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House leader: No override of veto

HOUSE leaders on Sunday waved aside calls to override the presidential veto of the P2,000 monthly hike in Social Security System pensions, saying this was “next to impossible” despite simmering public anger over President Benigno Aquino III’s rejection of the bill.

“The 100 percent attendance to obtain the 2/3 votes [needed to override the veto] is just next to impossible,” said House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzalez II in an interview over radio dzBB.

He added that President Aquino also told House leaders he would rather earn the ire of two million SSS pensioners than anger 30 million SSS members if the agency’s funds are depleted as a result of the pension hike.

The day after. Pensioners line up at the Social Security Systems’ main office in Quezon City on Friday, the day after President Benigno Aquino III vetoed the bill proposing higher pensions for the pension fund’s pensioners. Jansen Romero

The administration’s refusal to reconsider the pension hike came as Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares revealed that the SSS had P100 billion in collectibles as a result of its inefficiency.

The amount, he said, would cover the payment for pensioners for at least the first two years.

Senatorial candidate Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez slammed the government for its lack of compassion or malasakit for pensioners.

Romualdez urged his colleagues to consider overriding the President’s veto because an increase was long overdue, particularly for those getting only P1,200 a month.

In rejecting the pension hike, the Palace said the plan would compel the SSS to spend an extra P56 billion a year for some 2.1-million pensioners.

Gonzales said Congress has never overridden a presidential veto because of the constitutional requirement of a 2/3 vote in each chamber of Congress.

“It is super difficult. It will never happen,” Gonzales said.

“While the House unanimously approved the pension hike and no one objected to its passage, Congress did not also want to be the cause of having the SSS go bankrupt because we failed to pass the accompanying House Bill 6112,” he said.

That bill, which would have authorized the SSS to raise membership premiums, did not pass in the Senate.

“Perhaps the President did not want to go down in history as the President who caused the bankruptcy of the SSS,” Gonzales said.

But Colmenares, the principal author of the pension hike measure, refused to buy the SSS’s position that it would go bankrupt.

“The SSS should improve its collection performance. In 2004, it failed to collect some P90 billion in contribution remittances. In 2013, they reported that it failed to collect P13 billion,” Colmenares said.

“So we said, you fix first your collection. Why did you fail to collect? That’s automatically being subtracted and withheld from the SSS members yet the employers failed to remit them or the SSS failed to collect them,” Colmenares said.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., meanwhile, said Congress wanted to settle for a P1,000 increase in pensions—double the P500 that SSS executives have been offering.

In a radio interview, Senator Cynthia Villar, the Senate’s principal author of the vetoed pension hike, supported the P1,000 increase proposed by the House.

This would still help SSS pensioners, she said.

In the Palace, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. reminded lawmakers to consider the stability of the SSS and the interests of its 30-million members.

“In his speech last Friday in Malolos, President  Aquino said he decided as father of the nation and head of a responsible government that he will not pass on a big problem to the next administration,” Coloma said. 

“It is also important for all those in their current position to consider the effects of their decision in the future and the welfare of the majority of the people,” Coloma said in response to calls to override the presidential veto.

Aquino’s veto continued to draw fire over the weekend.

Vencer Crisostomo, chairman of the youth group Anakbayan, said Aquino’s offer of a P500 increase instead of the proposed P2,000 was an insult to the elderly.

“The P500 is just a fool’s consolation,” Crisostomo said. “They are giving SSS officials millions in bonuses, but they are saying they have no money to give senior citizens.”

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo echoed the criticism and said Aquino’s action only shows his lack of empathy for ordinary Filipinos, whom he calls his “bosses.”

“By vetoing the bill for increase of pension of SSS members, PNoy [Aquino] has clearly shown that his program of ‘inclusive growth’ is mere rhetoric,” Pabillo said. “Do we vote those who will continue this anti-poor policy?”

The prelate said this was not the first time that the President has rejected a measure that aims to uplift the condition of the poor.

“We must remember that PNoy also vetoed the bill on Magna Carta for the Poor,” he said.

Crisostomo said the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research has data to show that SSS’ huge revenues and reserve funds are more than enough to finance the pension increase.

“The hacienda president not only lacks a heart, but is also a big liar,” Crisostomo said.

EILER data shows that the yearly members’ contributions and income from investments amount to P160 billion, which is more than the P56-billion projected annual payout for the pension hike. On top of this, the SSS investment reserve funds are pegged at P428 billion as of April 2015, he added.

Crisostomo also slammed the Palace for trying to pit the 2.15-million pensioners against the rest of the active SSS members.

In fact, Crisostomo said the pension hike poses no real danger to the agency’s fund life up to 2029, he added. With Rio N. Araja

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