By BENJIE OLIVEROS
After declaring, during his campaign, that he would approve the P2,000 Social Security System pension hike if elected, President Duterte has obviously reneged on his promise. Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno’s statement that people should differentiate between Rodrigo Duterte the candidate and Duterte the president did not help any. It is a disservice to President Duterte who projects himself as different from “trapos” (traditional politicians) who are wont to promise anything just to get elected and forget all about it when he or she does win. Perhaps without intending to, Budget Secretary Diokno’s statement could be interpreted as an indictment of the country’s elections where candidates and elected officials come and go without any change being felt by the Filipino people.
From a business and financial management perspective, perhaps the justification of the SSS Board of Trustees and Malacañang in disapproving the proposed P2,000 pension hike and instead, approving a P1,000 increase, with a corresponding increase in members’ contributions, may make sense. After all, the goal of business executives and fund managers has always been to ensure the viability of a business or fund. And by viability, it always means to generate profits and expand the capital or the fund.
On their claim that the fund would not be sustainable if the proposed P2,000 pension hike were approved, this needs further study and investigation. How could this be so when the SSS trustees and management have been granting themselves fat bonuses? And besides, aren’t the investments that the SSS has been engaging in, since its founding in 1954, earning enough to ensure the sustainability of the fund? If not, there must be something wrong in the investments of the fund.
However, the proposed pension hike should not only be viewed from the business perspective. It should be viewed from the perspective of the very purpose of the creation of the fund: social security.
The SSS Board of Trustees, Budget Secretary Diokno, and Malacañang officials, including President Duterte should imagine themselves living on the lowest SSS monthly pension of P1,200 being received by the majority of retired members, or even the P2,400 for those with 20 or more credited years of service. Could they?
Even with the P1,000 hike, the monthly pension of P2,200 would not be enough to live decently after years of backbreaking work. If these officials could not imagine themselves living on this measly amount, how could they expect other people to do so?
Some may say that the issue of the pension hike is a minor one, which does not affect majority of the population. But it nevertheless affects one of the most vulnerable groups in Philippine society, the poor elderly who have to rely on their pension for their upkeep.
Former president Benigno Aquino III was criticized as being heartless for vetoing the P2,000 pension hike, as well as all other issues affecting the poor majority such as the minimum wage increase. President Duterte has been projecting himself as someone who has a heart for the poor. How could this be consistent with his decision disapproving the P2,000 pension hike and approving a meager P1,000 increase?
Moreover, President Duterte’s decision disapproving the P2,000 pension hike is also a political one. It reflects whom the President listens to. The decision reflects the President’s perspective and priorities.
Since the start of his administration, President Duterte appears to be practicing the politics of accommodation. But one could only go so far with the politics of accommodation.
As I have mentioned in a previous article, it would eventually boil down to the essential question of “for whom”? Who does the government want to serve first and foremost?
If the President’s decision rejecting the P2,000 pension increase is an indication, then one could not expect that genuine “change is coming,” especially for the poor majority. After all, as the cliché goes: Actions speak louder than words.