Belmonte gives up on pension-veto override

By Jovee Marie Dela Cruz.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Thursday dashed all hopes of over 2 million Social Security System (SSS) pensioners who are praying for Congress to override President Aquino’s veto of the bill increasing their monthly pension by P2,000.

Belmonte, in an interview, admitted it would be difficult for the House of Representatives and the Senate to gather the needed two-thirds votes to override the presidential veto.

“As you can see, it’s hard to muster a quorum now and we need two-thirds votes of everybody not just the people who are present but everybody [to override the veto],” Belmonte said.

Under Article VI, Section 27 of the 1987 Constitution, Congress could pass a bill into law despite the President’s veto if two-thirds of the members of each chamber vote for its approval.

At least 194 of the 290 remaining House members would have to vote to approve a vetoed measure.

House Majority Leader and Liberal Party Rep. Neptali Gonzales II also admitted that overruling President Aquino’s veto was next to impossible.

“In my experience as a member of the House, there were no records that Congress ever override the President’s veto because it will require two-thirds vote of all the members of both houses of Congress…it will be hard because of this requirement of the Constitution,” he said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, one of the principal authors of the pension bill, said the Makabayan bloc will file a resolution overriding the presidential veto on Monday.

“We are challenging  the leadership of the House of Representatives and the Senate to override President Aquino’s veto. The Makabayan bloc will still push through with the campaign to override the veto of the P2,000 pension hike,” Colmenares said.

“There are several members of the lower chamber, some came from the majority bloc, texting me to say that they will support my proposal to override the President’s veto,” he added.

At least 211 lawmakers have voted to pass the P2,000 pension hike on final reading at the lower chamber.

Colmenares said the P2,000 pension hike is very reasonable and is badly needed by  pensioners and their dependents.

Earlier, Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian of Valenzuela said his political party is considering the call for an override of the presidential veto.

“Actually, the NPC is considering the [override] call as a party. We believe our senior citizens should get fair assistance from the government. We’re contemplating the override. The NPC is the second biggest party [following the Liberal Party] in Congress with over 50 members but we’re still studying that until now,” Gatchalian said.

Belmonte said members of the ruling Liberal Party, of which he is vice chairman, are free to decide their own actions.

“As far as I’m concerned [they can] decide on their own,” he said.

Liberal Party Rep. Roman Romulo of Pasig said the SSS pension fiasco could have been avoided if the administration had made use of the Legislative-Executive Advisory Council (Ledac) to iron out differences on the proposed law.

“The Executive could have made its position clear earlier on, through the Ledac, so the issues now being raised in defense of the President’s veto would have been threshed out and settled,” Romulo said.

“The ruling majority have raised the expectations of our senior citizens and their families by passing this proposed law and will, as it is said, reap the whirlwind,” Romulo said.

The lawmaker, meanwhile, said that he will back a motion to override the President’s veto but admitted that it may not pass because the ruling majority has bowed to the will of the Executive.

“Our credibility as an institution, as one of the three pillars of government, has been eroded because we do not stand by our word. Congress proposes but the Executive disposes,” Romulo said.

“The Ledac is there precisely to make sure that we, who are sworn to serve the people, do not waste public funds by going through exercises in futility,” he said.

Belmonte said the Senate should pass the House of Representatives-approved measure empowering the SSS board to increase contributions of its members so the pension agency could provide a pension hike.

“I urge the Senate to simply approve our second bill enlarging the powers of the SSS board, and once it becomes law, they can increase the pension without Congress intervention,” he said

According to Belmonte, House Bill 6112 will help SSS to avoid bankruptcy as a result of the pension increase proposal.

The leadership of the lower chamber is pushing for P1,000 pension increase as compromise to the P2,000 pension hike, which was recently vetoed by President Aquino.

“We want to pass it [House Bill 6112 into law] now…[so the SSS] will give the P1,000 pension hike,” Belmonte said, adding, “the SSS board itself can approve it [the pension hike] without having to pass through Congress once the bill empowers the SSS board to increase premiums is passed.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Serge Osmeña observed that Mr. Aquino did the right thing in  the Congress-approved SSS pension-hike bill without specifying its funding source, as doing so would have also influenced bond issues and trigger higher interest rates.

According to Osmena, there were pitfalls in the bill missed by administration critics attacking President Aquino for depriving SSS pensioners of the additional P2,000 benefit, instead of approving a popular measure favoring retirees.

He said the SSS pensioners unknowingly paid the sacrifice that saved the Philippines from a potentially disastrous credit downgrade.

“If the President did not veto the bill, our ratings by Standard & Poors, Moodys, will go down. And that will affect our bond issues,” the senator said.

Osmeña added: “Our interest rates will go up. So we really have to follow the advice of our financial managers, in this case, the Department of Finance, when they say you can’t sustain this…”

Osmeña clarified that he voted in favor of the bill and would vote anew to override the presidential veto if a funding source for the P2,000 pension hike is specified. Otherwise, he said it would be a “suicide” move that would adversely affect the 31 million members of SSS.

As for the reported fat salaries and hefty bonuses collected by SSS officials, Osmeña suggested that the Senate can conduct an inquiry into it.

“If they want that investigated, we can investigate but that is very small compared to P56 billion a year,” referring to the cost of the additional P2,000 monthly pension to be paid SSS member-retirees.

“If you take one of their bonuses into consideration, it would add up from P50 million to P100 million a year, but you cannot compare that to P56 billion,” he said.

This developed even as senators are inching closer to mustering the 16 signatures needed to meet the two-thirds requirement to override President Aquino’s veto of the pension hike bill.

Sen. Francis Escudero, said to be one of its initiators, indicated that at least 11 senators have already signed the override resolution, but declined to name the signatories.

Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., in a separate interview, told reporters majority of the senators favor the override option.

Asked if he had signed the resolution, Marcos replied: “Yes…because I am in favor of it.”

Informed that Senate President Frank Drilon was questioning the resolution, insisting senators should wait for the House to act first to reverse the veto, Marcos shrugged off such concerns, saying: “Be that as it may, it is a Senate resolution. If the majority of the members of the  Upper House agree, that is a clear expression of the sense of the Senate. We feel, the P2,000 pension hike should be given.”


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