Juan L. Mercado

Selfie bonuses

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The elephant in the room is a columnist in another newspaper who is known to have backed the presidential campaign of Noynoy Aquino three years ago—and who goes after anyone who dares criticize the President ever since his election.

But no one mentions this columnist’s name in connection with the scandalous bonuses given by officials of the Social Security System to themselves, simultaneous with the announcement that the agency was raising the monthly contributions to the fund of both employers and their workers.

The bottom line is, the head of SSS would never have gotten his current job if he wasn’t a sibling of the Aquino-allied columnist. And now that SSS president Emilio de Quiros is being roundly criticized for giving himself and his board million-peso bonuses while increasing the contributions of members, I wonder if his brother the columnist will come to his defense, as well.

For the scandal-prone Aquino administration, the anger directed at SSS comes at a most inopportune time. After all, in an obvious response to the escalating disgust over the misuse of pork barrel funds, this same government has said that it will hold off on increasing the fares of Metro Manila’s overcrowded light rail trains, a plan that Aquino himself has been itching to implement for the longest time.

Of course, De Quiros’ distribution of million-peso bonuses has already secured the approval of a government agency that monitors compensation for state-owned firms like SSS. In like manner, Malacañang had earlier approved the increase of monthly contributions for SSS members, something Aquino himself had said was needed to extend the actuarial life of the fund.

De Quiros has explained that there is nothing wrong with the P1-million bonuses he gave to himself and to the members of his board, because he has to compensate those who perform well and who might leave for better-paying jobs in the private sector. And after all, the bonuses were not limited to SSS board members; the best-performing 10 percent of the agency’s rank and file also received incentives equivalent to 2.5 percent of their salary, while all the other workers got 1.2-1.5 percent in bonuses, as well.

“If the question is, ‘Is it moral?’  I think it is,” De Quiros said. “We need to be able to get the right individuals to manage the institution. I think you need to hire people with integrity and are willing to work… to encourage people in the private sector to get employed in institutions like the SSS.”

But was this really the moral thing to do?

* * *

De Quiros should have confined his explanation to the legality of the SSS bonuses. Morality—or even propriety —is apparently not really his area of competence, else he would not have accepted a job that he would not have gotten, had his brother not been close to Aquino.

But let’s talk about the morality of the bonuses anyway: specifically, can De Quiros explain why, if he and the other people managing the fund were doing so great, he can morally raise premiums?

Because, if you ask any SSS member and his employer (who will both pay higher premiums starting January), they will tell you the people running the fund cannot be doing such a fine job, if they have to ask for higher contributions. And if you ask any SSS employee who isn’t a member of the fat-cat board about the million-peso bonuses, you will learn that their own 1.2-2.5 percent incentives are not nearly enough, when they already get so little in salaries that cannot be augmented by per diems for board and committee meetings—even if it is they who do all the heavy lifting.

The truly moral—and proper and even logical—thing for De Quiros to do would be to hold off on million-peso bonuses for himself and other SSS board members if these top officials cannot, with all their fine work, prevent an increase in contributions. Or, if De Quiros truly wanted to reward the people in his agency who were performing well, he would have given a lot more to the lowly SSS personnel (especially those who labor on the front lines of customer service) instead of giving P1 million to board members who don’t work the entire week—and who already receive P40,000 per board meeting and P20,000 per committee meeting, the times when they do show up.

Besides, the million-peso self-given bonuses to De Quiros and his board members, even if they really worked hard to get them, could at least have been deferred until a similar scandal that is rocking the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System has been sorted out. After all, under this administration, which has supposedly instituted massive reforms in the old, corrupt system of running state corporations, having the officials of not one but two GOCCs come under fire for feathering their nests with huge “selfie” bonuses and perks at the same time is just too much.

And yes, I know that both corruption and poverty were supposed to be eradicated by this administration. But I’m still waiting for Aragorn to get off his butt and get the job done, at SSS and everywhere else.

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