Rough Cuts | Many pensioners of SSS are in agony

Yesterday was President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA). But apparently, the issue on the state of the Social Security System (SSS) was not mentioned; unless we missed hearing if it was.

But we wonder if the President would be interested to know about this issue. This year millions of SSS pensioners are hit by a double whammy.

The first whammy is the arbitrary deferment of the release of the second P1,000 from the approved hike in the monthly SSS pension.

The second whammy is the decision of the SSS to terminate the services of certain banks as depositories, or call it conduit, of SSS monthly pensions to retirees. This second act of the pension firm for private employees is, to us, the most ill-advised move by the SSS policy makers.

Now let’s dwell on the first whammy. In a visit by SSS top executive Emmanuel Dooc in Davao City recently he justified the pension agency’s decision not to give the second tranche of P1,000 this year. According to Dooc, this will ensure that the pension fund will not be depleted fast.

But how could such accumulated money of the SSS members be depleted when the agency is also increasing the former’s monthly premium contribution? And surprisingly, Dooc also announced that the SSS is offering pensioner’s loan to as much as P30 thousand to tie them over in this reign of the TRAIN!Where will the SSS source the money that it will extend as loan to the millions of pensioners? We can only think of the same fund from where the monthly pensions are drawn.

On the other hand, the fund, without doubt, could be the same money that the now pensioners have contributed all those years that they have been working. So, they will be borrowing from their own pension and pay interest on the loan they draw from their own money.

Well, whoever thought of that idea must have studied the schemes of the greatest usurers of the world – some kind of shrewd usurious act masquerading as kindness by the SSS.

To say the least, this strategy of the SSS, while noble on cursory scrutiny, could actually end up frying the pensioners with their own lard.

And going back to the second whammy, when the SSS decided to do away with the services of certain banks and transfer conduit of pension funds for retirees to other banks, its outcome came as a lightning striking at noon time.

Imagine the pension firm giving advice or notice of transfer with too little lead time for the pensioners to work for the change of banks!

Let us just take one contiguous areas as a case in point – the third district with Calinan bank branch as the center of pension withdrawals. We are certain that the number of pensioners in these areas is in thousands, not just hundreds. Because of their distance to the downtown area where most banks accredited by the SSS are located, they were referred by the agency to open their pension account with what used to be a thrift and savings bank operating in the area. Naturally, the pensioners with residence in villages surrounding the district center were happy with that facilitative and pensioner-friendly move by the SSS. That was why the pensioners did not even complain when they were asked by the bank to have their ATM cards changed when the thrift bank was bought out by a much larger financial institution.

But with the decision of the SSS to terminate the services of the savings bank and transfer the same to other banks, the normally silent and pliant pensioners suddenly found themselves confronted with serious hassle of movement.

What with the late official communication for them to transfer their pension account! We were personally shared by two pensioners whose ages were already advanced of their inconvenience and physical agony. According to them the deadline for the transfer was June 30, 2018. They received their official notice first week of July. It was a good thing that they heard about the notice by word of mouth. Thus, they were able to inquire at the SSS Calinan extension office four days before the deadline.

But the catch is this. Before the pensioners can transfer their account in any of the SSS-recommended banks they have to first get a document from the SSS that they have to present to the bank. Unfortunately, the pensioners’ agony does not end there. The bank has only so few a number of applications to be processed in a day. The bank gives the applicant pensioners priority numbers. One bank only processes five account transfer applications in one day. Another treats 20 applications.

So what happened, according to our aging pensioner friends, some of them coming from barangays as far as Lamanan, Megcawayan, Marilog, Marahan, Magsaysay, Baguio and other outlying villages have to find relatives and family friends in Calinan for a night or two of accommodation. Some, they said, were forced to sleep on top of stalls inside the public market.

Our friends who live in a barangay about seven kilometers from Calinan, after getting their schedule to be entertained by the bank, left their houses before 3 o’clock dawn to make sure that they could get in the top 20 priority numbers. They finally were entertained after three schedules.

We really do not know if the policy makers of the pension agency are aware that majority of the pensioners are in the twilight of their years. They are already suffering from various physical impairments that are making their movements difficult.

Thus, we see this instruction of the SSS for the pensioners to transfer their accounts to other banks exacerbating the physical condition of the much older of the retirees.

Did not the SSS saw this as so agonizing especially for those retirees with advancing age and living in areas requiring far and difficult travels just to go to the nearest SSS office and branches of banks recommended by the former? Worst, the monthly pension for the month of June for those retirees affected by the disengagement of certain banks’ services and did not make their transfer on the prescribed schedule (June 30, 2018) has already been cut off.

If the SSS does not think of this move as very pensioner-unfriendly, then what is friendly act for the agency and its policy makers?

Posted in Opinion