February 4, 2010

PHILIPPINES: Senior citizens ask for so little

. MAKATI CITY, Philippines / Philippine Daily Inquirer / Viewpoint / February 4, 2010 Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, Philippine Daily Inquirer In relation to poor Filipino senior citizens: The Philippines is the only country in Asia that has no social pension for poor, older people. I am referring to the ones not formally employed when they were younger and thus did not have social security or insurance that they could draw from in their older years. Countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Viet Nam have some kind of social pension for the elderly poor, says Ed Gerlock, advocacy officer of the Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE), a non-government organisation that focuses mainly on the elderly poor. Now comes the much-awaited expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2009 (SBN 3561) which was passed by the Philippine House of Representatives and by the Senate on third reading on Jan. 27, 2010. It is titled “An act granting additional benefits and privileges to senior citizens, further amending RA 7432”. Only the signature of President Gloria Arroyo is being awaited. If passed, the Senior Citizens Act would grant senior citizens their entire 20 per cent discount and exempt them from the 12-per cent value-added tax (VAT) provided under the National Internal Revenue Code on the sale of goods and services from all establishments. It is one of the major significant provisions of the act. Senior citizens have been complaining that they have not fully enjoyed the 20-per cent discount because of the VAT. Under the proposed Act, they will be entitled to a 20-per cent discount and exemption from value-added tax on the following: 1. Purchase of medicines, including influenza and pneumococcal vaccines, and such other essential medical supplies, accessories and equipment to be determined by the Department of Health. 2. Professional fees of attending physicians in all private hospitals, medical facilities, outpatient clinics and home health care services. 3. Professional fees of licensed professional workers providing home health care services as endorsed by private hospitals or employed through home health care employment agencies. 4. Medical and dental services, diagnostic and laboratory fees in all private hospitals, medical facilities, outpatient clinic and home health care services. Aside from the VAT exemption, there will be exemption from payment of individual income taxes for those considered as minimum wage earners. There will be death benefit assistance of a minimum of 2,000 pesos (about US$50) for the bereaved families, monthly stipends of 500 pesos ($11) for indigents, and senior citizens’ wards will be built in government hospitals. Other benefits for poor SC are free medical and dental services, no diagnostic and laboratory fees in government facilities, full PhilHealth insurance coverage, free anti-flu and anti-pneumonia vaccines and five-percent discount on water and electric bills. These benefits will also ease the burden on poor families who love and care for their elders but who cannot provide for their basic needs. The estimated 54.4 million pesos ($1.18 million) in foregone revenues is really a pittance and should not be considered a loss to the government. Think of society’s gains from improved health care and increased purchasing power that the elderly will have. The foregone revenues should not be a compelling reason to deprive our elders of the quality of life they deserve. Smiling Lola. Photo credit: COSE Last Monday, hundreds of senior citizens braved the heat and marched from Morayta to Mendiola to ask the President not to dilly-dally and sign the expanded Senior Citizens Act. (Two fainted but recovered.) When told that the President will sign the bill on or before Valentine’s Day, COSE’s executive director Francis Cupang said the senior citizens should not be made to wait. “We Filipinos pride ourselves as loving and caring of our elderly,” Cupang said. “Our national policies should reflect this Filipino value. Senior citizens’ interest is of national interest.” He was worried that interest groups might sway the President to do otherwise. Last week, MalacaƱang (presidential palace) was said to have shown signs of hesitation because exemption from the 12-percent VAT would mean 54.4 million pesos in foregone revenues during the first year of the bill’s implementation. How easily they computed and came up with the figure. Citing National Economic Development Authority figures, Cupang pointed out that of the seven million Filipinos who are over 60 years old, three million live in poverty and 900,000 are “desperately poor.” These senior citizens should not be considered a burden. As COSE has proven through their programs and projects, the poor elderly they have served for 20 years still have much to give by way of services to their communities. Note that COSE means Coalition of Services of the Elderly, with emphasis on “of the elderly” not “for the elderly.” I have visited some communities where COSE-initiated community programs of the elderly operate. COSE started home care services in some Metro Manila communities but these services need to be replicated and institutionalized by local governments. The poor older people have a lot to give to their peers and the younger generation. In COSE areas, the strong work as home care assistants, community gerontologists and peer counselors. Others are fund raisers, organisers and mentors for the young. Many who found themselves alone in the sunset of their lives live together, take care of one another and do something for their neighborhood. Why does the President need to wait for Valentine’s Day to sign the Senior Citizens Act of 2009? [rc] (c)2002 ASIA NEWS NETWORK