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Lazy and irresponsible incompetents in Congress, Malacañang, and SSS

The mess over the vetoed increase for Social Security System pensioners would have been an utter comedy of errors, if it had not first made pensioners miserable as they were told that after 17 years, they would get a P2,000-per month increase.

After all, it was the powerful Senate President Franklin Drilon himself—also the ruling Liberal Party’s chairman—who promised in November: “The passage of this bill is an early Christmas gift of the Senate to the SSS pensioners, who depend on these pensions for their daily expenses.”

It’s really a comedic skit, if not for what it reveals: This Yellow Government, its House of Representatives, its Senate, the President and his executive office, and the SSS are a bunch of lazy, irresponsible, incompetents we cannot trust our future with.

Why are taxpayers spending P12 billion yearly to maintain Congress, P3 billion for the Office of the President, and P50 million for the SSS commissioners if they are doing such lousy jobs?

It’s really such a national shame: Congress passed a bill, so quickly, without studying its consequences. Now they’re forced to eat their words, or maybe eat copies of the bill.

The bill mandating a P2,000 across-the-board increase in SSS pensions was filed June 4 by leftist party representative Neri Colmenares. A dozen other congressmen jumped in to became co-authors.

Senator Cynthia Villar filed the Senate version a little over a month later, in August. Senator Antonio Trillanes thought the bill would endear him to 2 million pensioners that he begged Villar that he be co-author.

Lazy, irresponsible, and incompetent: Being conjugal owner of one of the country’s biggest property conglomerates, one would think that Senator Villar would have requested two of the probably 500 top finance people in their companies to study how the SSS could afford the pension increase she is asking, and if not, how it could raise the needed additional funds.

SSS Commissioners: Did they oppose the plan, or propose alternatives?
SSS Commissioners: Did they oppose the plan, or propose alternatives?

Nothing of the sort. Villar can’t even explain why she asked for a P2,000 pension increase, and not P1,500 or even P1,000. All she could say is that it is long overdue as the last increase was 18 years ago, and that pensioners need medicine, which have increased in prices. SSS, she said, should just increase its efficiency in collecting premiums, with billions according to her uncollected.

Co-author Trillanes
One would think that Trillanes would have assigned at least one of his 55 highly-paid consultants (including his brother, of course) to go to the SSS and ask the officials there what they think of the law he is co-authoring.

Nothing of the sort. After getting to be listed as co-author of the bill, he seemed to have forgotten about it, and went back to his full-time project of throwing dirt at Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Did the authors of the bill in Congress bother to study the impact of their bill, to ask the SSS for their feedback? Not at all.

Bills to be made into law are supposed to be studied with a fine-tooth comb. A bill therefore is first referred to the appropriate committee to study it, call for public hearings, and ask experts for their inputs.

The SSS bill was referred to the House Committee on Government Enterprises and Privatization on June 4, 2015, the day Colmenares filed the bill. Guess when the Committee approved it?

On the same day, with the one-page “study” simply lifting the bill’s explanation. No study, no hearings with SSS officials called to testify. When did the House approve the bill? Five days later.

This pension-hike bill would go down in legislative history as the fastest bill ever approved by Congress: filed June 4, it was approved less than a week later on June 9. It would go down in legislative history as the only bill of major importance approved by all 211 members of the House of Representatives. Not a single “Nay” vote, not an “Abstain” vote.

Every single member of the House approved the bill, but President Aquino, whose Liberal Party controls the House, vetoed it. Something is terribly, terribly wrong here.

The Senate adopted the House bill June 11 and approved it November 9, with all senators – fifteen of them – approving it, except for Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who said then what Aquino and the SSS is saying now, that the increase could cause the bankruptcy of the state firm. The bill was referred August 5 to two Senate committees, which approved it two weeks later — no hearings, no study.

This episode makes me afraid that it is not impossible that a bill filed by some crazy congressman — and there are many there – would declare war on China, and Congress would approve, with them realizing what they’ve done only when Aquino vetoes it.

And what was Aquino doing all this time, from June last year to the start of this year? Nothing.

Look, Aquino’s party controls Congress. Drilon is his party’s chairman while Belmonte is an executive vice president. Aquino, I was told, calls these two people almost everyday, to relieve his headache every time he thinks about national affairs. Co-author of the bill Trillanes is Aquino’s personal political assassin.

Yet Aquino didn’t bother to ask them about the implications of the SSS pension-hike bill they were pushing? What an incompetent president!

Aquino paralyzed, again
Who knows what happened? My guess is that, using Enrile’s recent epithet for the President, Aquino – again as in the Mamasapano– was a Hamlet, paralyzed on what to do, since a veto would affect his candidate Roxas’ chances in the presidential elections. But somebody gave him a scare that SSS would keel over as soon as he signed the pension hike bill. Aquino vetoed the bill on the day it would have lapsed into law, if he didn’t sign or veto it.

One would have expected SSS President Emilio de Quiros, its chairman of Hyatt 10 infamy Juan Santos and its Board of Trustees would have raised the alarm many months ago, since if SSS keels over they would lose their lucrative incomes from it, which averages for each Trustee P7 million yearly, including their honorariums from firms where the pension fund has investments. But nothing, we’ve heard nothing from them. They’re useless commissioners.

A responsible SSS President and board would have come up with different scenarios on how much the pension should be raised, and how to raise the needed funds. I bet the funds raised if SSS’ shares in Union Bank, Philex Mining, and Belle Corp. were sold would be enough to cover for a few years the added cost of raising retirees’ monthly pensions. But I’d also bet the SSS board would never make such a suggestion, since they’re getting millions of pesos in honorariums and expense accounts from these firms.

Only now are we told by Aquino that the pension increase would cost P56 billion and would deplete the SSS’ reserve funds by 2029. But why didn’t he tell this to his party which controls the Congress that passed the law, so that the nation wouldn’t have been shamed that we have a lazy, irresponsible, and incompetent legislature we can’t trust to pass laws? Why didn’t SSS go to town and spend its huge PR budget to explain the issues?

My conspiratorial mind made me think that maybe Aquino had junked Roxas as his candidate and ordered the SSS to keep quiet, for him to make his veto announcement as close as possible to the elections, a torpedo for Roxas’ candidacy.

But the SSS has been Roxas’ turf, really. Other than the newest commissioner Michael Alimurung, formerly assistant executive secretary, the SSS commissioners are controlled by Roxas, starting with its president De Quiros and its chairman, Juan Santos of Hyatt 10 ignominy. Commissioner Diana Pardo-Aguilar was put there in 2010 by Roxas, her being the daughter of his close friend Jose Pardo. Commissioner Ibarra Malonzo, a leader of the Associated Labor Union (ALU) is vice-president of the Liberal Party for Mindanao. Recently appointed commissioner Eva Arcos is Malonzo’s comrade at the ALU. Bienvenido Laguesma was Roxas’ colleague in Joseph Estrada’s Cabinet.

So why didn’t they alert Roxas about this SSS impending pension-hike boo-boo? It’s certainly ironic that a state company Roxas had insisted be put under his aegis, would sabotage his candidacy.

I guess it’s everyman-for-himself now in Aquino’s sinking ship, and the mantra now is his favorite injunction, “Bahala na kayo sa buhay nyo.”