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Senators up in arms over Pinoy's SSS pension veto

Senators are up in arms over the veto powers exercised by President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday by not signing the amendments to the Social Security Act of 1997 in order to raise the monthly pension of retired private sector employees.

Sen. Francis Escudero urged the Senate and House of Representatives to override Aquino’s veto on the proposed P2,000 across-the-board increase in the retirement pay of Social Security System (SSS) members.

“There is no better time than now to have the SSS pension hike bill enacted into law, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate and members of the House of Representatives to do the right thing and vote to override the President’s ill-advised veto of this bill,” Escudero said in a statement.

He said the measure would have benefited 1.9 million pensioners.

“It is saddening because our SSS pensioners have waited long enough for this measure,” he said.

He said under Article VI, Section 27 of the 1987 Constitution, Congress can override a presidential veto by passing the bill with a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

“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,” the senator said.

Financial consequences

In a separate statement, Sen. Grace Poe urged the SSS board to provide a concrete alternative to the increase vetoed by the President, saying the government has sufficient funds.

"Nais kong pong malaman kung ano ba ang katanggap-tanggap na karagdagang pensyon kung hindi naangkop ang dagdag na P2,000 sa pensyon ng mga miyembro ng SSS," Poe said.

"Hamon ko sa board ng SSS, sana magbigay sila ng konkretong alternatibo dahil sa tingin ko mayroong sapat na pondo upang magbigay ng dagdag na benepisyo," she added.

There is a need to increase the pension of SSS beneficiaries, Poe noted.

"Walang dudang kailangang dagdagan ang benepisyo ng SSS habang pinananatiling matatag ang pondo ng ahensya," she said.

The President vetoed the bill, saying “... we cannot support the bill in its present form because of its dire financial consequences.” He noted the P2,000 across-the-board pension hike with a corresponding adjustment of the minimum monthly pension would result in “substantial negative income for the SSS.”

House Bill No. 5842 sought to amend the Social Security Act of 1997 by increasing the present minimum pension of P1,200 to P3,200 for retirees with at least 10 years of credited service. For those with over 20 years of credited service, monthly pension will increase from P2,400 to P4,400.

The bill, authored by Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, was passed on third reading by the House of Representatives on June 9 last year and was adopted in toto by the Senate on November 9.

Sen. Cynthia Villar, the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said she was surprised and saddened by the President's move.

“Siyempre nalulungkot tayo sa nangyari. Hindi ko sukat akalain na ibi-veto nya, kasi tomorrow magla-lapse into law na 'yun dapat. After one month, hindi ko sukat akalain na ibi-veto n'ya today,” she told reporters.

She said she will just file the proposal again in the next Congress.

“I don’t know how to override that. We haven’t done it. I would look into that – pero kung hindi man we will try again, malapit na naman 'yung susunod na Congress, in six months,” she said.

A compromise

The senator said the SSS could provide for the additional pension if it would only improve its collection efforts.

“Nakita natin na 'yung collection rate ng SSS masyadong mababa. Magagawan sana nila ito ng paraan na ma-i-provide ang pangangailangan dito by just making their operation efficient,” she said.

Sen. Ralph Recto, a co-author of the bill, said the President should act with the welfare of the SSS pensioners in mind.

“It should not be a choice between meron o wala. There should be a compromise amount which can be effected through executive action. If the President finds the P2,000 per pensioner too high, then my unsolicited advice to him is to recommend an amount which he thinks is suitable and supportable by SSS finances; then convey this to the SSS Board – whose members are his appointees – for possible implementation,” he said in a separate statement.

If P2,000 is too expensive, the President may consider P1,000 per pensioner, Recto noted.

“This increase can be enforced by an SSS Board resolution. Raising pension is not just via the legislative route. It can also be done by the President exerting influence on the SSS.  Congress only stepped in with this measure because SSS froze pension amelioration measures,” he said.

“It’s about time we increase pensions of SSS pensioners. Congress may override the President’s veto but it will be difficult to get a two-thirds vote,” he added.

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara is also in favor of a compromise.

“I surmise there were concerns about the fiscal sustainability of the SSS. Going forward, perhaps a compromise formula can be developed which increases pensions but also addresses sustainability issues. At this stage, it may be too late for legislative action but nothing prevents executive action,” he said in another statement. – with Jon Viktor Cabuenas/VS, GMA News