Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Heartless GSIS

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

I have an aunt who retired from government service a few years back after many years of slaving it out as a public school teacher in Malabon. Just like most other retirees, she is entitled to a pension from the Government Service Insurance System. She started receiving her monthly pension a couple of years ago.

As fate would have it, her petition to migrate to the United States got approved the other year so she has been residing in the US since then. She has petitioned the US government to have her children granted emigrant status as well. The catch is that while the papers are being worked out, she cannot leave the US.

In the meantime, the family needs her monthly pension. Unfortunately, that source of money has been cut off because the GSIS has now decreed that all pensioners, regardless of physical or medical condition, must go to a GSIS office personally to prove that they are still alive and breathing. On the day I accompanied my cousin to the GSIS office to try to find a way to get the monthly pension reinstated (by the way, lest you think that we are talking about a huge amount here, let me caution you that the amount of pension involved is a paltry sum; but then again, these are difficult times so any amount helps) I came face to face with old folks many of whom have crossed seas, traversed mountains and endured Edsa’s toxic gases just so they could prove their existence to GSIS.

One old lady who was barely walking and looked like she needed to be hooked up to a respirator told me that the costs involved for transportation, alalay, food, and other arrangements just so they can make a “physical appearance” was easily equivalent to six times her monthly pension. And, in her own words: “I am not sure I will live that long.”

I don’t mean to sound unreasonable because I am sure the GSIS people have valid reasons for requiring pensioners to make a personal appearance to prove that they are still alive. (The official line from the GSIS is coached in more humane rhetoric, something along the lines of documenting thumb marks and taking pictures for posterity). I have heard of ghastly stories about pensioners who have been dead for decades but remain unreported by relatives just so they can continue to receive the monthly pension. There’s even this utterly macabre story, which many allege to be true, where a grandchild was supposed to have cut off the thumb of his dead grandmother, placed it in a jar of preservative liquid, and used it monthly to claim the pension.

Once the GSIS has verified that the pensioner is still breathing, it will issue an electronic card which supposedly makes life easier for the retirees.

I am sure that the GSIS means well. But what about retirees who can’t physically leave their sick beds, or are abroad and can’t leave? The people at GSIS we talked to offered various theories and remedies, all of which, it turns out, have been tried by my cousins. For example, someone advised my cousins that my aunt should go to the Philippine embassy, get a certification that she is alive and that she still has two legs and two eyes (just kidding about the legs and eyes), have it authenticated, etc. They did. When they showed it to the GSIS people, they were told the documents were fine, but they would still require a personal appearance. Tough luck.

I am sure the GSIS does not really expect all their pensioners to have amazing capabilities to perform miracles just so they can comply with their requirements. Until my aunt acquires the powers of being in two places at the same time, I am afraid the family will just have to wait until my aunt can leave the US (which can take forever and which will cost five years worth of monthly pensions), or until someone at GSIS grows a heart. I am hoping for the latter.

***

In last Monday’s column, I said that since our leaders insist on foisting on the electorate candidates with dubious qualifications or motivations, we just have to keep thumbing down the idea. If it is true that there are no tyrants where there are no slaves, then there will be no incompetent elected officials where there are no gullible voters.

In that piece, I dissed Lito Lapid, Richard Gomez, Tessie Aquino Oreta and Koko Pimentel. I got around 10 text messages from well-meaning friends and relatives telling me to go easy with the critique for my own personal safety and well-being. You can figure out the context of the friendly reminder. It’s another sad reflection of the times we live in where media people have become easy targets for criminals. Thanks, dear friends and relatives. I appreciate your concern, but I am still pissed off so let’s continue where we left off last Monday.

I have this strong gut feel that JV Ejercito is the better politician and would perhaps make a better senator than his brother (and it is not just because he looks better or speaks more coherently). But for crying out loud, one Estrada in the Senate is more than enough. Actually, that statement is not accurate—the incumbent Senator Estrada’s performance is dismal enough and cannot be corrected or redeemed by adding another sibling into the Senate.

If not for the political dynasty issue, I would have nothing against JV Ejercito’s misty eye on a Senate seat. I still don’t agree with his politics and I still will not vote for him. But I will not stand in the way of his lofty ambitions. At least he has proven his mettle as mayor of San Juan. He already has experience in governance. The issue, however, is political dynasty.
Koko Pimentel disgorged a whole load of gobbledygook about why having a father and son or having siblings sitting as senators at the same time in the Senate cannot be construed as promoting political dynasty.

Nice try, Koko, but no cigar.

Pimentel can twist and turn, do amazing logical acrobatics, and pull all kinds of legal arguments out of a bottomless magic hat. The bottomline remains: he and his father will be sitting next to each other in the Senate Hall and everyone knows they are a father-and-son team. Everyone knows Jinggoy and JV and Pia and Allan Peter Cayetano are siblings. That’s three pairs of senators who are very closely related to each other. If that is not political dynasty, I don’t know what is.

6 comments:

snglguy said...

Isn't the constitution very clear on the issue of political dynasty? Aww hell, we might as well throw that piece of paper in the trash can...

vic said...

That kind of rule GSIS has border to Insanity. First pensioners are mostly old people and most are not in the best of health. Maybe the people working in this Agency can not trust themselves, the reason they just can't trust anyone.

My sister just retired last October and resides in the Philippines at the moment, and she can stay there forver if she wish and her pension is remitted to her bank account here automatically and the only benefits she might loss is the universal old age pension after six months that are only given to residents and the health care benefits which can only reactivate after three months upon return. But the pensions which we contributed during our working years are ours until a certificate of death is presented to the authorities and Canada Pension need Not see us in person ever...

Jego said...

It is a sad testament to the legacy of Senator Loi that she doesnt even get mentioned in an article about senate dynasties.

Or are you just being feminist? I mean why bemoan a father-and-son tandem when a mother-and-son tandem is already in place? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Sen Loi? Wow I realize she has really become invisible, she seldom opens her mouth and one gets the feeling that she is still a psychologically abused wife everytime you see her trailing Erap in news clips. Remember the bill she wanted to file about "decapitating" adulterous men which died so quickly (wonder why)? She has been even more silent eversince. Must have been ridiculed to silence. You feel for her sometimes. BUT not enough to like her senator son! That one is blechhh!
Back to that senator wannabe Gomez. He is a piece of work really. Almost fell out of my chair when on camera he was mouthing "an end to political bickering!" when he is known to quarrel even with starlets! I remember him saying to Alma Moreno during her spat with Marquez that she should be thankful he made her an "honorable" woman, or something to that effect. What a chauvinistic ass. Only this morning, my women colleagues and I discovered that we share a very similar dialogue that we hurl at the TV whenever we see his face: and that is "ang kapal mo!!!" Yes, let's talk to all the macho kantoboys in our barangay about this man. ---MommyJo

Jerome aka Bridget Jones said...

hi, bong! just dropped by to give you a big hello! love the new layout.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fellow Citizens:

I am writing to let you know that it's high time Winston Garcia is fired from the GSIS for he is running the GSIS, a service agency, to the ground with his Gestapo-like tactics in implementing the failed eCard program. You may think he is no Gestapo, but he acts like one because of the deleterious effects of its implemention.

He is ruining people's lives since pensioners are not getting the money the government owes them. The GSIS, which is tasked to promote the well being of pensioners through the state pension fund, is doing exactly the opposite -- and to do it to the pensioners in their twilight years is plain and simple criminal if not immoral.

Attached is a blog devoted to this issue. It started with the untimigated disaster that occurred in New York City last March 9.
THE TOTAL MELTDOWN WAS WITNESSED BY A NUMBER OF AMERICANS WANTING TO INVEST IN THE PHILIPPINES AND ARE NOW HAVING SERIOUS DOUBTS.

If this could happen to pensioners in the U.S., how much horror must their local counterparts be experiencing? I did some research on the Internet, and I have had enough of Garcia's lame excuses. He is destroying people's lives, and IT IS TIME FOR GARCIA TO GO.

Attached is a blog devoted to GSIS incomptence. Please share with as many people as you can until Garcia resigns.
http://pierceram2.blogspot.com/

Please pass this on to as many people as you can to create a groundswell for his exit from the GSIS. Pressure must be brought to bear upon Macapagal Arroyo to make her realize that it will be politically expensive for her to keep supporting Garcia.