Labor leaders insisted today that an adjustment in the monthly pension received by retired SSS members is long overdue, but cautioned against substantial increases in premium rates estimated at around 11-13% of current premiums without holding the SSS responsible for its investment losses.
“SSS pensions should reflect the current cost of living, but we can’t take hook, line and sinker the SSS position that a pension adjustment will result in fund depletion, which while true, will not fully explain why the SSS would run short of funds,” asserted Danny Edralin, Chairperson of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL). “The SSS should first explain how its various investments totaling P155 billion as of March 2004, using workers’ money, has been spent and in instances where it has lost money, make its officials answerable,” Edralin said.
Edralin stated that the SSS is imbued with public interest, and its officers should be held accountable for management decisions that imperil the welfare of its 25,940,236 members. The SSS-BDO deal last year was a glaring example, he said, because members were not even aware of the transaction, and what it meant for the fiscal health of the pension fund. The SSS acquired the 188 million Equitable PCI shares at P90 per share during the Estrada Administration. Then it was sold for P43.50 per share. Of the P14 billion total acquisition cost, only P1 billion will be paid outright by Banco de Oro. The balance of about P13 billion will be paid after 6-1/2 years with no interest earned during the period through a “zero coupon, non-amortizing note” scheme.
“It was reported that the deal would result in millions of pesos in losses for the SSS,” Edralin recalled, “and the images that immediately comes to mind is of millions of SSS contributing members who, toiling in jobs that never pay enough, patiently continue to pay their SSS premiums, and an image of their money being flushed down the drain because of the irresponsibility of a few people,” Edralin illustrated.
The labor leader also said that the SSS should go after employers and even banks who fail to remit their SSS contributions on time, further straining the pension fund’s coffers. “These employers and banks are holding on to money which does not belong to them, and as a result, when members apply for loans, or benefits, SSS records show that they have not contributed when it is these banks and employers who are at fault,” Edralin explained. “They should be also penalized.”
The Alliance of Progressive Labor, a labor center of workers from various industries, in principle supports various bills lodged at the Senate, including Senate Bills 393, 669 and 1136 which seek to increase the monthly pension being received by retirees and other claimants from the SSS. “But our Senators would be well-advised to take a closer look at how the SSS functions and makes decisions at the same time that they are pushing for pension increases,” Edralin suggested, “because in the end, it will still be workers who will foot the bill for what increases may come to their benefits,” he said.
“The SSS should get its act together to make it more efficient and be able to deliver more quality services to its members,” Edralin added. “The Senate can go farther than passing for pension increases, but also by investigating SSS management and making sure that officers remiss in their duties are severed from their multi-million peso jobs and held accountable,” Edralin said.