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Opinion

Filipino centenarians and supercentenarians

HISTORY MATTERS - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

Every November 1 and 2, I often wonder how old I would be when I kick the bucket. The death record of a maternal 4X-great-grandfather, Agustin Cristobal Bayot, listed him as 100 years old when he died in 1858. I was then assured that I would probably have a very long life until I saw other ancestors’ death records dying at a much younger due to cancer. It appears that, at least in Agustin Cristobal’s line, the longevity gene also travels with the cancer gene, so who knows what descendants, including myself, would get.

Statista’s 2020 population survey shows Japan with the highest incidence of people 100 years and above, with 0.062% of its population being centenarians, followed very closely by Uruguay at 0.061%. Based on the number of centenarians (100 to 109) and supercentenarians (110 and older) per country, the United States ranks first. In 2023, the US reported more than 98,000 living centenarians, followed by Japan (90.5K), China (54K), Malaysia (43.6K), and India (27K). The world’s oldest recorded person, validated by the Gerontology Research Group and the Guinness World Records, was Jeanne Calment of France who died in 1997 at the prodigious age of 122 years and 164 days, followed by Kane Tanaka of Japan (119 years, 107 days), and Sarah Knauss (119 years, 97 days) of the US.

The Philippines cannot boast of being among the top nations with the most number of centenarians nor claim having living citizens of biblical ages. We do have two heroes who lived to more than 100 years: Melchora “Tandang Sora” Aquino and Mariano Alvarez. Aquino’s 1919 death certificate gives her age at 107. Her birthplace, now Tandang Sora, Quezon City, does not have records that go back that far so it’s difficult to validate her age. Nor do we have documentation for Mariano Alvarez, recorded in Noveleta, Cavite’s 1924 death index as dying at 104 years.

In 2021, the “oldest living Filipino,” in the person of Francisca Montes Susano (Kabankalan, Negros Occidental), was reported in local and international media. Profiled as early as 2016, she died in 2021 at 124 years and was trumpeted as the “oldest person in the world”, surpassing Calment’s 122 years. Unfortunately, this claim is almost impossible to validate. Susano’s only “proof” was an official birth certificate that was registered late by the local civil registrar in 2016, 119 years after her claimed birth year of 1897.

While Susano is considered “the oldest” in the Philippines, others have “better” claims. Martina Sumagaysay of Kabankalan was supposedly 150 years when she died in 1923. Felipe Pedris was recorded in Murcia, Negros Occidental’s 1923 death index at 130 years, while Petronila B. Opal of Viga, Catanduanes, was listed in her 1981 death certificate as 129 years and 3 months old. Unfortunately, no verifiable records are available to prove these claims. Initial search by this author reveals that Petronila’s daughter, Maura Opal, was 18 when she married in 1926, giving her birth year as 1908. That means Petronila was 51 years old when she gave birth to her, a rather improbable, though not impossible, scenario. Mandatory civil registration in the Philippines only started in 1930, so many longevity claims are difficult to substantiate and most of our longevity cases are less likely to be true, though still possible if further records are found.

As of 2023, only two people, Anna B. Wilmot of Cebu and Flaviano Jubane of Antequera, Bohol, have been validated as the oldest people from the Philippines, both dying at 110 years old and with documentation supporting their claims. Wilmot, though dying in Cebu, was an American who moved to the Philippines in the ‘80’s. Strictly speaking, Jubane is the only validated Filipino supercentenarian.

There are around 60 more unvalidated cases in the Philippines, all difficult or impossible to prove. And, while we have benefits for our senior citizens, such as the 20% discount, and the ?100,000 cash gift to those who reach 100, we are still a long way from being called a haven for old people. The 2020 ranking of the best countries for old people to live ranked the Philippines 83rd. Our government should invest more into our old people. More research into longevity studies and the proper documentation of these cases, which we sorely lack, are needed to allow us to compete with other nations with longer lifespans.

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