“This (supposed increase in income) is misleading because not all workers would have increased take home pay because of the TRAIN. In fact majority of workers would still have the same wages but will have added expenses due to the TRAIN.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – On top of increases in prices of fuel, oil, and sweetened drinks as a result of the Duterte administration’s “tax reforms” under TRAIN, SSS contributions may soon be increased by 14-percent if the SSS chief had his way.
SSS president and chief executive officer Emmanuel Dooc told a Philstar reporter two days ago that the state fund intends to pursue the hike in contribution rates after the start of implementation of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, which raises the take-home pay of a few million Filipinos through an increase in exemptions from income tax.
This doesn’t sit well with Bayan Muna Chairman and former congressman Neri Colmenares. “This is misleading because not all workers would have increased take home pay because of the TRAIN. In fact majority of workers would still have the same wages but will have more expenses due to the TRAIN,” he said.
Colmenares said announcing a hike in SSS contributions right now is the last thing the SSS should be doing. He said everybody will surely oppose it — the employers, the labor sector and the SSS members, because workers’ wages have remained low yet prices are increasing and the “SSS has not even started its reforms to increase collection efficiency.”
If the SSS does its job well and begin improving its collection efficiency and maximizing income from investments, there may not even be a need for an increase in contributions, Colmenares said.
Under the former Aquino administration, the SSS collection was “dismal” at just 38 percent to 42 percent. It collects contributions from only 12 million of its 31 million members. (Note: Only a few of this 12 million will likely see their incomes “increase” due to TRAIN. According to Ibon, the poorest 60 percent of Filipino households or 13.7 million households will continue to have less money under the new tax law. About 15.2 million families who already do not pay income tax because they are minimum wage earners or informal sector workers with erratic incomes will not have any income tax gains. Yet, while not getting increased take home pay, they will have to endure price hikes as a direct or indirect effect of higher consumption taxes, Ibon said. The proposed hike in SSS contributions could potentially add to this.) If the SSS collects contributions and invests well, the SSS funds will be more than enough to fund more pension increases, Colmenares also said.
The Bayan Muna leader urged the SSS to slash the bonuses and perks it is giving to its Board members. These include the more than P200 Million ($3.934 million) retirement package it gave to SSS Board Members in 2009. Also, he reminded the SSS to collect the fines imposed by the courts on employers who violated the SSS law.
Without any positive report on these fronts, the SSS has “no right to increase the contributions,” Colmenares said. On the other hand, he added, Bayan Muna will continue to pursue the passage of the bill increasing the SSS pension in Congress. Aside from the fact that this is why the fund exists for its members, Colmenares said this is the way also to “ensure the victories of our pensioners will not be taken back through an inordinate contribution increase.”
SSS seeking ways to freely increase contributions
Since last year, the SSS has sought to increase the members’ contributions following the approval of the P1,000 ($19.70) pension hike. Amid protests, their planned 1.5 percent increase last year, the first tranche in its planned three-year increases, was not implemented. This year the SSS wanted to push for the increase that did not get implemented last year plus the tranche of increase this year – Dooc said the contributions should increase by 3 percent at least. He cited making it viable for the SSS funds to cover the benefits and the pension. It is the same viability that Bayan Muna Colmenares said can improve without increasing the contributions if SSS improves its collecting and investing job, and lessened its perks for top executives.
The SSS fund’s actuarial life was down to just until 2032 due to the P1,000 ($19.70) hike in pension, Dooc said. But Colmenares and the Kilusang Mayo Uno have countered that before, saying it is not as if the SSS will stop collecting contributions and investing the funds.
Dooc said the SSS has a two-pronged approach to pursuing an increase in contributions. One is through Congress and the other is through President Duterte.
There is a bill pending in Congress seeking to amend the SSS charter. If the lawmakers passed this bill, Dooc said, it will empower the SSS through the Social Security Commission to adjust the rate of SSS contributions. Another way to increase it is through an executive order from the President.