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At Large: Pension For Seniors 

By Rina Jimenez-David, Philippine Daily Inquirer 


March 04, 2008

At a dinner some months ago, a couple rhapsodized about the joys of being senior citizens in Makati City. If they had a mind to, they said, they could simply stroll from their condominium to the nearby Greenbelt mall complex and walk into any movie house to watch a movie of their choosing. This is because senior citizens in Makati are entitled to watch movies for free, apart from the other “perks” senior citizens enjoy around the country, such as discounts on medicines and restaurant meals. “Aside from the free movies,” added the wife, “we each get a birthday cake on our birthdays!” Of course, she added, the cake is no great shakes, being a generic commercial product. But still, she added, “It’s the thought that counts.”

Older people like them, living in Makati condos and enjoying the fruits of retirement, may have the leisure to enjoy the free movies and birthday cakes. But other seniors in other parts of the country are not so lucky. While Filipinos pride ourselves in our filial devotion, with adult children choosing to care for and live with their elderly, and at times ailing, parents, the times, as they say, are a-changing.

Golden Acres, which is, as far as I know, the only state-run facility for abandoned senior citizens, is already bursting at the seams, says Ed Gerlock of the Coalition of Services for the Elderly (COSE). “It can accommodate a maximum of 250 clients, but currently hosts 450,” says Gerlock. He adds that Golden Acres staff members say they often receive visitors who come with older people whom, they say, “they found wandering the streets.” The staff take in the seniors who are brought in, even if they have serious doubts about the stories peddled because oftentimes, the “concerned citizens” bear a strong resemblance to the old people they are turning in.

* * *

Senior citizens, defined by law as individuals aged 60 and over, currently comprise 7 percent of the population, but demographic experts predict that the proportion of elderly will increase dramatically in the next few years, to as much as 14.5 percent, or double the current share, by 2025. Of course, this is still a rather puny proportion when compared to, say, Japan where senior citizens currently comprise 25 percent of the population.

But even now, my own guess is that older people not only comprise a larger proportion of the population, they are also bearing a disproportionate share of caring for the younger generation. With thousands of Filipinos, most of them in their younger, most productive years, leaving the country to work abroad, the odds are that they are leaving the care and nurturing of the families they leave behind to the previous generation.

Thus, grandfathers and grandmothers, or uncles and aunts, are not only raising a generation of children of overseas Filipino workers, they may also be forced to continue working or earning, to earn money for the times when remittances come late or not at all.

And if we go by behavioral studies, says Gerlock, when older people get some money in their hands, very rarely is this used on themselves, and a large chunk of it often goes to buy medicine. “Old people often spend the little income they enjoy on their families,” adds Gerlock.

* * *

Currently in Congress are two bills—House Bill 2765 authored by Parañaque City’s Rep. Eduardo Zialcita and Senate Bill 1657 authored by Sen. Edgardo Angara—providing for monthly “social support” for senior citizens. The pension will go to citizens age 60 or over who meet the requirements of the law, specifically a poverty threshold to be determined by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Among the reasons COSE and other elderly groups cite for the need for a social pension for poor older people are: people are living longer and the population over 60 will double in the next 25 years; older people are more vulnerable to economic and social change, with proportionately more elderly among Filipinos living below the poverty level; households with older people are poorer than the average; gender affects poverty in old age, with older women generally poorer than older men; and in Filipino culture “neglect of older people is unacceptable.”

Zialcita’s bill has been scheduled for hearing today, and COSE is ready with answers to the usual objections about the bill being unrealistic because “there are no funds.” Already, they have a list of possible sources for the social pension, including shares of such revenue sources as vehicle registrations, “sin taxes,” the travel tax, luxury goods and luxury housing such as condominiums, and even the pork barrel of legislators.

* * *

Gerlock says that while Filipinos generally pay respect to their older people, the flipside is that, even as older people are revered and cared for, “we do not expect anything from them.”

But older people, he notes, continue to be productive despite their age, and want to be doing something to occupy their time. COSE, for one, has organized older people, most of them older women in urban poor areas, to look after themselves and their neighbors. One of their projects is the training of elderly community health workers, some of whom undergo training in gerontology at St. Luke’s Hospital, with teams making the rounds of a neighborhood looking after ailing or disabled older people. The teams take care not just of the seniors’ health needs, but also take time to talk to them about their hopes and concerns, and even clean up their homes.

After all, it may be nice to receive a free cake on your birthday, but even nicer is to be recognized for your worth and dignity, and respected for what you can continue to do for others despite—or because of—your years.

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