Senior citizens: 'We can't afford medication without SSS pension hike'

ANTI-PENSIONERS. Pensioners along with some members of Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino pickets outside the main office of Social Security System in Quezon City on Friday, January 15. Recently, President Noynoy Aquino Vetoed the 2,000 peso pension hike for pensioners. Photo by Jansen Romero/Rappler

ANTI-PENSIONERS. Pensioners along with some members of Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino pickets outside the main office of Social Security System in Quezon City on Friday, January 15. Recently, President Noynoy Aquino Vetoed the 2,000 peso pension hike for pensioners.

Photo by Jansen Romero/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – For 70-year-old Joel Faeldeon, the P2,000 pension increase for Social Security System (SSS) members is a lifeline for senior citizens.

A retiree for 7 years now, Faeldeon said SSS never missed releasing his pension. But it does not mean it is enough to cover his expenses, which is mostly due to medication.

"Diabetes, prostate, high blood, cholesterol," Faeldeon enumerated his diseases. 

He said he has to take 9 different medications daily that cost him at least P3,000 per month. This is 200% greater than his monthly pension worth P1,400.

That is why the sickly veteran, together with 2 million aging SSS retirees, was looking forward to the approval of Congress' proposal for pension increase.

"I only receive P1,400 monthly. The P2,000 increase is a big help to cover my medical maintenance," Faeldelon said in Filipino during a demonstration in front of the SSS office in Quezon City on Friday, January 15.

"Tumaas ang presyo ng mga bilihin. Tapos mataas 'yung gamot. Marami sa pensioner kagaya ko may mga sakit na," he added. (READ: Aquino veto on pension hike 'unfair' – netizens

(Prices of goods nowadays are very high, including medicines, especially that most of the pensioners like me are suffering from diseases.)

Also joining the street protest was 61-year-old Rogel Bendol, who has unpaid loans with SSS.

Bendol said he has not been receiving two months' worth of pension since it serves as payment for his loan balance. This will continue for 3 years, making the disabled retiree penniless until 2019.

"Ilang buwan na wala akong nabibiling gamot," he complained. (I haven't been able to buy medicines for months.)

"Kung sana na'bigay ni PNoy 'yung dalawang libo kada buwan, basta meron." (If only the President has granted the P2,000 increase every month, that's better than nothing.)  

President Benigno Aquino III on January 14 vetoed Congress' pension hike bill. In his veto message, he cited foreseeable financial deficits of the state-run insurance firm if he approved the measure.

Contributions versus benefits

According to the SSS, there have been 21 across-the-board pension increases since the 1980. However, the increases remained insufficient for members.

In 2014, for example, SSS approved a 5% across-the-board pension increase, but it only amounts to an additional P158 to the average P3,500 monthly allowance. 

The last time there was an amendment to social protection policies was almost two decades ago, with the approval of the Social Security System Act in 1997.

In his 2013 State of the Nation Address, President Aquino said that while SSS had several pension hikes, the contribution rate had only been raised twice since 1980. (READ: Higher SSS contributions starting Jan 2014)

This is where the problem lies, former SSS President Corazon dela Paz told Rappler on Friday.

"The public needs to accept that the SSS' resources are not enough to sustain [actuarial life] unless the SSS contribution will be increased," Dela Paz said in a phone interview. (READ: Most Filipinos not ready for retirement – study)

"SSS members pay less and get more. Funds will really deplete if there is more payout," she added in Filipino.

Based on her experience, Dela Paz noted, amending the contribution rates by the board is not that easy because it requires approval of the President.

Twin bill

In November 2015, House passed a measure that authorizes the SSS board to increase the rate of monthly member contributions without the approval of the President. 

House Bill 6112 aims to ensure that the SSS will not go bankrupt. It was passed as a complementary bill to the pension hike measure (House Bill 5842). HB 6112 did not pass in the Senate, however.

House Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II earlier said that this must have been the reason that the President did not approve HB 5842.

"While Senate approved the pension increase, it failed to approve the accompanying bill. Thus, the President opted not to play politics and instead was forced to veto the bill to prevent SSS from being bankrupt," Gonzales said on Thursday. – Rappler.com 

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.

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