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‘Sailing to Byzantium’

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

They’re old, but not dead; retired, but not tired; aging, but still dreaming, and now they have spoken.

My Jan. 5 column on the plight of senior citizens in the country, ‘No Country for Old Men,’ received quite a lot of reactions from senior citizens. I am grateful to everyone who shared with me their thoughts on how to improve the situation of our elders. I am sharing some of these ideas here.

Monthly social pension

Dr. Jose Ramon Albert,  senior research fellow at the state-owned think-tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies and the country’s former chief statistician, shared with me, for instance, PID’s latest policy note urging the government to increase the monthly pension of senior citizens amid inflationary pressures and after the pandemic made the situation of seniors even more challenging.

The latest note, authored by Albert and research assistant Mika Muñoz, said the Department of Social Welfare and Development-led social pension (SocPen) program should correct some implementation deficits to make the program more impactful.

The program gives a monthly pension of P500 to indigent Filipinos aged 60 and above.

The policy note, however, said the current cash assistance of P500 is only 7.5 percent of the average expenditures on food and health of the bottom half of per capita income distribution.

It suggested raising the cash support to P750 or P1,000, depending on the income of every senior, to have a bigger impact on the spending needs of indigent seniors.

Researchers also suggest revisiting the process, adding digital platforms for easier distribution of the monthly pension and revisiting the amount regularly.

I agree with these policy recommendations, and hopefully, with more funds, the government can regularly increase the monthly amount, taking into consideration rising inflation.

Structural changes

I also received a letter from Rep. Rodolfo “Ompong” Ordanes of the Senior Citizens Partylist.

“I read your article in The Philippine Star dated Jan. 5 regarding how the Philippines has become a country not conducive for us senior citizens, and in view of the same, I wish to extend my deepest gratitude to you for putting a magnifying glass on our predicament and the needed structural changes that need to be further implemented to improve our welfare.

“First, I agree that we have to further expand our healthcare and economic safety nets for senior citizens given their economic inactivity and increasing vulnerability to health concerns,” he said.

Ordanes authored several legislative measures to help address the situation, he shared in his letter. The measures are pending in Congress.

Measures for seniors

House Bill (HB) 7859, for instance, seeks to extend the free dialysis offered to senior citizens from 90 to the whole 144 needed sessions per year. Another measure, HB 8461 seeks to suspend the increase in PhilHealth premium rates, while HB 8799 seeks to establish our country’s first hospital specializing on geriatric health.

HB 8424 will mandate all government agencies to set aside at least one percent of their budget for programs, projects, and activities for senior citizens, while HB 8832 will provide an income tax exemption to all senior citizens to help further augment their income.

Another measure is HB 10568, which will increase the discounts of senior citizens in their utility bills to 10 percent from five percent, while HB 8003 seeks to provide additional centenarian gifts to our senior citizens by giving them P25,000 every five years once they reach the age of 80, aside from the P100,000 they will receive when they reach the age of 100.

The lawmaker also told me that the Senior Citizens Party­list has successfully pushed for the increase in monthly social pension for indigent senior citizens to P1,000 from P500.

“We were also able to lessen the qualifications needed to qualify for the pension thus making it more accessible to all senior citizens. HB 9459 has already successfully hurdled the third reading in the House of Representatives and is now pending before the Senate,” he said.

National Commission of Senior Citizens

Ordanes is also pushing for the full implementation of the National Commission of Senior Citizens, an agency created by a law authored by his partylist group. The agency is dedicated to increasing the support structures for senior citizens.

These are welcome initiatives and I hope the pending measures for senior citizens will see the light of day.

The partylist lawmaker shared my view that, indeed, “we should make our country the Byzantium for our senior citizens.”

In his poem ‘Sailing to Byzantium,’ William Butler Yeats writes about old age and looks into the pain of living in a country that champions youth, but neglects the aged.

The solution, says Yeats in his poem, is to just leave the country of the young and sail to the holy city of Byzantium, where the sages in the city’s famous gold mosaics could sing to his soul.

But we can change this. As I said, with enough policy changes, we can make our country a place that nurtures the young, but also embraces the aged, indeed, a society that can be the Byzantium for our senior citizens.

 

 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales.

Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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