Government retirement benefitsBy Raul J. Palabrica
Philippine Daily Inquirer
For honest government employees (emphasis on the word honest), retirement benefits represent a lifeline to the future.
Unless the retiree is independently wealthy or has a strong family support system, retirement is an event that is often not happily looked forward to. For some, it even engenders feelings of insecurity about their self-worth.
Except for the judiciary and the military, the compulsory retirement age in government offices is 65. The rationale behind this ceiling, which was imposed four decades ago, is currently the subject of review by a bill pending in Congress.
It is not uncommon though for employees who have skills that the private sector can make use of, or have had enough of pressure-filled work in the bureaucracy, to file for early retirement after reaching the minimum number of years of service needed to exercise that option.
Whether the retirement is compulsory or optional, the retiree expects to enjoy as soon as possible the fruits—no matter how small-of years of dedicated service.
After all, the money he’s entitled to receive represents primarily the payback for the amounts regularly deducted from his pay envelope to answer for his post-employment benefits.
Unfortunately, the retirement process is not immune from the red tape that traditionally attends transactions that involve the release of money from the national coffers.
The usual lament of retirees who do not have the right connections in the government is, they have to grease palms or complain to the media before they can get the money that rightfully belongs to them.
Mercifully, knock on wood, there are no reports yet of retirees running amuck, as has happened in some countries, after being given the run-around in the processing of their retirement papers.
This problem is sought to be addressed by the recently enacted Republic Act 101541 which requires all concerned government agencies to ensure the early release of the retirement pay, pensions, gratuities and other benefits of retiring government employees.
It states that “public officers and employees who have spent the best years of their lives serving the government and the public should not be made to wait to receive benefits which are due to them under the law.”
The law applies to compulsory and optional retirement applications in all branches, agencies and/or instrumentalities of the government, including government-owned or -controlled corporations, except the personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The exclusion of military personnel may be explained by the fact that, until its dissolution due to mismanagement, the AFP had its own retirement program that reflected the special nature of its operations.
Under pain of administrative penalties, the head of the retiring employee’s office, the president and responsible officers of the Government Service Insurance System and Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG Fund), including the Secretary and responsible officers of the Department of Budget and Management, are required to implement the law.
They should release the retirement benefits within 30 days from the date of the actual retirement of the employee.
If payments are due from the GSIS, the cut-off date is the last day of the employee’s service to the government pursuant to GSIS regulations.
To enable prompt compliance with this deadline, the law requires the employee to submit to the government office concerned all the necessary supporting documents at least 90 days before the effective date of his retirement.
The employee who fails or refuses to submit those documents within that time frame cannot be heard to complain later that the government officials concerned were remiss in the performance of their duties under the law.
However, if the release of the benefits cannot be accomplished due to force majeure and other insuperable (meaning, difficult to overcome) causes, the 30-day period of compliance will be counted from the time that cause ceased to exist.
The period of compliance is, however, different for employees with pending cases and whose retirement benefits are being lawfully withheld to answer for possible financial liabilities.
The head of the office where that case is pending is obliged to terminate or resolve the case within three months from the date of the employee’s retirement.
In case he fails to do so without justifiable reason, the retirement benefits due the employee have to be immediately released without prejudice to the final resolution of the case, unless the delay was deliberately caused by the employee.
The law leaves it to the Civil Service Commission to flesh out the rules and regulations needed for its proper implementation.
In this task, the CSC has been directed to consult and coordinate with the government agencies and instrumentalities, including those of the legislature and judiciary.
These rules should include provisions prescribing uniform periods for the advance filing of retirement applications, standard periods for the processing and release of claims for retirement benefits, and pinpointing of responsibilities in cases of delay in their release.
Although the law is clear on the major points, there is still much work to be done to make sure its implementing rules and regulations are comprehensive, realistic and, most importantly, gives no room (if not minimizes) the incidence of graft in the system.
The “unions” in the affected government offices have their work cut out for them on this important matter.
(For feedback, please write to email@example.com.)