GSIS’ bitter pill
FROM THE SIDELINES
By Alfredo G. Rosario
For 10 months, I have worked for the release by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) of the death benefits accruing to my son’s sudden demise from a massive stroke on May 14, 2008. What I received last week was a paltry sum grossly incommensurate to his long years in the government service.
My son, Virgilio, had served for over 32 years in the government and died in office. But he was not given even the basic burial benefit. The check I received last week was for the initial survivorship benefit of his widow, Roselyn, and two minor daughters.
It was a bitter pill to swallow. My son’s family had opted for expediency without justice because it had no other choice. It should have deserved justice with expediency.
Why was my son deprived of the burial benefit? Because the GSIS claims that at the time of his death, he was no longer a member on the ground that he was receiving not a “salary” as required by the GSIS retirement law but a “service fee” as the media consultant of the National Anti-Poverty Commission under Secretary Domingo Panganiban.
The GSIS rules, under Republic Act 8291, state that a government employee, “whether temporary, casual, permanent or contractual,” should receive a “basic pay or salary but not per diems honoraria or allowance” in order to qualify for GSIS membership.
In the Social Security System (SSS), there is no distinction whether an employee is paid an allowance or salary. An employee, regardless of how many years have passed since his death, is entitled to a burial benefit as long as he has 36 months of paid premiums.
That is the big difference between the GSIS and the SSS—the latter appears to have a bigger heart in dealing with the critical concerns of its members and their families.
My son had worked for over 32 years in the government service—18 years (1974 to 1992) in the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration; 12 years (1992 to 2004) in the Senate; one year (January 16, 2006 to December 31, 2006) in the Department of Agriculture; and one year and four months (January 2007 to May 14, 2008) in the National Anti-Poverty Commission.
Two certifications of his latest service record with the Agriculture department were given by Ramon Valmayor, president of the Philippine Agriculture and Resource Research Foundation Inc. (Parrfi), which is under the Office of the President. The first showed that for the period January 16, 2006 to August 2006, my son was given an “incentive allowance” of P22,000 a month.
The second stated that during the extension of his consultancy from September to December 2006, he was given a “corresponding salary increase from P22,000 to P25,000 per month.” (My son actually worked during this period not at Parrfi but as head of the public relations office of the Agriculture department then headed by Secretary Panganiban)
I wrote the GSIS in October last year, pointing out that the compensation received by my son for the period in question should have been interpreted as “salary” and not allowance, based on the second and final certification by Mr. Valmayor that he (my son) received a “corresponding salary increase from P22,000 to P25,000 per month.” I received no reply.
The matter of my son’s government stint as media consultant at the National Anti-Poverty Commission was referred to the GSIS’ External Reconciliation Department by Ms. Lani Calida, assistant manager of the Claims department, but the official concerned, Ms. Celeste Ferreras, claimed that the agency had not confirmed the services of my son “to comprise government services in the context of coverage under R.A. 8291.”
Ms. Ferreras said Secretary Panganiban’s certification that my son was paid a “service fee” cannot be construed as “salary nor compensation in the absence of pertinent supporting documents submitted before this office.”
The GSIS is too bookish in its interpretation of the GSIS Act of 1997 and its implementing rules.
My son had served as National Anti-Poverty Commission media consultant, issuing press releases regularly for the agency. His employer had the “power to control” the means and the result of the work he had to do. There had existed an employer-employee relationship between him and his superiors, as required by the rules.
This quibbling over terms and the GSIS’ hard line that the payment “cannot be construed as salary nor compensation” have cost my son’s burial benefit and the full payment of his insurance’s face value.
The GSIS retirement law says that a government employee, whether temporary, casual, permanent or contractual, is considered a GSIS member provided that he is receiving a basic pay or salary “but not per diems, honoraria or allowances.” Secretary Panganiban’s use of the term “service fee,” which is outside the scope of the three modes of payments circumscribed by the GSIS retirement law, should be interpreted liberally as “salary” in the interest of justice and fairness.
This case deserves a review by Mr. Winston Garcia, GSIS president and general manager, with a view to correcting an obvious injustice caused by officials’ unreasoning adherence to the letter rather than the spirit of the law. The moral authority upon which all laws are founded dictates a humane interpretation of the term “service fee” in its broadest sense to mean “salary.”
This will do away with a technicality that has blocked the fuller entitlement of my son’s family to his death benefits prescribed under the GSIS retirement act.