GSIS forces pensioners to get tech-savvy for their money

Posted at 09/26/2009 9:54 AM | Updated as of 08/04/2010 7:45 PM

DALY CITY,CA—Filipino seniors Ester and Tom Pan have a twelve-year old computer that barely works.  78-year old Ester says she does not even know where the power button is, much less go online.

“Parang gusto ko ring matuto pero wala sa isip kong matutunang magcomputer kasi I'm already old.  Wala nang interest,” Ester said.

Even when her children tried to teach her how to use it, she said it was just too complicated.

But these days, Ester has no choice but to become computer-literate if she wants to get her monthly pension of $140 from the Government Service Insurance system or GSIS. 

“Napakahirap.  Kung walang makakatulong sa amin, wala kaming magagawa. Mapuputol ang pension namin,” said Ester.
GSIS now requires eligible pensioners to register online through Skype, the free internet voice-call system.  During the video call, the seniors' voices are recorded and saved in the GSIS system.  GSIS says studies show this method is convenient for seniors.

“In fact, nalaman namin sa study na yun na talagang lahat naman halos doon ay may access sa internet, though meron man ibang mahihirapang gumamit ng internet, meron naman silang relatives or even friends na pwedeng tumulong sa kanila just to conduct the video call with GSIS,” said Mary Abigail Cruz-Francisco, who works for GSIS’ E-Services and Loans Department.

But senior advocate George Gange says most Filipino seniors are not computer-savvy, nor can they afford a computer, internet access, a microphone, headset and webcam—all needed to use Skype.

“Maraming seniors talagang kinakabahan kasi papaano kung hindi sila makaaccess sa Skype during their birth month, the time that they need to renew their status?  Masususpend ang kanilang pension at malaking kawalan yon sa kanila,” Gange said.

GSIS stands by its new online renewal system, which officials say is very reliable.  But GSIS admits there is no backup option if the Skype network breaks down. For technology-challenged seniors, GSIS assures them they will only have to do the Skype call once.  After that, they can then renew their status every year by calling the GSIS hotline.

“Right now, very minimal ang charges, but we are still coordinating with other telecoms para malower yung rates or baka posibleng malibre in the future,” Cruz-Francisco said.

“Subukan niyo pong kumausap sa isang inanimate object, recorder at maiinis kayo.  You have to call again and again just to make your point across and it's going to be expensive for our seniors,” Gagne said.

Senior advocates say GSIS should install computers with internet access, headsets and microphones inside Philippine Consulates and teach seniors how to use Skype.

GSIS says pensioners whose statuses have been suspended because of their inability to renew online need not worry.  Once their voices are activated through the Skype system, their back pensions can be credited back to their e-cards.

For now, pensioners have to direct their questions through email at [email protected] or [email protected]