MANILA - Malacañang defended President Benigno Aquino III from criticisms alleging his lack of compassion for senior citizens following his veto of the Social Security System (SSS) pension hike.
In a radio interview on Saturday, Undersecretary Manolo Quezon III of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) noted that the administration has carried out a number of policies that uplift the lives of senior citizens.
One of the examples he gave is the mandatory PhilHealth coverage for all senior citizens, which was implemented in June 2015. The measure benefited 4.8 million senior citizens who were enlisted under the program.
The policy was done upon amendment of the 2010 Expanded Senior Citizens Act, which was signed by President Aquino in 2014.
"Ang naging batayan nito ay ang 2010 Expanded Senior Citizens Act na pinirmahan noong Pebrero 2010," Quezon noted.
He also noted that some indigent senior citizens are beneficiaries of the government's "augmented social pension."
"Kasama sa batas na ito ang isang probisyon na dagdagan ang pondo para sa medical needs ng mga indigent senior citizens sa paraan ng P500 monthly pension," Quezon added.
According to Quezon, around 937,556 senior citizens are under the social pension program, from 2011 to May 2015.
He added that the government has adjusted the age limit for senior citizens who will qualify for the indigent senior citizens' pension.
According to Quezon, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) prioritized senior citizens aged 77 years and above from 2011 to 2014.
In 2015, senior citizens from the age of 65 also qualified for the program, with around 760,736 indigent senior citizens benefiting from the program in that year alone.
BETTER SSS BENEFITS SINCE 2011
Quezon further explained that SSS pensions increased by five percent in 2014, with funeral benefits increasing from P20,000 to P40,000, depending on the number of contributions and average monthly salary credit of the member.
SSS, likewise, put up the Personal Equity and Savings Option (PESO) fund, which is a voluntary provident fund that allows more avenues for members' retirement security.
Together with the national government, SSS also opened a P7-billion educational assistance loan program in 2012. As of June 2015, over P3.1-billion worth of loans have been disbursed for 67,299 qualified student beneficiaries.
Quezon also explained that the SSS implemented two penalty condonation programs in 2011 and 2012 to allow delinquent beneficiaries to join the SSS again. Some 406,421 delinquent members benefitted from said program.
For Quezon, Aquino did the right thing in vetoing the proposal asking for P2,000 across-the-board increase in SSS pension.
"I think we should understand the President’s reasoning in doing this. Lahat naman ng bumabayad ng SSS ay mga miyembro nito at may obligasyon ang pondo na mabayaran sila at pati ang mga benepisyo," he said.
READ: PNoy defends 'heartless' veto on SSS pension hike
Several lawmakers have expressed dismay over the President's move, saying it was anti-poor and anti-senior citizen.
Senatorial aspirant and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said he would work on having the Congress override the President's veto.
Meanwhile, militant group Anakbayan slammed the President saying that he may look into a smaller P500 increase for the SSS pension.
''Epal at papogi ang P500. Milyon-milyong bonuses ang binibigay para sa SSS officials pero pinapalabas nila na walang pera para sa senior citizens," said Anakbayan national chairperson Vencer Crisostomo.