Seniority of seniors is not infirmity of the aged

FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo (The Philippine Star) - September 3, 2015 - 10:00am

I just had a very enjoyable lunch with my Ateneo law school classmates. During the course of the meal, Raffy Evangelista discussed the challenges of being a senior citizen. He is absolutely correct and accordingly, I am reproducing it as my guest columnist.

The total number of senior citizens of the Philippines continues to rise, not just in terms of absolute numbers, but also is relation to the percentage of total population.

The current population of senior citizens in the Philippines is estimated at seven million, comprising nearly seven percent of the total population. In 1995, the number of Filipinos 60 years or older was pegged at 3.7 million representing 5.4 percent of the population. By 2000, this figure had increased to around 4.8 million or almost six percent of the total population. In the foreseeable future, the percentage of seniors vis-a-vis the total population shall escalate to 10 percent and beyond.

We, the senior citizens of this country, must fight for our rights. These rights are not simply for senior citizen discounts at restaurants or movie houses, pharmacies or hospitals, although these too are welcome.

We must fight against the growing pernicious culture in this country of “copy-catting” the Western world’s practice of putting its senior citizens out to pasture simply because they have reached their 60s. Has anyone noticed, for example, the work ads that come out in print media which state that anyone above a specified age need not apply?

Where a decade or two ago, many Filipinos in their 60s were, in fact, physically, mentally and emotionally old, and the life expectancy was in the late 50s, people today have a life expectancy that extends to their mid to late 70s, and most seniors in their 60s and beyond are still physically and mentally active.

In what is a beautiful story of love covered widely by mixed media, two Seniors, Francisco “King” Rodrigo and Boots Anson Roa, got married again a year ago, both for the second time. King, who is in his mid-seventies and Boots, who is in her late sixties, are obviously still filled with the sense of wonder and adventure and love of the “Still Young.” The country must adjust to this reality of a growing “youthful” senior population.

There is admittedly a need to open up employment opportunities to the younger generation, but the remedy is not to put seniors in homes for aged. The solution is for government and the private sector to focus on the creation of more jobs for all, young and old alike, based on abilities, talent and experience, and to correct the growing mindset that seniors are of necessity infirm, mindless and non-productive. One simply does not create employment for one sector of society by creating unemployment in another.

We, seniors, must fight for the right to continue to be productive for our communities, using our knowledge and experience that we have gathered over the years of our lives, knowledge and experience the younger generations still have to acquire. We should fight for the right to gainful employment that will allow us to pass on the wealth of information we have to the next generations.

The government and the private sector can develop tests and systems, rigid if need be, to screen those who, because of age and illness, can no longer productively contribute to society, from those who despite age, or perhaps because of it, continue to be valuable assets that can be mined for the good of all.

Perhaps the fight for seniors can start at the barangay level. Every barangay should consider having a senior hall where seniors can congregate, not just to passively share memories of yesteryears with one another or to secure medical attention, but where they can proactively teach and train the younger members of their community. And the seniors need not do it for free. A portion of the revenue of the barangay, including its IRA, can be set aside to pay the qualified seniors for their services to the community.

On a broader scale, senior residents of the barangays could, and should, with the cooperation and support of the rest of the Barangay, consider setting up Barangay Senior Associations that could be a proactive senior advisory body and voice of moderation to the Barangay Assembly, the Barangay Development Council and the Barangay Council, the three most influential and potent bodies in the barangay.

The Barangay Seniors Associations of the 42,000+ barangays throughout the Philippines could then come together in a National Confederation of Seniors Filipino Citizens that could proactively be involved not only in the affairs of the elderly, but be a font and source of wisdom for the national and local governments.

This is not a unique suggestion. In the United States, for example, there is a national society for seniors whose breadth of influence and clout rivals any politically and financially entrenched groups, including the gun lobby, the Union of Teamsters, and the like. In that country, when the Seniors speak, even Washington listens. Other countries such as Japan, Great Britain, France and Germany have highly influential and organized societies that are the voices of their seniors.

If our brethren who are disabled or special have the recognized right to become productive members of the community, we, the seniors of this country, have that same right. There are laws that enable and empower the disabled. Let us push for and support legislation that will empower and enable the senior citizens, through gainful employment according to their abilities, to continue to be productive citizens of this country.

Most of us of the older generations have grown up in a culture of learning at the footsteps of our parents and grandparents, all members of the so called “Greatest Generation.” We have been blessed by that opportunity. At a time when the youth today are immersed in self-centered activities and in their laptops, celfones and electronic gadgets, our country is in real danger of drifting away from the real and important values that the Greatest Generation has sought to pass on to the young, that of being men for others engaged in family, community and nation building.

It is about time that the young be taught to sit, listen and learn once again at the footsteps of the wise and the experienced.

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