Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A still heartless GSIS

This is my column today.

I had second thoughts about bringing up my rant against the Government Service Insurance System at this particular point when the institution is being raked over the coils for its supposed nefarious role in the last election.

As many of us know, the contest between Jose de Venecia and Pablo Garcia for the post of speaker of the House of Representatives has made a turn for the worse. They are now hurling unsavory accusations at each other. It’s a rather absurd situation, one that easily brings to mind the cliché “the pot calling the kettle black.”

I suppose this kind of behavior among people who are usually addressed as “honorable” are par for the course in Philippine politics. When our leaders compete for certain positions, they automatically assume the role of gladiators locked in a vicious fight. It gets dirty. It gets bloody. People don’t fight a fair and principled contest. The only consolation we have left is that so far, it hasn’t gotten physical yet, and I fear even that is just a matter of time.

But how did the GSIS get dragged into the political circus?

Garcia happens to be the father of GSIS president Winston Garcia. In another time and place, the fact that chief executives of government companies, such as Winston Garcia, has family members who are politicians would not automatically raise suspicions of nepotism or corruption. They would be given the benefit of the doubt since they obtained their positions through their inherent talents and capabilities. But not today and not in our country. Being in government automatically subjects one to suspicions of being corrupt or at least corruptible.

The scuttlebutt is that the younger Garcia authorized the release of GSIS funds to finance the election of the older Garcia as representative of the province of Cebu. Of course the Garcia camp calls the whole thing preposterous and dismisses it as pure and simple politically motivated canard.

The state fund’s officials have also come to the defense of the Garcias. The gist of the defense is that contrary to what Garcia’s enemies would have us believe, releasing GSIS funds is not a simple transaction. According to the GSIS people, it is a complicated process that requires prior allocation and authorization, and more importantly, subject to stringent controls by the Commission on Audit. I wholeheartedly agree with the part about GSIS transactions being complicated; heck, they are torturously complicated. I don’t know about how stringent the controls are, though.

But so far, I haven’t come across information that would support the accusation that GSIS money was spent in the last election. However, I am not that gullible to swallow that yarn about all financial transactions being legal and moral just because they are audited. There are many ways to do it and as they say “kung gusto maraming paraan.”

Having said that, let me now bring up my rant about the GSIS. Last Feb. 7, I wrote about an aunt and other pensioners who had been having difficulty coping with the institution’s new requirements just so they could get their hard-earned and much-needed pensions. The agency had instituted the new requirements to weed from their list pensioners who continued to receive monthly pensions despite having already passed away.

The agency had required all pensioners to make a personal physical appearance at any GSIS office to prove their continued existence and to provide biometrics (initially fingerprints) that would be necessary for the issuance of electronic cards.

I wrote about how unsettling the situation was when we visited a GSIS office to plead my aunt’s case. We came across pensioners in various stages of exhaustion, respiration, and, well, composition.

I said I understood the rationale for the requirement. There were just too many unscrupulous people in this country who had no qualms about defrauding government, in this case, the GSIS. I knew of many people who continued to receive pension checks even if their pensioner-relatives had already died. It was about time the GSIS, or the Social Security System for that matter, clean their records.

What I ranted about (and what I will continue to rant about until the agency addresses it) was the absence of provisions for pensioners who were unable to come to a GSIS office to prove their existence. I referred to pensioners who were too sick or who were residing in another country.

Government Service Insurance System responded the day after the piece was published. In so many words, it said that my concerns were already being addressed. It said provisions for home visits to pensioners too sick to come to a GSIS office were already in place. In the case of my aunt (who has been living in the United States and couldn’t come home yet since she has pending petition for her children), GSIS said that pensioners in the US would be able to get their e-cards through representatives in certain embassies.

I also received a personal assurance from someone in GSIS that, indeed, something was being done to address the issues I raised.

True enough, my aunt in New York was asked to come to an interview by a GSIS representative who apparently flew to the US to do something that embassy officials could have easily done themselves. But hey, some officials need to travel on official business, so let’s not go there. Guess what happened afterwards?

Nothing—as in nada and zilch. The promised e-cards have not yet been delivered. No answers—to questions on broken promises and forgotten assurances —were given.

And now, the state fund has announced that it needs to do the whole process again because it seems the initial system, which only required fingerprints, is not reliable after all. Now they have switched to a new system that requires voice recognition. They will now require all pensioners to submit to the whole process once again. This means that the barely breathing will have to cross open seas, traverse mountains, and brave Metro Manila’s noxious gases just so they can oblige GSIS on this latest wrinkle.

I will not anymore go into the technicalities of why voice recognition programs are impractical when dealing with pensioners who might soon lose their voices. I wonder what is going to be next when voice recognition fails. Retina scan? DNA matching?

So once again, the parade of geriatrics to GSIS offices has commenced. We’re back to square one. My column last Feb. 7 was entitled “A heartless GSIS.” I hope the people in GSIS begin to grow one soon so they can stop experimenting on pensioners and so that they can begin fulfilling their promises and commitments.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Voice recognition? Holy guacamole! Knowing the Pinoy's penchant for karaoke/videoke, I hope the GSIS rethinks this ridiculous plan. Why? Coz I could already imagine the mode that members would prefer to record their voices is to blurt out a ballad. Hahaha, that would be a great and so sweet revenge! Ewan ko lang pag hindi nila pinatigil yan. Not just a line of song but the whole thing, even from those whose voice could give the GSIS staff in charge some ear infection (oops, Bong).
But honestly, we haven't heard of such a plan because we just recently had been issued a "new and improved" e-card which we can use on atm-like machines installed in key areas to apply for and withdraw loans, would you believe! Hmm someone is making money out of these e-card and specialized machines deals. And take note, these cards expire so we get reissuance, and each time we waste time in long lines for the process of re-recording fingerprints and taking mugshots. Hay nako!
Ciao, MommyJo

vic said...

The process you summarized for your aunt to maintain her GSIS benefits, just makes my stomach turns acidic.

My two sisters are already retired and they never left home doing the paperworks for their pensions, from their hospitals pensions, Government pensions and univeral pensions, and now they can live anywhere in the world and don't have to worry a thing, except the Universal Pensions that are given only to those who resides here (an extended 6 mos.with grace period of 3 mos.(for U.S. stay), of absence is allowed for senior every year).

Frauds? of course there are fraudters, but why punish the rest for the sins of the few?