Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A GSIS Policy Interpretation and Press Release that Defy Logic

I am a legitimate representative of two erstwhile government servants, my mother, now 76, and an octogenarian aunt. It all began when their GSIS pensions stopped coming in December 2009.

On December 9, 2009, I asked the local GSIS Office in General Santos why my mother's pension for December was not credited to her account. It took a few more days before I'd be given an answer. They claimed that she has not renewed her membership on her birth month which was September. I said, she did a week prior to her September 1 birthday, could that not be considered? They said no. I asked how come she was able to still receive her October and November pensions, and they told me that was part of the two-month allowance they were giving the pensioners to renew.

In a chain of emails between the local GSIS office and myself in the weeks following January 9, 2010, I would seek for further clarifications, which they gave because I was persistent. I wanted to get exact dates as to when the suspended pensions will be credited; and when the mandated cash gift can be expected. In their reply they claimed that they already sought pension accrual for the suspended December pension but the reply was  initially mum about the cash gift. Out of sheer persistence, I finally got the answer yesterday. For failing to renew on their respective birth months, my mother, along with my aunt, and who knows maybe countless others who could not speak, or who opted not to ask, will not be able to receive the cash gift anymore. Now the burden is on me how to disclose this to the two old women, such that it doesn't add to their disappointments. I have yet to muster such courage, as in the past, when I disclosed reasons for delays in their pensions that broke their hearts.

In their e-mail reply to my queries, they embedded a Press Release dated November 11, 2009, the text of which are as follows: 

Old-age pensioners of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) whose pension benefits have been suspended are reminded to renew their active status each year during their birth month. This is in order for them to continue receiving their monthly pension and to qualify them for other possible benefits, which include annual Christmas cash gift and the pension increase.

If a pensioner is under a suspended status at the time that the GSIS declares a cash gift and pension increase, the pensioner will not be eligible to receive such benefits. This is based on an existing GSIS policy which has been around for 35 years, and which provides that only old-age pensioners who are in active status are entitled to cash gifts and pension increases.
Said release went on to quote this  specific policy provision:

"Pension adjustments or cash gifts should not be given to pensioners under suspended status because of their failure to comply with the condition imposed by the GSIS for their continuous receipt of the monthly pensions, that is, the annual renewal of active status."

I am not a legal mind, and neither am I in a position to argue against this policy. I am, however, wont to question the logic behind the policy interpretation that came in the form of an 11 November 2009 Press Release that was never really circulated. For failing to renew on their birth months, old-age pensioners, all of them already in varying states of physical health, will no longer receive this meager sum that is due them. But what about those who have renewed a bit later, because maybe, they simply forgot (remember these are old people); or because they have no one to accompany them to the kiosks? What about my mother and aunt who both renewed barely one or two weeks shy of their respective birth months because they knew that would suffice for their 2009 renewal? What about those who, like my mother and aunt, were simply not aware of this Press Release? There could be a host of reasons for failing to renew one's active status. At times, reasons can even emanate from the agency itself -- bogged down kiosks, or  an obviously questionable system for  informing/giving updates to pensioners  already wanting assessment?

This  provision may be around for three and a half decades but it lost its rational basis, because it was interpreted in a manner that automatically excluded others for simply failing to renew on their birth months. There is no logic to forfeiting the old-aged pensioners' cash gifts and pension increases, especially if they already took pains to comply. Isn't it  enough sanction to have these benefits temporarily suspended until such time they have renewed?

I wonder what measures the agency undertakes to review its logs of complaints, and cull insights from those cases? This is so that policies, guidelines, procedures are periodically revisited, revised, enhanced and the agency's communication strategies tweaked to the needs of old people. I hope that the agency does not get stuck in a system that is both confusing and excluding.

I still do not have the heart to break this news to my old ones.