59 years of faithful service to the nation

column-susie buganteON September 1 the Social Security System (SSS) will celebrate its 59 years of faithful service to the Filipino people—just one year shy of being a senior corporate citizen. But they say, as institutions go, the SSS is still pretty young and, hopefully, still has so many more years to go in the service of the private-sector workers and their families.

Did you know that the idea of setting up a social-security program for private-sector workers gained impetus in the aftermath of World War II, when thousands of Filipinos lost their lives or became disabled fighting the Japanese invaders?

Seeing the devastation the war inflicted on the country’s economy and people and with hardly any funds to provide long-term financial assistance to those affected by war, then-President Manuel Roxas, in his State of the Nation Address in January 1948, urged Congress to establish a social security system for the wage earners and low-salaried employees. Roxas died before a bill was passed.

He was succeeded by President Elpidio Quirino, who created a social security study commission, which drafted the Social Security Act that was submitted to Congress. However, it was not until the term of President Ramon Magsaysay that the bill was passed into law in 1954, known as Republic Act (RA) 1161 or the Social Security Act of 1954. Due to strong opposition from the business and labor sectors, it was not until September 1, 1957—a day after Magsaysay’s 50th birthday—that RA 1161, as amended by RA 1792, that the SSS was opened to the public. This was during the term of President Carlos Garcia, who pursued the passage of the SSS law after Magsaysay’s untimely death in March that year.

After 59 years and starting with a seed money of P500,000 from the government, the SSS now has an asset base of P474.7 billion as of end-June this year, serving over 34.2 million members. The prudent management of its members’ funds has yielded an average net revenue of P35 billion during the last five years.

Last year it paid more than P112.5 billion in benefits to more than 3 million members and beneficiaries. Also, more than 1.5 million members have availed themselves of loans—salary, educational assistance, housing—amounting to over P30.7 billion.

It is worth mentioning that to make its services more accessible and more convenient to members, SSS has opened a total of 291 branch, service and representative offices nationwide and in select countries abroad. Considering the millions of members it serves, these offices are not enough to give more efficient delivery of services. Thus, SSS has made use of information technology to provide online services, including SS number issuance, sickness and retirement benefit applications, salary loan application and many others. It has also made it easier for members to contact SSS for information or other concerns through its 24-hour telephone service at 920-6446 to 55 or through its toll-free number of 1-800-10-2255-777, available Monday to Friday.

Recently, in June 2014, it granted a 5-percent across-the-board increase in pensions, while in August last year the funeral benefit was increased from a fixed amount of P20,000 to a variable amount ranging from a minimum of P20,000 to a maximum of P40,000 depending on the total number of contributions and the average monthly salary credit.

So, why can’t it grant the P2,000 pension increase being clamored by its pensioners? While SSS, as a matter of principle, is not opposed to improving the lot of its pensioners, it cannot do so at the expense of the program and the entire membership. The additional pension will translate to at least P56 billion annually on top of the regular pension payments. In order to raise this amount, SSS will have to liquefy part of its investments and this would mean a reduction in its income. If this situation continues unabated, it could lead to the brankruptcy of the system. If, however, additional funding is given by way of an increase in the rate of contributions or through government subsidy, that might be another matter.

It cannot be denied that the SSS has been faithful in fulfilling its mandate of providing social-security protection to its members during the last 59 years. With the help of its stakeholders, workers and the employers alike, as well as the government, it can be a stronger institution able to provide its members with more meaningful benefits.

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For more details on SSS programs, members can drop by the nearest SSS branch, visit the SSS web site (www.sss.gov.ph), or contact the SSS call center at 920-6446 to 55, which accepts calls from 7 a.m. on Monday all the way to 7 a.m. on Saturday.

Susie G. Bugante is the vice president for public affairs and special events of the SSS. Send comments about this column to susiebugante.bmirror@gmail.com.

 

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