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Opinion

Senior moments

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

As of 2020, there were 9,242,121 senior citizens or those above 60 years old in this country, as recorded by the Philippine Statistics Authority.

The PSA is projecting the Philippine population to have hit about 112 million in 2023, although some foreign economic consultancies place the number at over 118 million.

The official PSA figure for seniors would have changed since 2020. Even with high COVID deaths among the elderly during the pandemic, however, it’s likely that the figure would not have changed dramatically.

That would still constitute about eight percent of the Philippine population. Many seniors retire with disposable income – a consumer and audience segment that remains under-tapped in our economy.

In our developing country, however, many others need financial and other forms of support in their twilight years. Those millions of senior citizens are surely glad that benefits granted by the government continue to increase.

Beyond cash gifts and discounts for a broad range of goods and services, however, seniors will also appreciate more opportunities to remain productive and financially independent.

And they will appreciate more facilities for caring for the debilitated elderly, which is a challenge especially for low-income families.

*      *      *

Based on current demographic trends, the Commission on Population and Development estimates that the country will have an aging population by 2030. As defined by the CPD, this is when the number of those aged 60 and older increases significantly while the number of those aged 15 and below decreases.

In 2022, the Philippine fertility rate stood at 1.9 children per woman – down from 2.7 in 2017 and 4.1 in 1993. The 1.9 is already below the replacement fertility level of 2.1 children per woman, according to the PSA.

US-based Macrotrends LLC has different figures. As of 2024, it estimates the Philippine fertility rate at 2.43 births per woman, down from seven in 1950. The consulting firm meanwhile sees Philippine life expectancy improving from 55 years in 1950 to 71.79 in 2024.

Improvements in medicine, health care, nutrition and lifestyles have raised life expectancy in the Philippines and in many other parts of the world.

As important as life expectancy, however, is the quality of life.

*      *      *

When Valentine’s Day this year fell on Ash Wednesday, the rare coincidence was eclipsed by V-Day birthday boy Juan Ponce Enrile turning 100, still spry enough to serve as the chief presidential legal counsel of his former boss’ only son and namesake.

JPE’s feat also glossed over the fact that he is out on bail – granted on humanitarian grounds ostensibly due to his advanced age and frail health – for the normally non-bailable offense of plunder of his pork barrel allocation when he was a senator.

If a person is lucid and healthy enough to hold a top government position and even attend Cabinet meetings regularly in person, isn’t the person healthy enough to be in detention for a non-bailable offense?

Enrile shared pride of place at Malacañang as a distinguished centenarian with Kalinga traditional tattoo artist Whang-Od, who turned 107 last Feb. 17. The Butbut mangbabatok was honored with a Merit Medal by BBM for her contributions to the country’s traditional arts.

As provided under Republic Act 10868, the Centenarian Act of 2016, JPE received a cash gift of P100,000 for reaching the 100-year milestone. Asked what he planned to do with his P100,000, JPE said he would probably just keep it. He reportedly later gave it away.

JPE can afford to give away P100,000 to the less fortunate. For many other seniors, however, P100,000 is a substantial amount for urgent needs.

Many of these seniors are healthy enough to continue earning a living, but there are few jobs and livelihood opportunities open to those above 60 years old. In many establishments, 60 is the retirement age.

Retirement pensions in both the government and private sector are barely enough to keep seniors’ body and soul together (except for military and other uniformed personnel, members of the judiciary and certain other key government officials).

Saving for retirement is not yet common for ordinary Filipinos, and impossible for the poor. The seniors then become dependent on younger relatives, whose resources for elderly care are usually also limited, especially if the senior suffers from health problems. Many families don’t know how to deal with age-related cognitive problems such as Alzheimer’s. The country has an acute lack of health services for elderly care.

*      *      *

This week Republic Act 10868 was expanded through RA 11982, “An Act Granting benefits to Filipino Octogenarians and Nonagenarians.” A cash gift of P10,000 now awaits those who turn 80, 85, 90 and 95 years old.

Before senior citizens rejoice, however, they must be reminded that the government still has to source the funds for the expanded Centenarian Act. The cash gift is not in the 2024 General Appropriations Act.

Senate data showed that around 194,000 seniors are entitled to get the cash gift. Data as of July 2022 showed the country had 103,348 citizens aged 80; 57,304 aged 85; 24,751 aged 90 and 6,209 aged 95. There were 2,500 centenarians in 2022. About P2.2 billion is needed for their cash gifts, based on Senate estimates.

While the government looks for the funding source, those who qualify for the P10,000 cash gift must register with the Office of Senior Citizens Affairs.

Once registered, they get an IOU from the government, and they can collect the cash in 2025. They should hope the IOU doesn’t turn out to be OPM – oh promise me – and when the gift becomes available, that they are not required to personally collect the cash.

Following the enactment of RA 11982, netizen Janela San Antonio Williams posted this message on PhilSTAR Life’s Facebook page: “Tapos pag pinamigay yan ng LGU, 2 latang sardinas, 250g bearbrand, 2 lucky me chicken noodles, 25g na great taste coffee, 1 kl sugar at 2kg bigas worth 500 pesos! Ang susungit pa nung mga nagbibigay na tauhan ng munisipyo akala mo naman mga share holders at tagapagmana!”

Oh well, if it’s too much hassle, the beneficiaries can probably tell themselves that it’s the thought that counts.

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