Gov’t owes PNP, AFP retirees P18B in pension
Friday’s chilly midmorning breeze in Taytay town, Rizal province, failed to temper the anxiety felt by a group of retired soldiers who have been waiting these past 14 years for the Commission on Audit’s decision affirming the release of their accumulated pension arrears.
Retired Maj. Alfonso Besario, the national president and chair of the Conference-Assembly for Unity and Solidarity of Associations in the Armed Forces and Police Retirees, Veterans Pensioners Inc., said that their group of 120,000 retired soldiers and pensioners all over the country, has been “at the mercy of the government for the past 14 years,” as it held back their pension arrears that have so far ballooned to at least P18 billion.
In his address before a small crowd of about 30 retirees and pensioners in Taytay during the organization’s second anniversary, 64-year-old Besario said the arrears have ballooned to P18.4 billion to date, after the government “(failed) to implement well Presidential Decree No. 1638 or the AFP Retirement Law, and Republic Act No. 9166, which allows for an increase of base pay rate and benefits among AFP officers and enlisted personnel.”
The long wait has decimated their ranks, the retired major said, adding that two weeks ago, they lost another colleague to advanced age.
Under the laws cited by Besario, the government was obliged to make a corresponding adjustment to the pension of retired soldiers whenever salary increases were given to active military personnel.
But in the implementing rules and regulations of RA 9166 crafted by then National Defense chief Angelo Reyes and Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin in 2002, the “adjustments for retired personnel weren’t mentioned,” lamented Besario, who served the military for 24 years.
Hence began the accumulation of the differential adjustments since 2000, he added.
On April 29, 2013, the Taytay-based organization, which has a membership of 10,000 retirees and pensioners from 22 organizations, filed with the COA a class suit against the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, demanding the release of the arrears.
No target date
On Aug. 8, 2014, the COA issued a memorandum to the GHQ COA and the AFP asking them to “comply (with) its requirements” by submitting the list of claimants and the funds released to them, according to corporate secretary retired Lt. Col. Buenaventura Aguilar. But the memo did not include any target date for compliance, he added.
Besario was quick to dispel notions that their group was riding on the tide of public outrage against the Aquino administration in the wake of the Mamasapano, Maguindanao clash that killed 44 Special Action Force commandos in a covert operation to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his Filipino deputy Basit Usman.
“What we are looking for is the government’s care [for retirees and pensioners]. We have been begging [the government] to give us [the benefits] we rightfully deserve,” Besario said. “Our members are already dying and yet we are still here hoping. We are looking for care and compassion since we have served well the government, the flag, and the citizenry.”
On Feb. 7, one of the organization’s board of trustees, retired Lt. Reynaldo Magnaye, succumbed to old age. Magnaye was very diligent in preparing the documents needed to ensure that the retirees and pensioners would get what was due them, Aguilar said.
Attention: Heidi Mendoza
He added the group was hoping that the country’s “living heroes” wouldn’t need to die to get their full retirement benefits, as the money would go a long way to help these soldiers who had sacrificed their lives for their countrymen.
Now that Heidi Mendoza has been designated COA’s officer in charge, Aguilar said he hopes that she would look into the plight of retirees and pensioners and “make a decisive decision” for President Aquino, who can then direct the DBM “to implement [fully] RA 9166.”
“We’re not after the lump sum disbursement. The (government) can do it in tranches. What we want is the certainty that it will be given to us,” Aguilar said.
One of the retired pensioners, Staff Sgt. Jesus Anino said he hopes to fix the house he had built in Barangay Sampaloc in Taytay from a P190,000 loan from the military should he get the arrears in full.
Now 62, Anino became blind on his sixth year of military service after members of the New People’s Army (NPA) under the command of Roger Rosal stormed his detachment at Guinayangan, Quezon province, in November 1984.
Anino recalled that the rebels sprayed bullets at them on the afternoon of that fateful day, with a carbine bullet hitting his eye.
But he was luckier than the 7-month-old baby, the child of a colleague, who was hit by an Armalite bullet in the head. The infant’s mother was breastfeeding the child when the rebels fired shots at the police detachment. The bullet hit the woman’s arm and passed through the baby’s head.
Anino was later reassigned to the army’s entertainment division, where he served the next 14 years of military service as the band’s vocalist.
Since then, his family had to make do with the meager P6,000 to P10,000 pension he received through the years, Anino said, adding that his wife augmented his income by offering laundry services to his fellow soldiers.
But he is thankful, he said, that although they’ve had financial difficulties, all their seven children have turned out well, with two finishing their studies through scholarships. In fact, his eldest daughter is assigned at the Army’s Women Auxiliary Corps.
“I didn’t discourage her despite my experience. She really wants it, and she’s battle-tested. She was there in the detachment when we were harassed by the (NPA). She was 3 years old then,” Anino said.
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