Philippines a place to rest weary bones
- Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - September 7, 2013 - 12:00am

Many of us still active in the profession have not hung up the sweaty gloves to dry  these continue to soak in the sweat from our daily grind. For many, it is the need to still build up further the security blanket (assuming things have gone as far as building up the security blanket to start with); for others, it is still the sheer joy of working at a profession that you have grown to love. As they say, if you find pure enjoyment in what you do, it isn’t work at all. It is the latter that makes working fun. I guess for me, I burn both ends of the candle for these two reasons.

Still, the prospect of retirement is a reality that we all must face at one point in our life.  It may be full and complete retirement, or it may be partial, a slowing down that, I think, is a more acceptable option for many, including me. I cannot think of complete and absolute retirement, barring dire physical circumstances, of course. Even when we scrapped our Saturday work days, more for the benefit of our employees, opting to optimize the work schedule to fit into five full days instead, I found myself dressing up for work on late Saturday mornings, finding the peace and quiet of an empty office more conducive to planning and strategizing. That I have not found reasons to slow down points to only one thing: the gloves are here to stay for a long while.

But for most of the people in my age bracket, retirement is a prospect that they have to deal with now. This was an area that our government did not give much thought to in the past, until the ’90s when the administration created the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA). Yes, much has been accomplished from ground zero where we were before the government thought of institutionalizing retirement in the Philippines, but we still have a long way to go. Consider for example that we really do not have retirement communities to speak of yet, though we have retirement homes in strategic cities and provinces already. It is a business in its nascent stage, and hopefully it can emerge into a full industry soon.

What makes a retirement community? Apart from the retirement homes, it incorporates a lifestyle that is suited for retirees, which includes a serene and peaceful environment, restaurants and entertainment. Most important of all, it includes health care services and the presence of a full-fledged tertiary hospital. Part of the health care services is efficient and well-run nursing homes.

In the United States, nursing homes are a-plenty, and many Filipinos residing there have opted to make profitable business out of owning and running nursing homes for the elderly. Not so here. By the count of the Retirement & Healthcare Coalition, there are about 50 nursing homes registered in the country. These are privately-owned houses converted into nursing homes, all of them between four to eight bedroom types, and these are located in Tagaytay, Manila, Cebu and Iloilo.

Recently, the Bureau of Immigration has stepped in to make retirement in the Philippines a more convenient option for foreigners. Where before the short term visas allowed prospective retirees to stay and test the waters for 60 days only, there is now the long-stay visa that allows them to live out the harsh winter in their country or to test-live in the Philippines for six months, renewable for another six months. If they wish for a longer period, this can still be further extended for another six months for a total period of 18 months. Through the Special Resident Retirement Visa (SRRV) provided by the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA), foreign retirees can enjoy a life-long stay in the country.  With this kind of program, the Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia with an entire portfolio on retirement benefits.

The Retirement & Healthcare Coalition, founded in 2007 by American, Korean, Japanese and European chambers of commerce, had for its goal the promotion of the Philippines as a premier retirement and healthcare destination. They have partnered with the PRA and the Department of Tourism to work towards this goal. They are currently working with public private partnerships to bring up the quality of the local nursing homes; they are not actually developing nursing homes, they are just there to assist local nursing homes in upgrading their systems. Our biggest competitor in the region in this sector, Thailand, already has thriving retirement communities with full amenities and professionally-run nursing homes. Yes, the coalition says we are competitive as far as the individual retirement market is concerned for those retirees who are still semi-active. Retirement & Healthcare Coalition executive director Mark Daubenbuchel calls them the “go-go” retirees. For the nursing home market, however (or the “no-gos” as Marc says), we are still a long way off.

This is sad because, as Marc pointed out, we have the perfect market niche for nursing homes. With about 300,000 unemployed Filipino graduates of nursing, we could easily make this a viable sector because we have the necessary medical support system. Add to this fact our undeniable edge of general proficiency in the English language, a culture that is closer to the Western culture than any of our Asian neighbors, our in-born hospitable trait as a people and our always ready smile. The convergence of all these factors create a synergy that is a win-win formula, if we can only get our act together fast before the rest of our neighbors in the region eclipse us again.

The coalition is looking at positioning the Philippines in the market niche for nursing homes, and we must work hand in hand with them to make this possible. Marc tells us that at present, most of the holders of SSRV are Chinese and Taiwanese who are younger than the 55-60 age bracket. Many also come from the United States, but most of these are the “no-gos” (they need assistance) because the insurance system there right now is perceived as weak, and they are looking to permanently relocate here.

The Philippine Retirement & Health Care Summit, an annual event jointly undertaken with the coalition will be held in March 2014. I hope concrete and tangible developments will come out of this.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

For comments (email) businessleisue-star@stv.com.ph

BUREAU OF IMMIGRATION CEBU AND ILOILO CHINESE AND TAIWANESE DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM HEALTHCARE COALITION HOMES NURSING PHILIPPINE RETIREMENT AUTHORITY RETIREMENT STILL
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