Poverty knows no sexual orientation or gender identity.
With Philippine President Benigno Aquino III vetoing the bill that would have increased the pension to be received by beneficiaries of the Social Security System (SSS), pensioners who are also members of the LGBT community are joining the fray against the move considered as both “inhumane” and “anti-poor”.
“Dati akong nagtatrabaho sa isang kooperatiba (I used to work in a cooperative),” said 62-year-old gay pensioner Andrea del Rosario. “As an SSS member, my contributions were automatically deducted from my salary; and during that time, hindi ko masyadong pinag-aralan kung ano mangyayari sa kontribusyon ko, basta ang alam ko, may aasahan ako pagtanda ko (I didn’t closely look at how my contributions were handled; I just knew that when I grow old, I’d have something to fall back on).”
And now that Aquino’s government refused to “give us minimal increase, even if the SSS executives profit from us, talagang pinapahirapan kami (we’re really put in a difficult situation),” Del Rosario said.
As early as March 2011 a bill seeking for an increase in monthly retirement pension to a minimum of P7,000 a month was already submitted to Congress. This did not pass, so that in January 2013, a new bill substituted the previous version, this time looking into a reduced increase of a maximum P2,000-a-month pension. In July of the same year, another bill was passed in response to the substitution, again highlighting the need for the proposed increase.
Not incidentally, also in July 2013, Aquino said in his State of the Nation Address that “it is time to amend the SSS pension scheme. We must establish measures that remedy the outflow of funds.” Interestingly, Aquino is also a defender of granting SSS executives hefty bonuses.
It was only in 2015 when, finally, the Congress approved the P2,000 across-the-board pension hike.
However, Aquino vetoed the increase in January, stating that “while we recognize the objective of the bill to promote the well-being of the country’s private sector retirees, we cannot support the bill in its present form because of its dire financial consequences.”
GROWING OLD AS LGBT
For Del Rosario, the effects of Aquino’s “anti-poor SSS stance” are very defined among LGBT pensioners like himself.
“Kaming mga gay senior citizens na walang binubuhay ang mas may kailangan (Gay senior citizens like us who do not support anyone need the money most),” he said.
On the one hand, exactly because they do not support others, “wala rin kaming aasahang susuporta sa amin pagtanda namin (We expect no one to support us when we grow old),” Del Rosario said. As such, “we only live on what we get.”
On the other hand – and this is reflective of the Philippine society expecting those who supposedly do not have families of their own (such as LGBT people) to help look after the families of their relatives – Del Rosario said that his pension is also used “para makatulong sa mga pamangkin at apo (to help our nephews/nieces and grandchildren),” he said. “Sila ang aking tinutustusan at pinagbibigyan kung may hinihingi o pangangailangan sila (I support them when they ask or need something).”
The small pension he receives makes it “difficult to live, much more to help out.”
Del Rosario said that “many like me resort to utang (borrowing money),” he said. “Talagang hindi sapat ang nakukuha naming pensyon. Nababaon kami sa utang at ang mga lending insitutions na may matataas na interest rates lamang ang nakikinabang, pinapahirapan nila kami lalo (The pension we receive really isn’t enough. We are deep in debts, and only lending institutions with high interest rates benefit from this, as they make our lives more miserable),” del Rosario said.
Del Rosario said that he is one of many seniors – LGBT and non-LGBT – still hoping for some changes to happen to “acknowledge ang pinagdadaanan namin (what we’re going through), considering that we have to spend more sa gamot, pantustos sa mas maraming tao (for medicines, to support a bigger family)…”
But beyond this, though, Del Rosario said he hopes for a change of heart to “start ensuring that the elderly are taken care.”
“Magkaroon sana sila ng magandang pananaw at kabuuang malasakit para sa mga senior citizens (I hope they gain better understanding of the plight, and have more compassion for the senior citizens),” del Rosario ended.