Posts Tagged ‘SSS’

Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino will assume his presidency with a few landmines from his predecessors. Landmines mean–in this case–political ones that can cut short his budding presidency.

First in the list are the various midnight appointments that the soon-to-be former president made, particularly to constitutional appointments, fixed-term posts, and positions under charter laws. These appointments cover either strategic positions, such as the chief justice or the AFP chief of staff position or key positions such as those in the  GSIS, SSS, PAGCOR boards.

These appointments are designed to place GMA loyalists in a position to hinder or even prevent presidential prerogratives. These also hamstring the new president in the exercise of his powers and prevent financial resources from being mobilized immediately for his government. Of course, the latter becomes more serious when placed within the context of a bankrupt treasury and huge budget deficit.

The second on the list is the possible establishment of a hostile Congress. There is the crucial battle for leadership and dominance in the House of Representatives. The new president cannot afford to have a hostile leadership in this house for the latter cannot only obstruct presidential plans and programs but can potentially unseat him through an impeachment process.

No less important is the election of a friendly Senate president which denotes control of the majority in the upper house. In a situation where major reforms are to be undertaken, a cooperative Senate is a must.

Third on the list are the various laws, executive orders, and DOJ opinions passed by a sycophantic Congress and fashioned by a survivalist and rapacious presidency. All of these are designed to facilitate the plunder of government resources and public wealth, and prevent recovery or prosecution.

All these have to be attended to, preferably in the first hundred days of the Aquino administration. Otherwise, there is a grave danger of a short-lived Aquino government.

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As expected, president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) was a litany of accomplishments and a list of motherhood intents. It was obviously given within a political framework of offsetting her unpopularity and defending her political position.

The most glaring tendency appeared when she started blaming the global oil and food crisis for the local crisis regime of high prices. Later on, it appears that she cited accomplishments by her former appointees who had just been booted out and replaced by her more loyal people. This was the case in the Ombudsman and in the Social Security System–two institutions whose leadership were replaced at the height of their credible performance.

She made a spirited defense of the extended Value Added Tax (eVAT). Basically, she argued that it taxes more the rich and that, if rescinded–even if only for oil and oil products, it would not necessarily lead to relief from the high price regime. It, she averred,  would only deprive the government of necessary funds for targeted subsidy and other services to the poorest people.

There is a half-truth hiding in these arguments. EVAT on oil and oil products, even if the majority of direct consumers are the rich, is invariably passed on by them to the poor because of their control over the levers of production, services, and exchange. This is why it is called a regressive tax.

EVAT therefore leads to higher prices of all commodities affected directly or indirectly. A simple suspension or rescinding of the eVAT on oil and oil products will therefore ease pressures where it counts–on higher prices of all products related to or influenced by its price. Progressive income taxation can easily replace eVAT through cancellation of tax exemptions for many big businesses, banning of tax holidays, and pegging the tax on corporations to their real profits. If sacrifices have to be made, it should be made by those who are in position to give up more money.

Agrarian reform law extension is a desirable target. So are the various services enumerated for the poor. However, the inclusion of the pro-Catholic position for natural family planning as the whole of government policy on population diluted any progressive reform content of these proposals. It betrayed the GMA administration’s fear of her unpopularity and its obvious cultivation of the Catholic church hierarchy to prevent people power or prevent the translation of the economic crisis into a serious political crisis.

In sum, the well-choreographed SONA speech by president Macapagal-Arroyo is a well-calculated pitch for her continued political survival. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Secretary Romulo Neri has not yet sit in as SSS chairman but news already came out that SSS is being prodded by the Presidential Task Force on Education (of which he is a member) to undertake a program of funding the education of the sons and daughters of SSS members. If this is the future direction of SSS under Neri’s tutelage, then we are witness to the same road that GSIS has taken under Winston Garcia–departing from its essential mandate and subjecting social security funds to government whims and caprices and, possibly, corruption.

GSIS, under Garcia, is already a milking cow and lost most of its investible funds. What is essentially happening here is a variant of the notorious “pyramid scheme” where insufficient new collections from GSIS members are relied upon to answer pension and other payments to retired government employees. GSIS investment funds are tied up with essentially non-liquid investments such as real estate, stocks, and paintings.

Worse, they have been (and are) being used for business takeover bids, such as the one in Meralco and currently the car insurance business–in defiance of government policy of privatization.

The government bid to takeover Meralco, of course, is suspicious in itself because those involved in the Meralco bid are talking of bidding out Meralco–once it is taken over–to private sector. The Cebu-based Garcias and Aboitezes (who owns many Visayas and Mindanao power companies) are close business allies. They are also in Union Bank–the only bank authorized to issue GSIS smart cards to GSIS members.

There are also speculations that recent winners (Razon and you-know-who) in the bidding for Transco found out that they cannot get much out of it if major power distributors like Meralco cannot be forced to get all their power through it. Ironically, the much-maligned IPPs such as the Lopez-owned ones) provide a leveraging alternative to the monopoly that Transco-Napocor combine is.

The educational scholarship program proposed for SSS, on its face, will benefit families of SSS members, particularly college students. Thus, the argument goes, it is still within the mandate of the institution. For two major reasons, this should be vigorously opposed by SSS members. First, it diverts funds for retirement and other direct benefits to SSS members (with families or not). More importantly, it brings government–through CHEd and other social welfare agencies under the Neri-led National Social Welfare Program task force–into SSS decision-making and operations. Where it has no business doing.

If the CHEd educational scholarship program is to be a guide to what will happen, we should be aware of two historical features–not generally known even up to now–of this program. First, this was used in the 2004 presidential elections–along with the more infamous PhilHealth cards to curry votes from the electorate. It can be used again (in the grand tradition of  P500 dole-outs to poor power consumers) to lull opposition to the hopelessly unpopular GMA administration. Second, the constituencies of GMA political allies (congressional and local) were the ones who got the bulk of these scholarships as determined by a list prepared by Malacañang itself.

Corruption is a constant suspicious companion in these political decisions. In this particular moment of political transition to a post-GMA era, the people in her administration are all over the economic landscape, trying to make hay while the sun has not yet set.

As an SSS member myself, I could only echo the just-kicked out SSS president Cora dela Paz message to all SSS members–be vigilant, be very, very vigilant. Your social insecurity may already be just around the corner.

Nobody wants to be like the retiree of GSIS or AFPSLAI–old but not secure in their old age.

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‘Tis the season for presidential appointments. Leonida, Tagle, Sotto, Neri, Ducut–these are names in the front pages these days. After the first round in May, the new round–only beginning–promises to be more wide-ranging, affecting more senior jobs, and more indicative of the GMA (or more precisely the GMA administration) political agenda in the next six to eighteen months.

The first two appointments caused a stir not because the appointees are well-known and highly credible for the Comelec commissioner’s job they were appointed to. Rather, it was because they were virtual unknowns, not in any list submitted by either of the citizen search committee or the presidential selection committee.

When later, Executive Secretary Ermita said that these two were in the twenty names submitted to Malacañang, it was a dead giveaway because there were only ten names submitted through the presidential selection process. As such, the initial reaction of electoral reform advocates was to put these two in grave doubt. They have a lot to do in order to assure their credibility before the people. It also adds further to the burden of the Commission on Elections to regain its own institutional credibility.

Former senator and defeated TU senatorial candidate Tito Sotto was appointed chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board. It must be conceded that he had the background on the issue since his days in Quezon City as Vice-Mayor. Of course, the eradication of the drug problem is another matter. Incidentally, the position was raised to Cabinet level.

Commission on Higher Education chairman Romulo Neri of the ZTE-NBN fame (or notoriety?) was transferred to the chairmanship of the Social Security System, coinciding with the formation of the National Social Welfare Program headed by the SSS chairman. He also obtained Cabinet rank.

Former Pampanga representative Zenaida Ducut hails from Lubao and has the distinction of being a friend and classmate of GMA. She was appointed acting chairman of the crucial Energy Regulatory Board.

These four appointments created a buzz. Speculations abound that the Comelec appointment is tied to the desperate charter change initiative. The weakest point of this initiative is the huge unpopularity of GMA and widespread opposition to any hint of her extending herself in power beyond June 30, 2010 and to charter change under her tutelage.

In the charter change scenario, the decisive battleground will be the ratification plebiscite (if the initiative gets this far). The Comelec will then be crucial. The appointment of the seventh commissioner will either confirm or disprove this speculation.

The Sotto appointment is obviously a political payback. Similar appointment of defeated Team Unity senatorial candidates are expected in the coming days. This trend constitutes a part of the political consolidation by the GMA loyalists–possibly within the scenario of extension of her stay in power.

The Neri appointment can be interpreted as part of the consolidation process and basically was done to ensure and maintain loyalty in times of political transition and uncertainty. As in his appointment to CHEd chairmanship, the appointment to SSS will certainly provoke more controversy.

Aside from its implication of her personal closeness to GMA,  the Ducut appointment will certainly raise a few eyebrows because of the sensitivity of the post (and of course the huge implications of the subject matter on government fund sourcing, inflationary impact, and Meralco tussle).

The criteria of competence and integrity, as well as the principles of transparency and accountability are the victims in the current appointment. The imperatives of political survival prevailed. Political appointment, where is thy logic?

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