By Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com
(First of Three Parts))
LOS ANGELES – Dolores is fed up with the technological problems plaguing the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) E-card. Four years ago, the GSIS implemented a new policy that required retired government employees and their survivors to register for an E-card to receive their monthly pension.
It’s almost been a year since Dolores signed up. She said she has not received anything. The GSIS is the Philippines provider of social security benefits for government employees and their survivors.
“No pensioners who got the e-card here in the US have received any single cent from the GSIS,” said Dolores. “We don’t know what the [Philippine] government is doing with our money.”
At 68 years old, she should be basking in her golden years. But she finds herself stuck in a rut. She did not want to use her full name for fear of reprisal.
She said that her husband worked for the Philippine government for more than 20 years and served as an accountant in the City of Manila. Her husband passed away several years ago leaving her with his pension from the Philippine government.
Since his death, Dolores moved in with her daughter in Southern California. She relies on the small pension her husband left her to send money back home to her family in the Philippines.
“Every penny counts,” she said. “I still want to send money back home to my sons in the Philippines.”
She tried contacting the GSIS office in Manila. Her calls went unanswered. She vented her concerns to the Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles but when she arrived, she realized that she was not alone in her gripes.
Nationwide, pensioners have been complaining about their social security benefits. There are almost 5,000 retired Philippine government employees and survivors residing in the US, many of whom are in their twilight years.
“You only have to go to the PhilConsulate office and hear the frustrations of all the pensioners who have to travel to Los Angeles and be disappointed all the time,” she said. “These pensioners are all old. They sit in their wheel chairs and wait hours before they could register for an e-card. And once they get home, they’ll find out there’s no money for them.”
The E-card system
In 2004, GSIS President and General Manager Winston Garcia upgraded to the e-card for a more convenient disbursement of pensions. For years, the GSIS had issued checks but problems plagued this system. Some pensioners would move and not update their address. Others passed away but friends, family and relatives would continue to cash in the deceased persons checks. Some checks would be lost in the mail.
The E-card made sure that these problems are addressed especially on the issue of fraud.
“It would also generate savings on expenses for supplies and materials, such as those for vouchers and checks, postage and even on personnel cost,” said GSIS Vice President Enriqueta Disuanco to the Asian Journal in an overseas phone call. “The E-card is a safer, easier, and more effective way for pensioners worldwide to receive their money at their local bank.”
The E-card works like an ATM debit-card. Every month, the GSIS deposits money into the pensioner’s account. The pensioner could get cash in any bank or ATM machine with a Visa logo.
The GSIS requires that the pensioner to sign up initially and renew their membership every year at a local kiosk. However, there are only seven GSIS kiosks in the US – Hawaii, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Washington DC.
Worse, for many pensioners in the US whose average age is 75, getting to a kiosk is a physical and costly challenge.
Not really hassle-free
Virgilia Rivera of Miami, Florida found out the hassle when she and her mother had to fly to New York to enroll for an e-card and collect back payment from her previous pension checks.
Her mother Eufrocina Namilit, 85, a former schoolteacher who had been receiving her monthly pension normally since the 1980’s until the placement of the e-cards in 2006.
“It’s ridiculous. They stopped sending my mother’s check without notifying us,” said Rivera in a phone call to the Asian Journal from the South Florida Consulate office. “I have tried contacting the GSIS, they don’t answer any of our calls, or it’s busy or we’re placed on hold only to never hear from them.”
A friend informed her of the GSIS new policy of registering for an e-card.
Rivera said she flew with her mother to New York to sign up for an e-card. She spent more than $2,000 for airfare for both of them, hotel stay and transportation to and from the Consulate. Rivera’s mother is also wheelchair bound and “fragile.”
“My mom can’t stand the cold weather,” said Rivera. “She’s too old to be traveling.”
Rivera, a healthcare official in Miami, said that when she arrived at the New York Consulate office the large number of pensioners waiting in line surprised her. She saw that many pensioners were wheelchair bound and some carried oxygen tanks.
“They would wait early in the morning and stay for the whole day to try and register,” she said.
Rivera collected her mother’s previous pension check – $1,000 not enough to cover their expenses of registering.
“The worst part is once we got my mother’s e-card in the mail, it was the wrong picture, her name was misspelled and the card had the wrong account number,” said Rivera.
“I’m writing a letter to the Philippine embassy about this mess,” said Philippine Consulate of South Florida Honorary Consul General Angelo Macatangay, who had been speaking with Rivera about the situation. “We do not want this to happen to any retired Filipinos.” (www.asianjournal.com)
(To be Continued)