Funding bugs new law hikingpension of indigent seniors

A DEPUTY speaker on Tuesday said President  Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. should immediately convene the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) to discuss priority legislations and new laws, including the funding for new law increasing the social pension of indigent senior citizens

Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Ralph G. Recto said the executive and the legislative departments should now work together on how to fund the law, which will cost P50 billion annually.

“This year, the Social Pension for Indigent Seniors Program covers 4,079,669 seniors, costing taxpayers P25.01 billion annually,” said Recto.

“Finding the fiscal space to fund this law can be tackled in the LEDAC meeting which I would recommend that President Marcos, in the spirit of inter-branch dialogue, call soon,” added Recto.

The LEDAC serves as a consultative and advisory body to the President as the head of the national economic and planning agency for further consultations and advice on certain programs and policies essential to the realization of the goals of the national economy. It also serves as a venue to facilitate high-level policy discussions on vital issues and concerns affecting national development.

If the bill doubling the monthly P500 pension to P1,000 has lapsed into law, Recto said then it would mean that the budgetary requirement will also double to P50 billion.

“So this is the P25-billion question whose answer will be found in the 2023 national budget that Malacañang will soon submit to Congress,” he said.

“If no funding provision will be made in next year’s proposed appropriations, which is understandable as the budget preparation by the Executive is now at its last mile and only the finishing touches are being applied, then it will be up to Congress to save the law from ending up as an unfunded mandate,” he added.

Recto also reminded that the P50-billion estimated cost only covers the seniors currently enrolled in the program.

“It does not include persons who turn 60 this year, nor those who were already 60 and above but who, for one reason or another, have been left out of the list,” he said.

“One estimate pegs at P60 billion the amount needed to enroll all qualified beneficiaries, including pension-nadas denied of this old-age safety net,” added Recto.

At the Senate, Sen. Grace Poe, one of those who had championed the measure, welcomed the development but expressed hope that it can be properly implemented.

For his part, Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, who had also strongly supported it, conceded that implementing the law as it stands may not be quickly done, given the fiscal constraint. For one, he said, the implementing rules and regulations will have to be crafted. Villanueva said senators are this early looking to review the budget proposals for various agencies— budget season is about to begin —with a view to determining how funding allocations can be tweaked so as to carry out the new law.

Clear red tape

The chairman of the House Committee on Senior Citizens called on implementing agencies to clear away the red tape so seniors will get their P1,000 pension immediately.

Senior Citizen Rep. Rodolfo Ordanes made a statement as the Social Pension Increase for Indigent Senior is now a law under Republic Act 11916.

“RA 11916 is just the beginning. We reaffirm our commitment to all senior citizens that our fight for a universal pension for all senior citizens shall continue. We shall fight on,” he said.

“We are in the middle of the third quarter now, Senior Citizens Party-list appeals to the implementing agencies to do everything they can to get the new indigent seniors pension rate funded, implemented, and disbursed to the beneficiaries by end-September or mid-October at the earliest because seniors most urgently need the cash to cope with rising costs of everything,” he said.

Ordanes said government agencies should clear away all the red tape and technical delays which hampered pension fund releases before.

‘Compromised version’

Former House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate welcomed the enactment of what he described as “long overdue law increasing social pension  from P500 to P1000,” now under Republic Act 11916.

But Zarate, principal author of the measure at the lower house in the 18th Congress, said the “compromised version” of the measure that lapsed into law last July 30 is still wanting, because it should expand the coverage of elderly people who can avail themselves of the increased pension.

“The Senate version adopted by the House of Representatives to expedite its approval still contained the discriminatory provision requiring that an elderly should be weak, sick or disabled before one can be considered an indigent senior citizen to qualify for the pension,” noted the Executive Vice President of Bayan Muna.

“This provision was already removed through the amendments introduced by Bayan Muna and  approved in the House last August 2021, but the Senate version prevailed,” said Zarate, adding that Bayan Muna will engage the 19th Congress for the passage of a bill eliminating the said discriminatory provision.

The amendatory bill increasing the pension had been awaited “for nearly 12 long years by our senior citizens,” Zarate said.

With Butch Fernandez