BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Friday, April 1, 2011

Reforms in the Social Security System

By Iris Cecilia Gonzales   
Thursday, 31 March 2011

Security and protection: SSS is mandated to promote an effective security system for Filipinos against hazards from maternity, sickness and old age among others. But at times, poor quality of service and lack of system has denied its citizens the protection they deserve. JES AZNAR
Security and protection: SSS is mandated to promote an effective security system for Filipinos against hazards from maternity, sickness and old age among others. But at times, poor quality of service and lack of system has denied its citizens the protection they deserve. JES AZNAR
Most people look forward to retirement after years of working day in and day out. And with retirement, everyone looks forward to reaping the fruits of one's labor in the form of a retirement pension or associated benefits.

Through the years, however, retirees from the private sector have found themselves disappointed with how thin their checks were.

Marcelino Constantino Jr., now 65, worked as vice president of a trading company that went bankrupt. He nonetheless worked for at least 20 years in the company but was surprised to receive only PhP 1,200 (USD 30) in monthly checks from the Social Security System (SSS), the state-owned pension fund for private employees, when he retired.

He would later learn that his employer failed to remit monthly contributions to the pension fund.

Constantino says there should be a way for the SSS to check and go after employers or companies that do not remit employees' contributions.

In an interview with the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP), Emilio de Quiros Jr., the country's new SSS president and chief executive officer said this is going to be one of the improvements of the agency under the Aquino administration.

"They (companies not remitting monthly contributions of their employees) are criminally liable. What I've done is to centralize all the lawyers now to report to the head office and we're now requiring them to report to employers and make sure they are checking them. Those that have been remiss in collecting delinquent loans will also be held liable," De Quiros said.

The problems surrounding SSS, however, do not stop at the neglect or the irresponsibility of employers.

"What we really want is to improve service delivery," De Quiros said.

SSS mandate

The SSS is mandated to fulfill the government's policy to "establish, develop, promote and perfect a sound and viable tax-exempt social security system suitable to the needs of the people throughout the Philippines which shall promote social justice and provide meaningful protection to members and their families against the hazards of disability, sickness, maternity, old age, death and other contingencies resulting in loss of income or financial burden. Toward this end, the State shall endeavor to extend social security protection to workers and their beneficiaries.

SSS benefits include the following:

Sickness benefit. This is a daily cash allowance paid for the number of days a member is unable to work due to sickness or injury. A member qualifies for sickness benefits if he or she has had at least three months of contributions within the 12-month period immediately before the semester of sickness has been paid.

Maternity benefit. This is a daily cash allowance granted to a female member who is unable to work due to childbirth or miscarriage. Another condition is that the member has paid at least three monthly contributions within the 12-month period immediately preceding the semester of her childbirth or miscarriage.

Retirement benefit. This is a cash benefit given in monthly pension or lump sum to a member who could no longer work due to old age. Those qualified are members who are 60 years old, separated from employment or ceased to be self-employed and has paid at least 120 monthly contributions prior to the semester of retirement.

Although the SSS is less controversial or not as deluged by complaints as its counterpart for government employees, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), there have been complaints as well mainly in the delay in getting their SSS identification cards (IDs).

Benjo Quinajon, a graphic artist, said it took three months before he was able to receive his.

"Why did it take too long?" he asked.

The card is a major requirement to be able to claim one's SSS benefits. The process has become more tedious now because the SSS is soon to come up with a new ID.

"SSS stopped issuing the old cards because it is now waiting for the UMID," De Quiros told the PPTRP.

The UMID or the Unified Multipurpose Identification System is the new system conceptualized by the previous administration.

With it, citizens can have just one ID they can use in transacting with all government agencies such as the SSS, GSIS and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth). This plan, cemented during the Arroyo administration, will cost roughly PhP 1.689 billion (USD 39 million) in taxpayers' money.

De Quiros said that under the Aquino administration, the SSS has decided to push through with the plan because a decision has been made already.

"Rightly or wrongly, a decision has been made in the past to stop issuing the old cards. We should be able to accept the system in two months. We have about 600,000 cards that we intend to produce. We should be done by April," he said.

Members have already complained over the delay in the release of the cards. Some overseas Filipinos bound for Taiwan, for instance, have experienced problems with their visas because they did not have SSS IDs to show to the embassy.

Last month for instance dozens of OFWs supposedly bound for Taiwan were unable to leave because they did not have SSS IDs. The ID is among the new requirements of the Taiwanese government before it issues visas for Filipinos seeking work there.

Because of this problem, the SSS was forced to put up an express lane solely for Taiwan-bound OFWs.

"For whatever reason, SSS stopped issuing the old cards because they're now waiting for the UMID. Once we accept the system, we can release it. The object of that card is that the moment you have that card you are identified with SSS," De Quiros said.

Under the Aquino administration, De Quiros said the goal is for SSS to be a service-oriented agency. One of the planned projects is for it to come up with a system wherein members can check how much they have contributed already and in the process, find out how much they will get when they retire.

De Quiros also wants an agency that can provide fast and efficient service for its 29 million members.

"After a year, my dream is to be able to create an environment similar to a bank. If you need something you line up similar to a bank," De Quiros explained.

However, he said that such improvements would come at a price. Another plan is to increase the amount of contributions a member is required to pay.

"Right now we have 29 million members but in terms of those who are regularly paying, we only have 8 and half million.”

Another area SSS wants to work on is the overseas Filipino workers (OFW) market. "We want to reach out to the OFW market by encouraging them to be SSS members," De Quiros said.

Ultimately, the goal is to bring up the number of people who will contribute regularly, De Quiros said. A working and efficient pension fund should come automatically especially because taxpayers deserve to see where their money goes. Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project