There was public outrage when Mr. Romulo Neri, of the ZTE-NBN notoriety, was named by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to head the Social Security System (SSS). The appointment was seen as Neri’s reward for his silence on the ZTE-NBN deal and blind loyalty to Ms Arroyo. It was feared that Neri would also play deaf and dumb should the Arroyo administration decide to raid the pension funds, for political purposes.
It has been reported that P12.5 billion (yes, billion!) of SSS funds is being eyed “for infrastructure,” as part of the “stimulus package” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2/3/09; read story) which would be placed at the disposal of Ms Arroyo.
Given Malacañang’s track record in misspending tax money with shameless abandon and buying loyalties with generous “cash gifts” and other perks, we shudder at the thought that all this SSS money could end up being used (read: diverted) to ensure Ms Arroyo’s continued stay in Malacañang beyond 2010 — as earnestly, if shamelessly, prayed for by her trusted drumbeater Jesus Dureza.
And the worst part is, she may not have to account for all that profligacy in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on “executive privilege,” which virtually strikes down any attempt to hold her and her underlings accountable for any act of malversation and corruption. God help the Philippines!
STEVE Y. VESPERA, Esq. (via email)
MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang is urging state pension funds and health insurance and housing loan providers to increase benefits for their members to spur consumption and keep the economy going despite the world financial crisis.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto said the increased benefits, which could total P30 billion, would be part of the P330-billion economic resiliency package in the 2009 national budget.
Recto said the Social Security System (SSS), which handles private sector workers, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), which covers state workers, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), and the Pag-Ibig Fund for housing, had enough “investible funds,” or the difference between contributions and pay-outs, to allow an increase in benefits without affecting the agencies’ financial health.
“If you’re a senior citizen and you’re a pensioner of SSS, and we can afford to give an additional benefit, why not? Which will not destroy the actuarial [standing] of SSS for that limited period of time during this crisis,” Recto said.
“That will help spur consumption [and] demand also in the economy, which is good. That’s the point,” he said.
“We hope that the boards [of the agencies] can get to sit down and think…that it is only appropriate during this crisis that they can improve benefits to members even for a limited period of time, for the next 12 to 18 months at least,” Recto said.
The PhilHealth, Recto said, is eyeing a 20-percent increase in benefits, which would increase the amount members get when they fall sick to P9,000 from P7,500. He said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is “committed” to the increase and will take the matter up with the PhilHealth board.
Aside from the P30 billion in additional benefits, Recto said the P330-billion stimulus package also includes P160 billion from the 2009 national budget, P100 billion from the public-private sector infrastructure fund, and P40 billion from the reduced corporate income tax and increased exemptions for individual taxpayers, which the government expects will also spur consumption.