppose the increase in their contributions and instead “demand significant reforms in the institution such as improving its collection rate and coverage, getting rid of huge salaries and bonuses of executives and risky investments to the private sector.”
Partido Manggagawa chairman Renato Magtubo said there are other ways for the SSS to generate additional income to provide increase in pension.
Kilusang Mayo Uno chairman Elmer Labog said government should also consider subsidizing the SSS fund to ensure that the pension hike is sustainable. – With Gerard Naval and Jocelyn Montemayor