Aside from the much-criticized fat bonuses at a time when the funds’ sustainability was supposedly in danger, thus requiring a hike in members’ contributions, it turned out that the SSS executives have been receiving as much as $1,859 per month just for attending two board meetings, and its CEO flies abroad every two months, first-class.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — As President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino strives to shore up his decreasing approval ratings, more information about his appointees in government corporations helping themselves to public funds through fat bonuses and “incentives” continue to become known.
Yesterday, KMU members picketed once more the SSS main office in Quezon City, demanding the immediate return to the workers’ fund of the P10-million (more than $232 thousand) bonus its board decided to give themselves last year. The group condemned Malacañang’s defense of the bonus, saying the Aquino government should go after members of the SSS board under the previous administration for having pocketed huge bonuses, and not use it as an excuse for the current board’s huge bonuses.
The labor group derided Malacañang’s talk of “good performance” of the SSS board, saying it is very far from good when “SSS members get meager benefits and are ordered to go through circuitous processes and stand in long lines just to avail of their benefits,” KMU chairman Elmer “Bong” Labog said.
Aside from the much-criticized fat bonuses at a time when the funds’ sustainability was supposedly in danger, thus requiring a hike in members’ contributions, it turned out that the SSS executives have been receiving as much as P80,000 ($1,859) per month just for attending two board meetings. And on top of that, “SSS chief Emilio S. de Quiros has been taking trips abroad, first-class, all expenses paid, every two months since he took over the pension agency,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares in a statement emailed to media today.
It appears also that among government agencies and corporations, the executives of SSS are not the only ones enjoying “excessive paychecks and lavish benefits,” as Colmenares puts it. Aside from the SSS, Colmenares said 19 other state corporations have also handed out “management windfalls.”
Colmenares said that among these corporations were the Development Bank of the Philippines (which handed out P10.56 million or $245 thousand to its executives), the Government Service Insurance System (P10.448 million or $243 thousand), and Land Bank of the Philippines (P7.854 million or more than $182 thousand).
In a separate statement, Gabriela Women’s Party legislators criticized another government-owned corporation PhilHealth when they learned it also “showered officials with generous perks on the backs of poor members who will pay twice the premiums starting next year.”
Aquino rewarding allies with share in corruption?
KMU members burned an image of SSS president and CEO Emilio de Quiros during their picket at the SSS gates yesterday. They changed the meaning of the agency’s logo to “Sindikato ng mga Swapang sa Salapi” (roughly, syndicate of the money-greedy). They said the huge bonus is Aquino’s reward for allies in the SSS board. The reward, they said, constitutes the allies’ share of corruption in the government of Aquino, whom they dubbed as the “Pork Barrel President.”
Aside from de Quiros who was known for being the brother of newspaper columnist Conrad de Quiros, who was one of the first to have campaigned for then Senator Aquino to run for the presidency, the other SSS board members include “yellow labor leaders” who the KMU described as compromising of the workers’ interests.
While the KMU has criticized and protested the SSS move to hike members’ contributions, the SSS board including at least three who came from other labor groups agreed to the hike in premiums.
During KMU’s protest in front of the SSS, they questioned the supposed labor representatives in the SSS board: Mr. Daniel Edralin of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (who received P1.12 million or $26,025), Ms. Marianita Mendoza of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (who received P1.02 million or $23,702), and Mr. Ibarra Malonzo of the National Federation of Labor (P1.41 million or $32,764).
The TUCP spokesman said they told Mendoza to return the million-peso bonus, as it had not been discussed with the TUCP. But he added that TUCP leaders had discussed and approved the SSS hike in premium.
KMU’s Labog said that while Edralin and Mendoza may have hinted at their willingness to return the bonuses, “the fact that they decided to get the bonuses in the first place highlights their selfish and anti-worker nature.”
“It seems that the so-called labor representatives to the SSS got their huge bonuses in exchange for their collusion with the Aquino government’s anti-member policies in the SSS, such as the 0.6 per cent increase in members’ premium. They have shown, again, that they are more loyal to their interests than to SSS members,” Labog said.
In Congress where the Makabayan bloc of legislators is urging for the scheduling of their House Resolution calling for a probe on the “immoral bonuses,” Colmenares noted that the expression among a few board members to return the bonus is not enough, “because the whole board should do so.”
Where is justice in corruption?
In urging for a probe on SSS executives’ excessive pay, bonuses and other perks, Colmenares pointed to the “sad irony” that in Aquino’s first State of the Nation Address (Sona), he had denounced the “excessive” pay checks and lavish benefits received by the executives of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS). Aquino at the time berated the members of the MWSS board of trustees who he said received P2.5 million (more than $58 thousand) annually apart from car benefits, technical assistance and loans.”
Colmenares said that today, the same thing “is still happening under Aquino’s watch, and his administration is the one defending it.”
The Makabayan congressman, who is also the senior deputy minority leader, decried SSS’ de Quiros’ “jet setting lifestyle” which, he said, contrasted starkly with the suffering forcibly being endured by SSS members “who have to line up all day just to get a pittance from their contributions, the lowest pension being P1,200 ($28) which is way below the poverty line.”
Meanwhile, Gabriela Representatives Ilagan and de Jesus said that, in relation to the House Resolution they filed calling for an investigation into the awarding of bonuses for SSS board members, “We might need to expand the House resolution to cover all GOCCs, in order to arrest this epidemic.” The women legislators exclaimed that the state executives are “caught in an epidemic of thick-skinned insensitivity, aggrandizing themselves at the expense of taxpayers!”
Representatives Emmi De Jesus and Luz Ilagan have flayed the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) for having defied the Commission on Audit’s admonition against the agency’s self-declared bonuses. The bonuses, said Gabriela representatives, were made even as Philhealth reported a P3.8-billion ($88.3 million) deficit in its reserve fund requirement last year. This deficit, in turn, was the justification cited by Philhealth CEO Alexander Padilla in doubling the mandatory fees being levied on overseas workers and the hike on voluntary contributions for local residents, Gabriela said.
De Jesus emphasized that the budgeted Philhealth subsidies for 2014 has spiked to P35.295 billion ($820.15 million), a 180 percent increase from the 2013 budget. But despite that increase, she warned that patients will still continue to pay higher out-of-pocket costs because of the privatization of health services under Aquino.
The better thing to do, according to the Gabriela solons, is to pare down the budget for Philhealth and re-channel the funds instead to more medicines and vaccines, medical equipment for public service use, increased MOOE for public hospitals, increased salaries of health personnel and the hiring of more health personnel “in order to truly realize a genuine universal health care coverage for Filipinos.”
A similar solution has been suggested by KMU and Bayan Muna Rep. Colmenares: increasing the services and benefits for SSS members and pensions for retirees. Other progressive groups have also pressed the MWSS, and other government corporations, to treat it not as profit-oriented ventures but as services.