Billions in veteran benefits go to 'ghost pensioners', says Drilon

"Ghost" stories from wars are real, a senator said, as he bared that such entities have taken billions from state funds in recent years.

At least P4.2 billion yearly ended up in pockets of "ghost pensioners," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Franklin Drilon said in a statement Wednesday.

This means that the government has been providing pension for "non-existing veterans or fictitious claimants," he added.

Citing data reported by Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), Drilon noted that the government's annual budget of P15 billion for pensions of veterans has been cut to P10.59 billion after a "cleanup."

The said amount, which is included in the 2013 budget, will pay 231,081 pension claims.

"The difference of about P4.2 billion saved on a yearly basis is made possible with the effort of PVAO to flesh out the fraudulent claims," Drilon said.

The PVAO cleanup involved sending pension through banks instead of the old system wherein pensioners get their benefits cheques sent via mail, the senator added.

"I commend the efforts they have undertaken to make sure that only the legitimate pensioners and veterans would be provided the benefits under the law," Drilon said.

He noted, however, that the government owes war veterans P3.5 billion for their total administrative disability benefits which were left unfunded in the past years.

Drilon said his committee will study items under unprogrammed funds which can be cut to accomodate the gap.

Also to be studied is the integration of uniformed personnel's pension into the Government Service Insurance System to address what Drilon called a "looming military and police pension crisis."

"About 53 percent, or P40 billion, of the budget of the Defense Department is for the payment of pensions. There is hardly any fiscal space for capital outlay and modernization program," Drilon said.

The amount is also expected to increase to P71.58 billion in 2013 and up to P92 billion in 2017, he added.

"We have to resolve this before it reaches to a point where our budget for pension is much higher than our budget for the salaries of active personnel," Drilon said

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