"Lives may literally depend upon this."
Earlier this month, thousands of pensioners who receive monthly deposits in their savings account from the Social Security System (SSS) were administered a rude shock. The money they needed just wasn’t there.
The SSS Hotline was impossible to reach, as were the trunk lines listed on the SSS website. The website itself offered no information about the missing pension payments on its home page, and to reach a section meant for members, one had to register online first.
A TV report showed elderly pensioners lining up at the SSS Members Assistance Center in Quezon City to inquire about their pensions.
Only a few employees attended to the elders because only a skeletal workforce was there due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This meant a longer time spent in line for the elders, increasing the risk of their exposure to a deadly virus.
Reacting to the TV report, Quezon City Rep. Precious Castelo urged the state-run pension provider to act on the delays and the confusion.
“These are senior citizens who should be staying home. By going out to inquire about their pension, they are exposing themselves to the infections,” she said.
“Our elderly need their monthly benefit, which is barely enough for their medicines,” she said.
An SSS spokesperson said the new schedule was based on the birthday of the pensioners, who were required to register online or at any SSS office. Failure to do so could result in the suspension of their pensions, the spokesperson said.
“Again, why introduce these changes amid the pandemic even if the objective is to save money by discarding the practice of issuing checks? Why expose our senior citizen-retirees to health and physical risks unnecessarily?” Castelo asked.
The SSS has a lot of explaining to do—and must act quickly to correct the situation. Lives may literally depend upon this.
Just last year, President Rodrigo Duterte made a promise to the Filipino people in his State-of-the-Nation Address.
“Our goal for the next three years is clear: a comfortable life for everybody, all Filipinos.”
The SSS, it seems, has not received the memo.
In the classic 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, the captain of a prison farm utters one of the most famous lines in the film: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” He says it, of course, to justify the beating he metes out to the movie’s protagonist.
The officials at the SSS responsible for the recent pension mix-up have clearly failed to communicate. And, while they have not physically beaten anyone, they have certainly inflicted harm on thousands of pensioners—senior citizens who should be spared the distress of discovering that the monthly deposits on which they depend have mysteriously stopped, and the physical danger of having to line up at the SSS Members Assistance Center in the middle of a pandemic in which people in their age group are most at risk.