Goodbye to the SSS champions at the Senate

The graduating senators, Senators Franklin Drilon and Ralph Recto, and one re-electionist senator who failed to win another term at the Senate, Sen. Richard Gordon, will no longer be members of the Upper Chamber when the 19th Congress of the Philippines convene on July 25, 2022, but they will be surely missed by the million members of the Social Security System (SSS).

No members of the present Senate had worked harder than these three gentlemen to enact Republic Act 11199, otherwise known as the Social Security Act of 2018. The new law that repealed the 21-year-old Social Security Law, RA 1161, as amended by RA 8282, aimed to rationalize and expand the powers and duties of the Social Security Commission and secure the long-term viability of SSS. It was signed into law by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on February 7, 2019 and took effect on March 5, 2019, 15 days following its publication in the Official Gazette. Its enactment was hailed as one of the landmark social legislations approved during the Duterte administration.

Senate Bill 1753, which became the proposed law, was principally authored and sponsored by Senator Richard Gordon, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises. It received bipartisan support both from the majority and minority members of the Senate. In the committee meetings and in the plenary deliberations, Senators Franklin Drilon and Ralph Recto worked hard to improve the features of the bill and to include pertinent provisions that redounded to the best interests of the workers in the private sector. SSS and its members found no better advocates and champions in pushing for better reforms of our social security system. The unqualified support of the Senate leadership, primarily that of Senate President Tito Sotto and Majority Leader Migz Zubiri who had given priority to the bill, had ensured its smooth passage. The bill was also co-authored by Sotto, Zubiri, Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Cynthia Villar, Antonio Trillanes, Joel Villanueva, JV Ejercito, Win Gatchalian and Nancy Binay. It was unanimously passed by the plenary with zero opposition and no abstention on its third and final reading. During the Bicameral Committee Conference, the Senate panel was represented by Senators Gordon, Recto, Drilon and Win Gatchalian. The Lower House contingent led by Congressmen Prospero Pichay and Mark Go adopted the Senate version. And the President wasted no time in signing it into law after a thorough review by Malacañang.  

With the most brilliant minds in the Senate working together to obtain optimum benefits for our SSS members, significant provisions were added to the bill and incorporated in the law. Among its salient features was the rationalization of the powers of the Social Security Commission, the policy-making body of SSS, allowing it to expand the investing capacity of the pension fund to generate better income for SSS for the benefit of its members and pensioners. The minimum and maximum salary credits, which determine the death, retirement and disability benefits, were increased from P1,000 to P2,000 and P16,000 to P20,000, respectively. The minimum and maximum MSCs were further increased by P1,000 and P5,000 every other year, respectively, until the minimum hits P5,000 and the maximum, P35,000. Implementation of the additional monthly benefit of P1,000 for retirement, death and disability pensions retroactive to January 2017 was included in the law. Inclusion for the first time of an SSS unemployment insurance program for members under age 60 with at least 36 monthly contributions who become involuntarily unemployed was another major enhancement. The benefit consists of 50 percent of the member’s average MSC payable for two months. This was designed to help the unemployed member financially during the time that he or she is looking for a new job. At no time has the benefit of this unemployment insurance been greatly felt by hundreds of thousands of qualified SSS members who lost their jobs during this pandemic. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez reported last year that P2.35 billion or 90 percent of the cash grants under the SSS unemployment insurance benefit were released during the pandemic period from March 2020 to June 2021. About 200,000 members of the pension fund had received the benefit by June 2021. Another salutary provision included in the law was the compulsory SSS coverage for Overseas Filipino Workers  under age 60. Before this new law, SSS coverage of OFWs was purely voluntary. There are about 2.5 million OFWs but just about 1/5 of them are covered members. When they lose their jobs overseas, the former OFWs may opt to continue their membership voluntarily to enjoy full benefits. Our lawmakers addressed the long-term viability of the system and the sustainability of its fund life by increasing the employer and employee contribution rates from 11 percent to 12 percent effective January 1, 2019. The employer contributes 8 percent and the employee 4 percent, which is the same ratio as applied before. The combined contribution rate will increase by 1 percent every other year until it reaches 15 percent in 2025. After the initial increase of contribution to 12 percent, further increase was deferred due to the financial crisis brought by the pandemic. Likewise, compulsory membership of OFWs was also postponed upon appeal of some interest groups. I trust that these setbacks will be temporary and that the full provisions of the law will be strictly implemented for the benefit of all the covered members. National interest should prevail over political expediency.

The new SSS law reflects the wisdom and the vision of Senators Gordon, Drilon and Recto who worked hard to produce a new version of a social security act that responds to the needs of our ordinary workingmen outside the government. Their collective experience as outstanding public servants and their individual expertise as a dedicated relief worker, an eminent labor lawyer and a trained economist translated into a social legislation that will hugely benefit the SSS members and their immediate families. As the principal author and sponsor of the law, Senator Gordon introduced the measure by claiming that “the bill is an enhancement of the previous laws; it ensures hope that the people would not be a burden to the country, that they are partners of the government not by way of exaction of taxes but by their contributions that their welfare is assured. The bill does not promise an abundance of wealth but to secure people in case they encounter unwanted situations in their lives through a lifeline that they themselves created through their contribution.”

After their illustrious service in the Senate, Senators Gordon, Recto and Drilon will be pursuing their separate lives—Gordon will be immersed in his relief and humanitarian work at the Philippine Red Cross, Recto will have his hands full as a returning member of the House of Representatives, and Drilon will be occupied as an elderly statesman serving as a conscience of the nation. They will be absent in the halls of the Senate. Gordon may no longer fascinate us with his probing questions as he investigates crooks in the government; Recto may no longer dazzle us with his well researched data and statistics as he argues his case; and Drilon may no longer mesmerize us with his mastery of parliamentary rules and legal issues as he mentored his colleagues. Media and visitors at the gallery will miss them in action at the plenary floor, but the over 40 million SSS members and their immediate families will not forget what they have done to secure their future.