By Filane Mikee Cervantes

Speaker Martin Romualdez (File photo)

MANILA – More than 1 million workers in the bureaucracy would soon be given a choice to retire early with the passage of a bill lowering the optional retirement age for government employees from 60 to 56 on final reading, Speaker Martin Romualdez said on Tuesday.

Romualdez said many employees would benefit from this proposed law, noting that retiring early would enhance their well-being.

“They can opt to quit working, receive their benefits, do other activities and enjoy life in retirement with their loved ones even before they become senior citizens,” Romualdez said. “It’s surely more fun to live life without work-related stress.”

During Tuesday’s plenary session, the House of Representatives approved on the third and final reading House Bill 206 with 268 affirmative votes, one negative vote and one abstention.

The bill seeks to amend Section 13-A of Republic Act 8291, otherwise known as the “Government Service Insurance (GSIS) Act of 1997”.

It states that a government worker-GSIS member would be entitled to retirement benefits if he is at least 56 years of age at the time of retirement, has rendered service for at least 15 years and he is not receiving a monthly pension for permanent total disability.

Retirement is compulsory at 65 years.

The proposed law would put the rest of government workers at par with members of the military and the police, whose mandatory retirement age is 56.

ACT Teachers Party-list Representative France Castro, principal author of the bill, said rigorous work and the physical and psychological burdens it causes applies to all those working in government, particularly public school teachers.

Castro said earlier retirement is one of the demands voiced during consultations with public school teachers, noting that retiring at a late stage would not allow them to fully enjoy their retirement years with the hazards and level of stress accompanying their duties.

“Teachers usually leave the profession not with satisfied smiles but assaulted by various illnesses; whatever retirement benefits they receive will be spent not for their rest or their own businesses but solely for medical bills,” Castro said.

Citing the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, she said the Philippines ranked among the countries with the most dismal statistics descriptive of teachers’ working conditions, with average pupil-teacher ratios from 31 (primary level) to 45 students to each teacher (secondary level), and average class size of 42.4 (primary) and 43.7 (secondary).

Castro said teachers in the Philippines retire five years later than those in most countries, noting that the retirement age is 60 in most North American, European and Asian countries.

“Respect and humane consideration demand that a person of 55 years — a few years shy of being a senior citizen — should not be required to perform the arduous functions expected of a public-school teacher in the Philippines. At such stage of their lives, public school teachers should at least be given the choice if they wish to rest from the profession and enjoy better and healthy years ahead,” Castro said. (PNA)