As part of the Social Security System’s (SSS) ongoing initiatives to provide universal social protection regardless of geographical location, even workers from far-flung island provinces such as Batanes are now placed within SSS’ reach through its expanding network of offices and partnerships.

SSS President and Chief Executive Officer Emilio de Quiros, Jr., Batanes Governor Vicente Gato and Basco Mayor Demetrius Paul Narag led local and SSS officials during the soft launch of the Batanes Service Office held on May 28.

“The SSS, in partnership with the local government, has increased its presence in Batanes — the country’s northernmost province — by setting up an SSS Service Office at the Provincial Capitol Building in Basco. It is the first-ever SSS office established in this island province,” said Josie Magana, SSS Vice President for Luzon Operations.

“The Ivatans used to wait for the monthly visit of the field representative from the SSS Tuguegarao branch in Cagayan province to transact with SSS. The faster but much pricier alternative is taking a flight to Tuguegarao City since only cargo ships ply the route between Batanes and Cagayan. These barriers to SSS are effectively addressed by having a Service Office right in their own province,” Magana explained.

The Batanes Service Office (SO) is open on Mondays to Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Its services include issuance of social security numbers and SSS forms; receipt and processing of salary loan applications, and compliance with the Annual Confirmation of Pensioners program; SSS Web assistance; and verification of membership records and application status. The Batanes SO also handles requests for correction and updating of member and employer data, accepts maternity notifications, and receives collection lists, among other services. Meanwhile, SSS contributions and loan payments continue to be accepted at the Philippine National Bank and Land Bank of the Philippines branches in the province.

The SSS currently has over 400 registered members in Batanes. So far, the number of SSS-coverable members in the province is estimated at 8,000, most of whom are farmers and fishermen. With its increasing popularity and accessibility as a tourist destination, opportunities for local employment are seen to expand, further highlighting the importance of SSS presence in Batanes.

“Economic prospects are getting brighter for Batanes, with access to its natural tourist attractions enjoying a boost from the rising frequency of flights to the province. Its provincial government also actively supports local livelihood projects, which contribute to a booming cottage industry,” Magana shared.

The SSS also inked agreements with the local government units (LGUs) of Batanes, Basco and Sabtang on May 28 and 29 for the implementation of the e-AlkanSSSya program for the benefit of the LGUs’ more than 700 job order (JO) and contractual workers who are excluded from Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) coverage.

The e-AlkanSSSya, as its name suggests, is an offshoot of the AlkanSSSya program created to make active SSS membership affordable for informal sector workers, who often shy away from paying contributions due to limited incomes and the needed effort to remit premiums to SSS collection facilities. The savings are stored in the AlkanSSSya unit, with personal “piggy banks” assigned to each worker.

“Under the e-AlkanSSSya, the LGU generates a monthly check representing the workers’ contributions gathered thru automatic salary deduction. In both programs, the association or LGU assumes the task of collecting and remitting the payments to the SSS for proper posting in the workers’ individual SSS accounts,” Magana noted.

De Quiros, together with a panel of SSS officials, conducted an SSS Stakeholders Forum at the Human Resource Training Center (HRTC) in Basco on May 28, and another at the HRTC of Sabtang municipality on May 29. The SSS also held a meeting and dialogue on May 28 for about 300 employers from the Batanes Chamber of Commerce, as requested by the association.