Retirees await billions in unpaid pensions (Part 1)

(CNN Philippines) — Former soldiers and policemen are recognized every year in events like the Araw ng Kagitingan or Day of Valor, their contributions to making us secure glorified in a ceremony.

Last April 9, at the Araw ng Kagitingan commemoration, President Benigno Aquino III said: "Marapat lang po na kayong nagpamalas ng malasakit sa kapwa at bansa ay maaruga at maitaguyod ang mga karapatan."

[Tranlsation: "It's only fitting that you who served other people and the country should be cared for and have your rights recognized."]

Meager pensions

Army Master Sgt. Henry Mamauag retired from the service almost a decade ago.

But he frequents the Armed Forces main headquarters almost every day.

He and other military retirees like him await for word on the status of their pensions.

"Wala na po kami magawa dahil sa kakulangan ng aming pensyon," he told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: "There's nothing we could do because of the meagerness of our pension."]

Mamauag would still get emotional whenever he would recall his dangerous assignments in Mindanao.

"Ang hirap ng aming dinanas doon," he said. "Sa araw at gabi, operation lagi."

[Translation: "We had a hard time there. Day and night, there was always an operation."]

Presidential Decree No. 1638, issued in 1979 by President Ferdinand Marcos, established a new system of retirement and separation for military personnel.

Under that decree, a member of the military may get retirement pay by going for optional retirement after 20 years of service or by reaching the mandatory age of retirement of 56 with at least 15 years of service.

The monthly pension ranges from P11,125.50 to P86,062.50, depending on rank and length of service.

When the pensioner dies, the spouse will get 75% of the monthly pension.

Huge backlog in payments

As of March 2015, there are 123,471 military pensioners.

The law also states that whenever active members get a pay raise, pensioners will also receive a corresponding increase.

The full implementation of the Salary Standardization Law was seen as a major blow to the AFP pension system.

This led to the accumulation of a huge P18 billion in unpaid pensions since 2000.  

The last tranche was released in 2011, the last increase, which is why there is a deficit, according to Col. Virgilio de Guzman of the Office of the J1, deputy chief of staff for AFP personnel.

In fact, since 2000, even before the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, there was already a pension differential, according to Col. Librado Moog, chief of the AFP Pension and Gratuity Management Center.

The deficit is mounting.

In 2013, the AFP withheld payments for thousands of pensioners.

This was after the Budget Department ordered a cleansing of the AFP pensioner list.

The DBM questioned the records of more than 12,527 pensioners. This resulted in the suspension of 9,767 pension payments.

As the review continues, the number of retirees increases, and the backlog piles up.

Between 2013 and 2014 alone, the AFP pension fund posted a deficit of P1.6 billion.

But the AFP continues to talk with the Department of Budget and Management so that records can be set straight, Colonel De Guzman said.

The government has failed to properly allocate funds to wipe out the shortfall.

Even the Philippine National Police is facing problems with its pensioner records.

In 2013, the Commission on Audit (COA) asked the PNP to refund close to P8 million pesos in claims paid to 19 fake pensioners.

COA also wants Camp Crame to hold its personnel accountable for the alleged anomaly.

Widows in waiting

Back in Camp Aguinaldo, military pensioners await for word on the status of their pension claims.

Some widows of dead pensioner stake out near Camp Aguinaldo, braving the daytime heat.

When night falls, they are forced to sleep on the street.

They have traveled from the provinces.

Among them is Gemma Angos who lost her husband, an Army enlisted man, in 1991 because of an illness.

She's supposed to be getting a monthly pension of more than P8,000.

But she barely receives the money.

The entire pension pays for several loans, from legitimate to shady money lenders.

Pensioners like Gemma and Sergeant Mamauag, as well as many others like them, are hoping government will soon release unpaid balances in their claims for the last 10 years. 

That money, they say, they will be used mostly to pay off their loans.