When we compute, we count. And when we count, we take an account, for purposes of accountability. Hence, the term accountable originates from the Latin computare, “to count.” Since much has been discussed as to how a soldier’s pension in the Philippines has been “computed” these days, a historical reference should be drawn for a better understanding by those affected by the pension—the budget fiscal manager and the soldier-recipients of these funds.
It was by the dint of martial law that then President Ferdinand E. Marcos devised a funding scheme separate from the annual appropriations source to support the military pension system. His laudable intent more than half a century ago was to protect “the welfare of those who serve in the Armed Forces of the Philippines after their retirement or honorable separation.” Thus, Presidential Decree 361 providing for an Armed Forces Retirement and Separation Benefits System was created, pursuant to Republic Act 340. It had seed money from the government coffers of P200 million and was supposed to be funded by members’ contribution equivalent to 5 percent (formerly 4 percent) of the soldier’s basic pay, among others. Chaired by the Chief of Staff of the AFP, RSBS or the “System” proceeded to embark on an assortment of projects from lending enterprises to money market and stocks investments, to real estate purchases, to joint venture partnerships, and the like. The RSBS leadership pursued and managed an array of big ticket, if not imposing, investment blueprints supposedly “for the welfare” of the recipients of the fund. The grand plan was sound enough to merit amendments pertaining to membership and rate of contributions via PD 1656 (in 1979) and PD 1909 (in 1984). With all the laudable objectives of the System, however, the tangible results speak otherwise as the funds were grossly mismanaged throughout the years.
The pension for the soldiers remains fully subsidized by taxpayers despite the existence of RSBS, which was created exactly to relieve the national budget of such burden. When I was in RSBS, the actuaries reflected a seemingly unreachable year as to when the System will attain self-sufficiency. Pension is funded through the government’s annual budget. The Commission on Audit submitted an audit observation report that basically said that all payments for said pension remain sourced, before and after the promulgation of the Charter, from the regular annual appropriations of the AFP as set out in the GAA. This led to the deactivation of the RSBS and the transfer of its assets in trust to a government financial institution (GFI) via Executive Order 590 and 590A (in the years 2006 and 2007). Since RSBS has been in the process of winding down its business for several years now, this country is on the brink of financial implosion due to the growing pension needs of soldiers. Worth sharing is that this excruciating problem, which this current administration faces, was exponentially exacerbated when then President Duterte doubled the soldiers’ salaries a few years ago. Per 2021 GSIS report, government needed P848.39 billion annually for the succeeding 20 years just to fund the pension. As this endowment takes up more and more of the Defense department’s budget every year, especially since the retirees’ pensions are adjusted to current levels, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno sounded the alarm! He is wary of a “fiscal collapse,” if the issue is not resolved sooner. The same anxiety was actually shared by former Senator and police general Panfilo Lacson who referred to the pension scheme as a “fiscal disaster.”
The “collapse” or “disaster” has already creeped through the doors of the System long before the doomsday assessment of Secretary Diokno and former Senator Lacson. Those who were entrusted to make the fund grow and attain self-sufficiency in paying the handsome pension of the AFP simply failed in their stewardship duties. Pursuant to the findings of the COA, there are unreconciled balances in the members’ contributions (MC) and estimated liability on MC earnings’ account, amounting to P7.268 billion and P2.294 billion. There are likewise no updated subsidiary ledgers, rendering as dubious the accuracy and correctness of the members’ data as presented. Add to this the dormant accounts receivables, as well as the lack of due diligence in the acquisition of certain real properties. Disturbingly, the leadership of the System, during those investment years, bungled its mission of self-sufficiency due to the lack of accountability as reflected in a few court cases against some of its supposed stewards. In due deference to the leaders of RSBS, the failure in stewardship reverberates in any individual or in some institutions as well. Apparently, “stewardship is often misunderstood, partially grasped, or not on anyone’s radar at all,” to borrow a marketing author’s words. For a believer, stewardship is a calling highlighted throughout the Bible. It influences the way he lives his life for the glory of his Creator—the one true spring of these resources. “Christian stewardship” is therefore distinguished as “the practice of selflessly managing everything we have—our talents, time, money, relationships, health, etc. for God’s glory.”
The leaders in RSBS were entrusted with the responsibility of managing the pension fund, just as God put man in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15 of the Bible). Both were expected to be good stewards. Similarly, all of us are invited to the same calling with regard to time, money and possession, especially with those belonging to others. We are expected to possess stewardship skills—“the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” Among the many eminent aspects of stewardship as ensconced in the Holy Scriptures, the concept of accountability stands out, especially having assumed positions of responsibility in the public and private sector. Accountability in the Bible is predicated on the Parable of the Talents where a wealthy man entrusted gold to servants he had left at home to travel. Upon his return, the master calls his servants to give account for the treasure. Two of the servants doubled the gold they had received by making wise investments. The master commended them: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23). One of the servants, however, was anxious about losing what he had been given, so he hid the gold instead of investing it. His master condemned him for not being a good steward: “Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has 10 bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:27-30). Such is the story of some of the leaders of RSBS whose accountability has been judged by the courts.
The soldier in me shares the sentiment of many others who were hoping that RSBS would have leaders with steward-like qualities. RSBS would have accomplished its singular mission, if only its leaders pursued one of its Ten-Point-Agenda—“Transparency and Accountability.” Some of the characteristics of people with the virtue of accountability are that they desire to grow others, they are disciplined, and, most importantly, they have a code of ethics. True to the very essence of stewardship that whenever anything is entrusted, like those leaders in RSBS back then, there is a fiduciary duty of care and diligence for the gain of its beneficiaries. There is logic behind it being called a Trust fund. But alas, as my niece would say, anyare?
A former infantry and intelligence officer in the Army, Siegfred Mison showcased his servant leadership philosophy in organizations such as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Malcolm Law Offices, Infogix Inc., University of the East, Bureau of Immigration, and Philippine Airlines. He is a graduate of West Point in New York, Ateneo Law School, and University of Southern California. A corporate lawyer by profession, he is an inspirational teacher and a Spirit-filled writer with a mission.
For questions and comments, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.