ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas
Millions of Filipinos are beginning to realize that they have been taken for a ride again by politicians who make promises that they either did not really intend to fulfill or they did not even weigh if doable or not. We are a hopelessly hopeful and trustful people that many of us take these promises as basis for electing their leaders.
For instance, then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte vowed during the campaign that he would rid the country of drug pushers and users in six months even if he was told that eliminating 3.4 million drug pushers and users and completely eradicating the country’s illegal drug trade would be impossible to do even in one or perhaps, even his entire six-year term.
But millions, who were understandably frustrated by the nagging problem, believed him and elected him to the presidency. Now, the brutal drug war has become a growing nightmare that has only fueled a culture of death and impunity in the country. Worse, it has divided the people into those who didn’t care about human life and the rule of law, and those who still give value to compassion and justice.
Another major promise that was bound to be broken was that he would rid the country of corruption. In the very first general appropriations act – a whopping P3.35-billion budget — that he signed as president, the much-maligned and illegal graft-ridden pork barrel system remained, albeit in a more hideous form, as revealed by Sen. Ping Lacson.
“Change is coming? Maybe, but it’s pork allocations changing hands from the Liberal Party congressmen [under the previous administration] to those from Mindanao,” Lacson said sarcastically in a statement to the media.
“To put a veil on their post-enactment participation, in connivance with those in the executive branch, the legislators now identify their projects prior to submission of the budget to Congress, during the budget deliberations and even during the bicameral conference,” Lacson said in an interview.
Still wondering why despite having only three elected congressmen from his party and one in the Senate, Duterte is tightly in control of both chambers of Congress? Duterte, a long-time politician raised in a political family, is not naïve to not know that to control Congress, he should have the resources or the “grease from the pork” to make our honorable congressmen and senators toe the line. Voters are the ones who were too naïve to believe blindly a promise made during a political campaign.
Duterte made several other promises that some supporters are beginning to realize was just that, a campaign promise. But this one would hit them directly and is certain to trigger much louder protests – the promise to increase the meager SSS pensions as early as this month.
Millions of SSS pensioners, many of them receiving a measly P1,200 a month in retirement pension, were looking forward to a happy new year with a promised increase of P2,000 a month starting this month.
During his first press conference as president-elect in May in Davao City, Duterte said the Social Security System (SSS) pension is in place precisely for employees to save up to their elderly years when the time comes for them to retire. He said the current amount of pension at P1,200 is not enough for the elderly to afford their medical needs.
Duterte even castigated his predecessor, President Benigno S. Aquino III, for vetoing the bill that would grant pensioners an across-the-board increase of P2,000 a month. Aquino had said that granting the increase without a corresponding hike in members’ contribution would render the SSS bankrupt by 2029.
“Tama pala si Aquino,” Duterte seemed to say when he expressed the same concerns raised by Aquino, which is the same reason raised by Duterte’s economic managers in advising the President to reject the proposal.
The militants rightfully protested at once.
“Change has come, they say, and yet Duterte and neoliberal-minded economic advisers are repeating exactly the same flawed justification made by former President Noynoy Aquino to veto the SSS pension hike,” said Anakbayan chairperson Vencer Crisostomo.
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said Duterte could not keep the promise to increase the SSS pension by P2,000 now that he is President. Diokno was basically admitting that Duterte the President is different from Duterte the candidate. So, is he admitting that the 16 million who voted for him were shortchanged?
Duterte promised to look for a win-win solution to the SSS pension increase dilemma. The Duterte economic managers are saying the SSS pension increase is only possible if the members’ contributions or premiums are correspondingly raised.
Pensioners and militants are saying the pension hike is possible without increasing contributions by taking aggressive legal steps to collect over P367 million in premiums and penalties from 139 delinquent corporations and employers that have been remiss in their responsibility under the SSS law and by stopping payment of millions of pesos in bonuses to SSS officials and commission members every Christmas season.
Others are saying that the SSS needs to hire investment experts to make sure the agency is making wise investments with the members’ money.
Pension experts, including former SSS executive vice president Horacio Templo, who now writes a column for the Manila Standard, believe all of the above are needed to enable the SSS to increase pensions while ensuring the stability of the pension agency.
So why not grab the bull by the horn and implement all these proposed actions, including increasing the members’ contributions, to address once and for all the need to increase the monthly pensions of retirees, who obviously cannot get by with the minimum P1,200 monthly pension, instead of promising to raise it every election and not being able to do it?
The same Duterte economic managers – Diokno, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez and Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia – have been blamed for many of Duterte’s failed promises, including the promised two-year ban on land conversions and the ban on “endo” or contractualization, among others.
Duterte promised so many pro-people actions and yet appointed neo-liberals and capitalists to important Cabinet positions, and now the millions who voted for him are realizing presidential candidates would promise even the heavens to get their votes.
The poor had been had again.