By MARYA SALAMAT
The “Government has always been wary of providing the people with much needed support but is ever ready to ensure the profit of foreign investors through various forms of incentives including providing sovereign guarantees to private multinational corporations.”
MANILA — Levy Carpio, 85, clutched the iron grille of the gates of the SSS main offices along East Avenue and appealed to two nearby security guards inside the compound. This Friday morning, January 6, she, like other senior citizens with pension, went to the SSS because she is required to present herself there at the start of the year. This is to prove to the SSS that she is still alive and thus qualified to continue receiving a monthly pension.
But this Friday, she tottered to the SSS only to find to her dismay that all its gates facing East Avenue were closed. There was a police mobile and a black SUV parked right before one of the entrances; there were policemen and more than usual security guarding the closed gates.
The guards directed her to walk further along East Avenue and turn to the next corner to Gate 7. The arthritic pensioner and her also senior cousin said that would be painstaking.
The seeming threat that prompted the guards to lock the SSS gates was the ongoing picket protest by mostly women or seniors from communities of Anakpawis Partylist and fisherfolk Pamalakaya. They were demanding the implementation of the P2,000 ($40.48) pension hike. It had been approved twice in Congress and unequivocally promised to the pensioners by President Duterte himself.
Carpio told Bulatlat that she also wants the immediate implementation of the SSS pension hike. She is one of the few with relatively higher monthly pension because, as she explained, her husband was an engineer and he died on the job at ABS-CBN. Still, she yearns for the promised pension hike to add to her budget for maintenance medication and other needs.
She thinks the issue of SSS pension hike is that crucial that in her opinion, “if Noynoy Aquino had approved rather than vetoed the proposal, Mar Roxas might have won the election.”
Having failed for the time being to enter the SSS gates, Carpio did not hesitate in joining the picket protest when she and her cousin were invited.
‘Social Security is a social service’
Speaking at the picket protest, former Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap emphasized that social security is a social service. It is not supposed to be treated or run like a business. But he noted that the economic team of President Duterte, much like that of former President Aquino, is treating the SSS funds as if these were mostly just for enriching a few rather than helping the millions who actually built up the funds.
In frustrating the demand for pension hike, the SSS executives claimed they are guarding the SSS fund life, but as Anakpawis pointed out, they are also richly rewarding themselves with bonuses and per diems and helping big businesses by investing some of the funds in their projects.
In a statement, Anakpawis also belied the claims of Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno. These officials said it is not the taxpayer’s duty to shoulder the needs of the pensioners, and that the pension hike is not feasible. Along with Pernia’s warning that the pension hike would inevitably need a corresponding increase in the contribution of SSS members, all these, according to Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, are the very same “twisted and brazenly anti-people” justifications used by the Aquino administration.
The Anakpawis Partylist Representative said statements like these only reveal how the Philippine government is more in service of capitalists than the working poor and the majority.
“Government has always been wary of providing the people with much-needed support but is ever ready to ensure the profit of foreign investors through various forms of incentives including providing sovereign guarantees to private multinational corporations,” Casilao said.
Anakpawis and the rest of the progressive partylist groups under the Makabayan bloc find it hard to accept the ease with which the government can allot billions of pesos in public funds to guarantee the profits of companies in private-public partnership projects. Yet, when it comes to allotting funds to fulfill the mandate of the Social Security System, finance officials are tightfisted.
The progressive partylist groups also refuse to swallow the excuses dished out by Budget Secretary Diokno who wants the public to distinguish between candidate Duterte and President Duterte. Diokno said in a press conference that candidates could promise some things without fulfilling it.
Casilao said statements like that betray the barefaced crookedness of the economic managers such as Diokno and Pernia, and expose the rotten state of affairs in Philippine politics. “Statements like these show that election seasons are mere occasions to lie to the people so that politicians win and gain power,” Casilao said.
President Duterte has promised that “change is coming.” His predecessors through different sound bites had also promised changes. Former President Aquino, for example, promised change when he presented himself as “untainted” and vowed he would be unlike former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But he ended his term with as much if not more corruption scandals, extra-judicial killings and unchanged if not worse extent of poverty — while the rich got richer, according to Ibon Foundation.
The picket protest at the gates of SSS was just one among many which the progressive groups vow they will hold in the coming months. They urged the public to help broaden the reach of the campaign saying the country’s aging pensioners need to enjoy a part of the fruits of their labor in the brief time they still have.
After concluding the picket, the protesters took down their placards and banners and gathered in their jeep. Before leaving, some tried to appeal to the guards to open the gate for the arthritic Mrs. Carpio and her old cousin.