Military retirees told: Don’t rush payment of pension arrears

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    DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday told retired military and uniformed personnel (MUP) who have raised concerns about their pension differentials for the year 2018 not to pressure the government into paying their arrears now that it needs to prioritize funding for its COVID-19 response.

    “Huwag nating pilitin ang gobyerno na mangutang para ibayad sa inyo. Anyway, dinoble naman ang pension ninyo since 2018, except ‘yung four months – January to April – so palagay ko hindi kayo mahihirapan (Do not force the government to borrow money to pay you. Anyway, your pensions have been doubled since 2018, except for four months, from January to April, so I don’t think you’ll suffer),” he said in an interview with reporters after a meeting with Speaker Lord Allan Velasco whose leadership is set to file a P50 billion supplemental budget to augment the pension and gratuity (PGF) funds under the 2021 GAA.

    Lorenzana believed “there’s no harm done” with the delay in the payment of the 2018 pension differentials to retired MUP.

    “The government is not backing away from its obligation and let’s just help the government by not forcing it to pay now while it still can’t,” he said, adding: “If you don’t get your arrears for four months, will you wallow in poverty? I don’t think so because your pensions won’t stop.”

    In a privilege speech last Monday, Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor raised suspicion that the new P20 billion cut in the PGF under this year’s P4.506 trillion budget was used to pad the district allocations of some lawmakers who are close to Velasco.

    Defensor, an ally of former speaker Alan Peter Cayetano who was ousted and replaced by Velasco last October, said the Executive’s proposed P172.90-billion PGF budget, which was supposed to partially fund the payment of the 2018 pension differences of retired military and uniformed personnel (MUP), was reduced to P152.90-billion by the Velasco leadership.

    “The huge amount of realignments, including the P20 billion for military and police retirees went to ‘pork’ and other things but not vaccine,” the administration lawmaker said in a statement.

    ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap, chair of the committee on appropriations, has already explained that the P20 billion was in fact a “buffer” fund, which the DBM, the House and the Senate all agreed to realign in favor of budget items meant to address the COVID-19 pandemic including the procurement of vaccines and personal protective equipment of medical frontliners.

    Yap said it was the previous leadership under Cayetano that reduced the PGF of the police and military by as much as P70 billion under the P4.1 trillion national budget for 2020, which prompted senior deputy speaker Salvador Leachon to say that Defensor’s allegations seems to have “boomeranged” on the former House leadership.

    Reacting, Defensor said: “How can it have boomeranged when chair Eric Yap admitted that they slashed the Pension and Gratuity Fund by P20 billion? They should not over complicate and overthink.”

    “Return the 20B to our military, police and uniformed personnel pension and gratuity fund. Also, they should show the public that it’s not pork,” he said.