The 'political show' over SSS pension hike override bid

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 04 2016 09:26 PM

MANILA - Irate senior citizens who lashed out at the House of Representatives plenary hall Wednesday night appear to have just been caught in a political show of politicians.

Breaking his silence on Thursday, House Speaker Sonny Belmonte explained why they adjourned last night's session abruptly without tackling anything four hours after the session was called to order.

Session had been immediately suspended when it started at 4 p.m. When it resumed close to 8 p.m., it was only to adjourn the session, drawing angry emotional chants from senior citizens who waited inside the chilly plenary session hall to see a possible override of President Benigno Aquino III's veto of the P2,000 Social Security System (SSS) pension hike bill.

Bayan Muna Rep. and senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares on Wednesday night said House leaders knew about the plan to override the President's veto. 

"Alam nila na mag-motion to override, pero di namin ini-expect na gaganituhin kami. Di man lang binigyan ng opportunity... This is outrageous. The people should take this up. Dapat i-push natin, dapat mag-convene ang Kongreso if only to hear the override."

For his part, Belmonte explained why moves to override the President's veto fizzled out. 

"Alam nila kung ano ang rason. First of all, dalawa ang pinasa naming bill, na yung isa di pumasa sa Senate. In other words, it is from an actuarial financial analysis point of view, it's unworkable. Yet, it's popular with the seniors."

"Alam nating di kaya ng SSS... Bakit mo pagpipilitan yung P2,000 when you know hindi na reasonable?" 

"Tama ba naman yun? Yung you jampack the House with partisans? Anong point mo doon? You are launching a career, a political career, a political show by getting all of those people? Belmonte added.

'PALABAS LANG' 

Most importantly, he pointed out that when they adjourned, the Senate had already adjourned as well, which means no override can be done since you need a two-thirds vote from both Houses, voting separately for an override.

"Useless ito. I tell you, this overriding thing is just a show because you need two chambers to override," he said. "Kalokohan. Talagang palabas na lang."

He also maintained that there was not enough numbers for an override. While there was no roll call, he said there was a quorum that eventually vanished.

"Itong overriding would require everybody to stand up. Kung hindi ito election period, that's easy to do. But in an election period, it's not so easy to do dahil your heart may be for it, pero your brains tell you 'ano, babangkarotehin natin yung SSS after one to two years?' Nakinabang tayo, binoto tayo, mabait tayong tao, pagkatapos yun namang ipapa-inherit natin sa ating mga successors puro headaches. All of those, they know, alam nila. It was a political show," said Belmonte.

READ: Pass SSS bill hiking contributions, Speaker tells Senate

OVERWHELMING MAJORITY

Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza confirmed they did have plans last night. They knew, however, that they did not have the numbers.

"Kung nagdebate, malamang di mananalo ang aming kagustuhan. They have an overwhelming majority. Why did they have to do it? That way, binastos ang miyembro ng Kongreso," Atienza said, adding their microphones were killed when they attempted to speak.

"I condemn in the highest term what (Majority Leader) Boyet Gonzales did. I know he's the architect of that effort. Mabuti pa palitan ang pangalan ng Kongreso. Kongreso ni Boyet Gonzales ito. I feel I was bullied for the past three years," he said.

Bayan Muna confirmed they only had 57 congressmen backing the override on the record.

"Many senior citizens came here with the hope to witness the override of President Aquino's veto of the P2,000 SSS pension increase. They braved the heat of the sun and the rains to lobby their congressmen to vote for the override, and then suddenly the House leadership unceremoniously and abruptly ended the session without allowing a vote on the override motion. There was a quorum last night with at least 213 congressmen in the House premises according to the House Secretariat itself. This means the majority did not have the votes to quell the override and decided to even sacrifice the passage of their priority bills like the PPP bill just to avoid losing the vote on override," said Colmenares.

OVERRIDE VETO SIGNATORIES 

Colmenares' office released the following list, which included majority members. 

Signatories to the resolution on override veto (as of February 3, 2016, 7:45 p.m.):

1. Rep. Ronaldo B. Zamora (San Juan, Lone District)

2. Rep. Thelma Z. Almario (Davao Oriental, 2nd District)

3. Rep. Roman T. Romulo (Pasig, Lone District)

4. Rep. Silvestre H. Bello III (1BAP)

5. Rep. Jose L. Atienza Jr. (Buhay)

6. Rep. Ana Cristina Siquian Go (Isabela, 2nd District)

7. Rep. Samuel D. Pagdilao (ACT-CIS)

8. Rep. Martin Romualdez (Leyte,1st District)

9. Rep. Evelina G. Escudero (Sorsogon, 1st District)

10. Rep. Juan Johnny R. Revilla (OFW)

11. Rep. Irwin C. Tieng (Buhay)

12. Rep. Nicanor M. Briones (Agap)

13. Rep. Luzviminda C. Ilagan (Gabriela)

14. Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate (Bayan Muna)

15. Rep. Antonio L. Tinio (ACT Teachers)

16. Rep. Terry L. Ridon (Kabataan)

17. Rep. Fernando L. Hicap (Anakpawis)

18. Rep. Emmi de Jesus (Gabriela)

19. Rep. Neri Colmenares (Bayan Muna)

20. Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz (ABAKADA)

21. Rep. Enrique T. Garcia Jr. (Bataan, 2nd District)

22. Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian (Valenzuela City, 1st District)

23. Rep. Angelina L. Tan (Quezon, 4th District)

24. Rep. Napoleon S. Dy (Isabela, 3rd District)

25. Rep. Mark M. Enverga (Quezon, 1st District)

26. Rep. Florencio T. Flores Jr. (Bukidnon, 2nd District)

27. Rep. Isidro S. Rodriguez (Rizal, 2nd District)

28. Rep. Rose Marie J. Arenas (Pangasinan, 3rd District)

29. Rep. Mercedes C. Cagas (Davao del Sur, 1st District)

30. Rep. Aleta C. Suarez (Quezon, 3rd District)

31. Rep. Leah S. Paquiz (ANG NARS)

32. Rep. Bellaflor J. Angara-Castillo (Aurora, Lone District)

33. Rep. Victor J. Yu (Zamboanga Del Sur, 1st District)

34. Rep. Lilia Macrohon-Nuno (Zamboanga City, 2nd District)

35. Rep. Mar-Len Abigail S. Binay (Makati City, 2nd District)

36. Rep. Susan A. Yap (Tarlac, 2nd District)

37. Rep. Gus S. Tambunting (Paranaque City, 2nd District)

38. Rep. Giorgidi B. Aggabao (Isabela, 4th District)

39. Rep. Pryde Henry A. Teves (Negros Oriental 3rd District)

40. Rep. Harlin C. Abayon (Northern Samar, 1st District)

41. Rep. Jeffrey D. Khonghun (Zambales, 1st District)

42. Rep. Joseph Stephen S. Paduano (ABANG LINGKOD)

43. Rep. Amado S. Bagatsing (Manila, 5th District)

44. Rep. Diosdado Macapagal Arroyo (Camarines Sur, 2nd District)

45. Rep. Rodolfo G. Biazon (Muntinlupa, Lone District)

46. Rep. Arnel U. Ty (LPGMA)

47. Rep. Agapito H. Guanlao (Butil)

48. Rep. Edgardo R. Masongsong (1-CARE)

49. Rep. Rogelio Neil Pepito Roque (Bukidnon, 4th District)

50. Rep. Celso L. Lobregat (Zamboanga City, 1st District)

51. Rep. Noel L. Villanueva (Tarlac, 3rd District)

52. Rep. Aurora E. Cerilles (Zamboanga Del Sur, 2nd District) 

53. Rep. Jose T. Panganiban Jr. (ANAC-IP)

54. Rep. Pedro B. Acharon Jr. (South Cotabato, 1st District)

55. Rep. Ferdinand L. Hernandez (South Cotabato, 2nd District)

56. Rep. Manuel M. Iway (Negros Oriental, 1st District)

57. Rep. George P. Arnaiz (Negros Oriental, 2nd District)

"We will get the signatures of many other members of Congress like Cong. Echeverri who signified his commitment to sign. Hopefully, we will have more than 192 signatures when session resumes on May 23, 2016," said Colmenares.

"We ask senior citizens to continue calling or writing their district congressman to ask them to vote for the override once Congress convenes. Tuloy pa rin ang laban para maibasura ang veto ni Aquino at mapatupad pa rin ang SSS pension increase."

Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, however, rebutted Atienza, saying: "Maliwanag walang numero. Ang mangyayari magsasayang ng kuryente. Alam ng lider ng Kongreso na walang numero. Mas mabuti pang huwag sayangin ang oras sa debate."

But ACT Teachers Party-List Rep. Antontio Tinio said, "Pero inutusan na rin iyan ng House leadership na magsiuwian na yung majority."

"Kung napansin niyo, unti-unting lumalabas yung majority. Takot sila," added Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said.

'WE DON'T WANT TO EMBARRASS PNOY'

According to Belmonte, they also did not want to embarrass the President, saying Aquino should be given a chance to act on the SSS.

"Ayaw naming itali yung kaniyang kamay. Ayaw din namin to embarrass him in any way. Give him this time and I think he will consider that," Belmonte said. "The stage was ready made for a show, for a side show. Ako mismo ayokong maging part of a side show."

He said they really had nothing major planned last night, except for his usual speech before each break.

Belmonte, however, assured pensioners they will not be left empty-handed, revealing that the SSS board is working on a pension hike of maybe P1,000. 

"We're very hopeful. Hindi naman papabayaan ni Presidente... Everybody agrees we cannot leave it like this. So they are working on it. I myself have suggested this number, magbigay tayo ng P1,000. Kung gagawa ka ng one-time across the board, it has to be much bigger amount than that, we can give one time thing mga P10,000," he said.

READ: PNoy defends 'heartless' veto on SSS pension hike

OTHER BILLS

Noticeably, the adjournment came with Congress failing to pass the proposed Salary Standardization Law (SSL), the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the proposed freedom of information (FOI) law, and the proposed anti-political dynasty law.

Belmonte said the executive will now have to implement the first tranche of the SSL as the bill remains caught in bicameral deadlock over a proposal to index the pension of retirees to active employees salaries even if there is no budget for it.

"Saan kukunin yung pera? Since walang nag-contribute, saan kukunin yung pera, since wala namang investment, kukunin iyan sa bulsa ng tao through the GAA [General Appropriations Act]. And it will continue to eat up a big portion of the GAA. It needs a lot more study. It cannot be done at the spur of the moment," he said.

He said they can still discuss the SSL when they reconvene, but only if the impasse has been resolved. If they are still deadlocked, then it will have to be refiled in the 17th Congress.

TINIO VS TRILLANES

Tinio, for his part, blamed Senator Antonio Trillanes IV for Congress' failure to pass the proposed new SSL.

Tinio blasted Trillanes for leaving the country in the midst of a deadlock between the chambers of Congress on the final version of the pay hike bill. The senator reportedly left for the United States "on official mission" last week.

Tinio pointed out that Trillanes is the chairperson of the Senate Civil Service Committee in charge of the proposed SSL 4, and as such, headed the Senate delegation to the Bicameral Conference Committee tasked with reconciling the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

"What sort of elected official goes on a trip abroad in the middle of contentious bicameral talks, making it virtually impossible for Congress to pass the bill before the recess? This is gross dereliction of duty on his part. His twisted priorities and self-indulgence means that 1.5 million government employees will not receive the salary hikes and bonuses that they desperately need," said Tinio.

"SSL 4 would have provided pay hikes from January onwards. As it stands, Congress can only work on final approval of SSL 4 when it resumes session on May 23. In the meantime, public sector employees get nothing, thanks to the good Senator."

ON BBL

As for the BBL, Belmonte gave assurances he is supportive of the measure, but with amendments. He said the BBL will get its time, eventually, just no longer in the 16th Congress.

"I want to liken it also to very significant laws that have been passed by Congress under me. Yung reproductive health (RH) bill was languishing in Congress for almost 20 years. Yung sin tax languishing for almost 12 years. Yung fair trade, anti-trust, yan din more than 12 years... Itong Bangsamoro bill is in that category. It's a bill that you cannot just ram down the throat of people. There will come a realization na kailangan ito," the Speaker said.

Atienza had doubted the leadership's support for the BBL because they have failed to muster a quorum.

"Nakita niyo, pag gusto ipasa, gagamitin ang bilang at kapangyarihan. The mere fact na di magka-quorum, ibig sabihin ayaw ng liderato," he said.

Atienza also reiterated that the January 25, 2015 Mamasapano encounter was providential to the fate of the BBL.

As for the FOI bill, Belmonte said it will also have to be left to the next administration. "Sabi ko, darating at darating. It's really unfortunate, this is not the time," he said.

Belmonte, however, pointed out even the anti-political dynasty bill got some headway under his watch, even if it also did not pass.

"That, I think, is moving in spite of the fact na di namin naipasa," he said.

Belmonte said, generally, the House already achieved what it wanted to do. "Many of them are virtually finished. A lot of them," he said.