Coalition of Services of the Elderly, Inc.

Leave no senior citizens behind: CSOs, lawmakers call for passage of universal social pension system

Quezon City— Civil society groups, international organizations, and lawmakers push for urgent passage of universal pension to include three million senior citizens who are missed out in the current pension system or neither receive social nor contributory pension.

Despite the recent reforms in the Philippine pension system – the increase of social pensioners to 2.8 million indigent senior citizens beginning 2011 to 2017, and the increase in amount of Social Security System (SSS) pension – approximately 40% of Filipino senior citizens are still left out – no pension. In order not to leave out any senior citizen especially the ‘missing middle,’ the Social Pension Program under Republic Act 9994 or Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010 must be amended.

“The Philippine pension system currently caters only to salaried formal sector workers through contributory schemes, and the poorest through the state-funded social pension. This leaves out in the middle the significant section of the senior citizen population,” explains Ms. Emily Beridico, Executive Director of Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE).

The ‘missing middle’ in the pension system belong to a large proportion of more vulnerable senior citizens whose incomes are too meagre to contribute to social security earlier in their lives, but who fail to meet the strict eligibility criteria for the current social pension. They are mostly farmers, fisher folks, drivers, street and market vendors, unpaid family caregivers, low income Overseas Filipino Workers and even the government contractual employees who receive no benefits like SSS.

Of the 29% of senior citizen receiving contributory pension, about one-fifth 22% are getting from the SSS. However, as in countries with high levels of poverty and informality, coverage of contributory pension in the Philippines is unlikely to increase significantly in the near future.

“Sa totoo lang, bagamat ang manggagawang impormal ang pinakamarami sa mga may trabaho (halos  3 sa bawat 4, ayon sa ilang estima),  ipinakita ng mga nakaraang pag-aaral na kinakatawan nila ang wala pang 14  porsyento ng mga miyembro ng SSS na self-employed; maliit na  porsyento lamang nito  ang nakakabayad. Ibig sabihin, bihira sa mga manggagawang impormal ang nakakatanggap ng pensyon mula sa SSS,” says Trining Domingo, president of Homenet Philippines.

The social pension for indigent senior citizens is along the path of closing the gap between those with and without pension.  However, it still has a long way to go as the current pension system in the country excludes the “missing middle” (by design), and even many of the poorest older people because of the targeting errors.

“Proposed House Bill 5638 removes the criteria of indigence as requirement to receive a social pension, as long as you do not receive pension from any contributory scheme, you will be entitled to a social pension,” explains by main author, Congressman Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol Partylist.  The newly proclaimed Senior Citizen Partylist Representative Milagros Aquino-Magsaysay, fully supports this proposal and says, “This is a monthly stipend that lessens their dependence on their families and minimizes the stigma that they are burdensome to our society.

 

At least two Senate Bills recently filed try to address the financing of universal social pension.  Sen. Sonny Angara’s Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Bill (Senate Bill 1592) includes a provision guaranteeing a fiscal space for universal pension that would benefit the existing non-pensioners.  Sen. Risa Hontiveros’ initiative, on the other hand, proposes to increase in the 2018 General Appropriations Act the allocation for current social pension program in order to cover all senior citizens without pension.

This initiative is also supported by the multi-sectoral coalition Buhay na may Dignidad para sa Lahat (Dignidad) that has been campaigning for universal and comprehensive social protection system. Dignidad Co-convenor Dr. Rene Ofreneo remarked, “we have been waging a campaign, not only for higher pension benefits for SSS members, but also for adequate social pension for all Filipino seniors – members or not of the SSS. A universal social pension is part of the “social floor” or social protection floor actively promoted by the United Nations and the International Labor Organization (ILO) among the member-states.”

The ILO Philippine Country Director, Khalid Hassan also emphasizes, “Social protection for older persons is a human right. Universal pensions, as part of social protection floors, has an impact in the reduction of inequalities, promoting sustainable and inclusive growth, and has the potential to contribute to human capital development and social stability.  The Philippines has great potential and can learn from policies and experiences of countries in the world and in the region, such as Thailand, China and Timor-Leste."

“Ang bawat nakatatanda ay may kontribusyon sa lipunan, kaya dapat, lahat ng nakatatanda ay may pensyon. Ipasa na sa madaling panahon ang Universal Social Pension,”demands by Dioscorro Benalla, president, Confederation of Older Persons Associations of the Philippines (COPAP).

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