Senior moments
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - October 19, 2018 - 12:00am

Juan Ponce Enrile, who will be 101 years old if he is elected to another six years in the Senate and finishes the term, showed up at the Commission on Elections main office in Intramuros, Manila on Wednesday.

The principal reason was to re-file his certificate of candidacy, which originally declared his occupation as a “businesswoman.” Since he’s JPE, you can believe that it was an honest mistake.

JPE’s personal appearance at the Comelec main office, where all media organizations were covering the filing of candidacies, was clearly also meant to send the message that he’s still healthy enough, in body and mind, to serve as senator. Talking to reporters, Enrile said he wanted to join the fun and he hoped to live to be 110. Looking at him, he might actually see his hope fulfilled.

In that case, someone should move to cancel his bail, granted on account of his age and health, for what should be the non-bailable offense of plunder.

Still, despite his historical revisionism, selective amnesia or outright lies, you have to hand it to Enrile: he’s striking a blow for the cause of the elderly. I wish there could be a different poster boy for the cause, but we can’t be too picky. Really, how many people in our country live to the ripe old age of 94, but are still physically strong and mentally sharp enough to run for the Senate?

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There are reliable studies showing that with better nutrition, advances in medicine and overall improvement in public health care, life expectancy is up worldwide and quality of life in relation to health is also much improved.

So people can be productive much longer. Unfortunately, laws still haven’t adequately caught up with this reality. There is so much emphasis on youth, and age discrimination remains prevalent in various forms and different aspects of life.

Around the world, numerous laws have been passed against discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation, religion and income status. Laws have also been enacted to promote the welfare of women, people with disabilities, the LGBT community and the elderly.

But the discrimination is still there when it comes to equating competence with age. We look at a candidate in his 70s or 80s and wonder if he’s still mentally and physically fit for the job. There are people who refuse to believe that 73-year-old President Duterte’s Barrett’s esophagus hasn’t progressed into cancer. We laugh at government officials’ “senior moments” when there are mental lapses on display in public, even if we ourselves in middle age keep forgetting where we have placed our keys and reading glasses.

To the credit of Congress – probably because many lawmakers are seniors – the country already has an Anti-Age Discrimination in Employment Law. Republic Act 10911 was signed in July 2016, and the implementing rules and guidelines were released in February last year by the Department of Labor and Employment.

RA 10911 prohibits employers from recruiting, hiring, firing, promoting or imposing the early retirement of employees on the basis of age. Violators face fines of up to P500,000 and imprisonment of up to two years, or both penalties.

The exceptions are situations where age “is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary” in the normal operation of a business or where the differentiation is based on “reasonable factors” other than age; when the aim “is to observe the terms of a bona fide seniority system” rather than to evade the law; or when there is an employee retirement plan or voluntary retirement plan consistent with the Labor Code and related laws as well as RA 10911.

Interpreting these exceptions, however, can be tricky, and the typical employee lacks the resources or energy to challenge company retirement policy.

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In the military, police and civil service, strict enforcement of retirement rules at specified ages ensures continuing career advancement for the next batches.

What is lacking are employment and livelihood opportunities for those who want or need to continue earning a living after they have been put out to pasture by government agencies or private employers.

This is a growing problem as younger generations of Filipinos feel less inclined to care for their elders. I know a sleazebag who tossed his mother out of his home and his life as soon as he and his scumbag daughter no longer had any use for the elderly woman’s two decades of nanny services.

Never mind those with golden parachutes or comfortable retirement packages. What about members of the working class with no special skills to offer? Given a choice between a millennial and a senior retiree, the typical employer will pick the young applicant, even if the older one has a slight advantage in terms of skills and asks for lower pay and fewer benefits.

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In a number of professions, practitioners are like wine, getting better with age. Doctors, architects, scientists – they get more respect (and usually higher pay) as they age. My favorite writer, National Artist Frankie Sionil Jose, hasn’t slowed down in his 90s.

The legal profession also values the wisdom of age, with some countries showing appreciation more than others. In the United States, justices of the Supreme Court are appointed for life. There are also no age or term limits for US lawmakers. Americans can keep voting for the same person instead of allowing him or her to be replaced for the same position by the spouse or children, as we do in our country, creating dynasties.

Juan Ponce Enrile was brilliant as presiding officer of the Senate impeachment court that tried, convicted and ousted the late Renato Corona as chief justice. JPE was 88 at the time.

 Retired Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas was also formidable as the lead defense counsel – until Corona himself faced the impeachment court and put his foot in his mouth. Cuevas was 83 during the trial.

So a belief in the wisdom of age could work in JPE’s favor in his latest bid for the Senate. But of course age isn’t the only issue being raised in connection with his desire to continue being on the payroll of Juan and Juana de la Cruz all the way to age 101.

There are also issues of honesty and integrity, which aren’t guaranteed by advanced age.

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