WITH only nine session days remaining before the presidential campaign, senatorial candidate Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Sunday urged the House and Senate to break the impasse and approve the P226-billion Salary Standardization Law that would benefit 1.53 million state workers.
Romualdez made his appeal after the Senate in December remanded the salary standardization bill to the plenary to include the indexation of the pension of retirees from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.
As Congress resumes session Monday, Romualdez urged his fellow lawmakers to come up with a “win-win” solution to salvage the approval of the pay hike.
“We should not let many Filipino families suffer a double whammy as a result of the non-passage of SSL-4 and the vetoed SSS [Social Security System] bill on pension hike. I believe that members of the House and the Senate will do their best to extend compassion to our state workers,” said Romualdez, who leads the House independent minority bloc.
Upon the motion of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, who introduced a number of amendments, the approved SSL-4 version was sent back to the plenary for refinements last December.
Enrile pushed for the indexation of the pension of retirees from the AFP and the PNP by including them in the SSL-4, even though the measure was already being reconciled by the bicameral conference committee.
House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II expressed hopes that senators would not insist on the amendments because the inclusion of retired PNP and AFP personnel to the SSL-4 would cost P20 billion in the first year of its implementation alone.
“The measure was as good as approved until the Senate moved for the reconsideration to include PNP and AFP retirees in the planned salary hike. While we support their inclusion, we will be having serious funding problem for this,” Gonzales said.
He said the SSL-4 was not itemized and a presidential veto on certain provisions is not permitted.
“If the President vetoes the Senate amendments, the entire bill is vetoed. Anyway, we will find a way to reach a compromise, but seriously it would not look good if Congress approves the proposal without a guaranteed funding for the proposed amendments,” Gonzales said.
Romualdez said Congress has few remaining session days left starting before adjourning on Feb. 5 to give way to the national campaign that will begin on Feb. 9.
“We only have very limited time and we should focus these remaining session days on showing compassion to our state workers,” Romualdez said.
“Congress will have to break the impasse. We are committed to pass this very important legislation to extend malasakit to our state workers. They really need economic relief to decently support their basic needs,” Romualdez said.
The SSL-4 is funded under the newly signed P3.002-trillion General Appropriations Act of 2016.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said it did not include AFP and PNP retirees in the planned salary adjustment, apparently because it would bloat the already huge amount of public funds the program would entail.
Abad said the pay hike would cost taxpayers P226 billion over four years: P57.906 billion in 2016, P54.393 billion in 2017, P65.976 billion in 2018 and P47.544 billion in 2019.
At the same time, Romualdez also urged his colleagues to continue studying the possibility of showing greater compassion to ordinary workers like teachers and nurses by further increasing the salary of low-level and middle-level employees during the next Congress.
“I suggest to reduce the performance-based bonus so that we can generate funds to support basic salary instead,” Romualdez said.
The House through House Bill 6268 or the SSL-4 2015 has adopted Malacañang’s version to modify the compensation and position classification system of civilian government personnel and the base pay schedule of military and uniformed personnel.
The measure will increase the salary of all government workers and would grant them a 14th month pay in the form of a mid-year bonus.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said the salary standardization bill was among 34 measures the Senate seeks to pass when sessions resume Monday.
Drilon said leading the package of Senate bills to be approved is the proposed Salary Standardization Law IV (SBN 2671), which will introduce a higher compensation system for all government employees, including nurses, teachers and soldiers.
He said the SSL IV seeks to attract more professionals into the public workforce by making compensation for all civilian government personnel competitive with those doing comparable work in the private sector.
“Even with the elections drawing close, we have much work to do in the Senate. We intend to make good on our promise to the Filipino people on the start of the 16th Congress that we will help the poor, widen the delivery of education and other social services and improve the economy,” he said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta
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