“A big ‘thank you,’” seamstress Concepcion Cucharo said, expressing her gratitude for the P1,000 increase in the pension of retired members of the Social Security System (SSS). The increase is effective this month and another increase of P1,000 is expected by 2022.
Like other retirees or their survivors, Cucharo, 74, said the increase, however meager, meant she could buy more “maintenance” medicines.
“It’s hard when you’re old and you have ailments. Whatever amount of money you’ve got is spent on medicines,” said Cucharo, widowed for nine years now. The increase is equivalent to just P33 a day.
She lives with her 35-year-old daughter in Tagum City and earns a living through sewing hospital personnel uniforms with her daughter.
Cucharo gets P3,400 monthly pension as a beneficiary of her late husband, who worked in a banana plantation for more than 20 years.
Despite the measly amount, she said her husband’s pension had been helpful, particularly when demand for sewing slackens.
A son, who manages a store near a college in Tagum, also helps her in buying her medicines.
“At least whatever we earn in sewing we can use for our other basic needs like food,” Cucharo said.
The pension increase was timely because of the high cost of living, said former security guard Rizalino Guelos, 65, of Polomolok town in South Cotabato province.
“But my monthly pension is not enough even for my maintenance medicine,” said Guelos, who receives a monthly pension of P2,000.
In Calasiao, Pangasinan province, Angeles Colisao, 86, said she was happy about the news that her pension would increase by P1,000 a month.
She said her P4,100 monthly pension, half of which is spent for medicine, was not enough if she lived alone.
Colisao began receiving her pension after her husband, a retired bus driver, died in 1992.
She has been living with her daughter and son-in-law, who are both employed. A son, who works in the United States, also sends her money whenever she needed it.
“Had my children not been helping me, the SSS pension that I have would not be enough,” she said.
Elena Boco, 63 who lost her husband, Cesar, in 2014 due to an illness, lives alone, as she has no children. Her P1,200 in monthly pension is barely enough to buy medicines.
“I am spending around P2,000 for my maintenance on top of the daily expenses. The amount is not really enough. I always end up asking for loans from my relatives just to meet my daily needs,” said Boco of Tacloban.
To be able to live decently, she said she would need at least P5,000 monthly.
She depends on her monthly pension since she closed her small sari-sari store due to failing health.
If not for her eight children, four of whom work abroad and extend her financial help, Basilisa Atienza, 83, said she would not be able to survive on her P4,700 pension.
Atienza, president of the Federation of Senior Citizens Associations of Bacolod City, said the pension increase was badly needed by the elderly, especially those who receive only P1,500 a month.
“Many of those who receive the P1,500 in monthly pensions used to work on sugar farms,” she said.
She said the federation, which has 25,000 card-bearing members, passed a resolution on Friday calling on President Duterte to keep his campaign promise to increase by P2,000 their monthly pensions. The issue is now academic as Mr. Duterte has approved the increase.
Atienza is receiving the P4,700 monthly pension of her late husband, Rodolfo Atienza, a certified public accountant.
Her monthly maintenance medicines, including insulin for diabetes, cost P10,000, which means she would not have enough for these and her food, Atienza said.
A retired school principal from Burauen town in Leyte said her and her husband’s pensions were not enough since she had to pay P2,000 in monthly medication and her share of the household bills.
“The pension, which is from my late husband, is too measly but still [better than nothing],” said Iluminada Pedere, 80.
As a widow of Ernesto, who worked in a private company, Pedere is entitled to a P1,200 in monthly pension from the SSS. She lives with her son and his family in Burauen town.
For the rather “well-off” retirees like Evelyn Maghuyop, the pension hike should be reexamined because it could deplete SSS funds and would be detrimental to employers.
Maghuyop, an accountant who retired in 2008, said there was a need to study the profiles of SSS pensioners, suggesting that only those receiving below P3,000 should be granted the increase.
“I am talking about grandmothers or beneficiaries of pension funds who are receiving below P3,000 and are still sending grandchildren to school. These people need the additional P2,000 but I don’t agree that it has to be across the board,” Maghuyop said. —REPORTS FROM FRINSTON LIM, EDWIN O. FERNANDEZ, JIGGER J. JERUSALEM, GABRIEL CARDINOZA. CRIS EVERT B. LATO, CARLA P. GOMEZ AND JOEY A. GABIETA