Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pension Now! for poor older people

I am told that the Philippines is the only country in Asia that has no social pension for poor, older people. These are mostly the ones who had not been formally employed when they were younger and therefore did not have social security or insurance that they could draw from in their older years.

Countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Vietnam have some kind of social pension for the elderly poor, says Ed Gerlock, advocacy officer of the Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE). COSE is a non-government organization (NGO) that focuses mainly on the elderly poor.

Founded 20 years ago, COSE empowers poor older persons and helps them live productive lives even in their sunset years. Empowered, they become catalysts in their neighborhood. They serve and help one another so that they are not a burden to their families and their communities. They even go beyond their small confines to serve the community at large. And when some of them become too frail to be of service, the stronger elderly care for them.

COSE also helps the elderly who find themselves poor, uncared for and alone by linking them up with those in a similar situation. Strangers to one another in the beginning, these senior citizens begin to bond and enjoy living together like a family in group homes in a community setting. No institutionalization here.

I was in Barrio Bagong Silangan in Kalookan City recently to meet some older people, a.k.a. senior citizens, who are actively and vigorously serving their community. Bagong Silangan has five sitios and 37,500 households which are mostly from the low-income bracket. COSE has a strong presence here.

There is the Sitio Kumonoy Elderly Association (SKEA) which has 97 members. President Encarnacion Matreo, 63, says they meet regularly to address concerns related to health (medical, dental, optical), electricity, sanitation and the like. Their “Mission-Vission” (note spelling) is proudly posted on the wall for all to read.

I got to meet the women who run the Botica-Binhi, a community drugstore. I also met the elderly volunteer gerontologists. What a lively bunch they were. I was also introduced to a very, very poor elderly woman living in a tent. Illiterate, the only thing she knew how to do was scavenging which earned her P30 a day. But it was heartwarming to see how her neighbors looked after her and her daughter.

She is among those who should benefit from The Elderly Poor Pensions Act. Introduced by Rep. Eduardo Zialcita, this act “encourage(s) social and economic development through monthly pensions to the elderly poor, appropriating funds therefore.” It provides that all financially disadvantaged elderly may avail of the social pension as well as loans provided they are Filipino citizens, at least aged 60, unemployed and without adequate means for survival, and holders of a special ID issued by the appropriate government agency.

The provisions of this act shall be included in the General Appropriations Act of the year. The Department of Social Welfare and Development is mandated to promulgate the rules and regulations for its implementation. The organized elderly are still pushing for the implementation to happen soon.

COSE says that this is not welfare or dole-out but “economic development and justice for older people.”

Collaborating with COSE are about 60 older peoples organizations (OPO) in urban poor areas in Metro Manila that are engaged in community-based programs of the elderly (CBPE). The provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Camarines Norte, Cebu, Agusan del Sur and Davao as well as the cities of Baguio, Bacolod and Iligan have CBPE.

The local governments of Hagonoy in Bulacan, Barangay Ma-a in Davao City and five towns in Camarines Norte are now implementing home care assistance programs. The DSWD developed and implemented the guideless for the Neighborhood Support Services for Older Persons.

But there’s a lot more that should be done. Although COSE started the home care services in some Metro Manila communities, there is need for these services to be replicated and institutionalized by local governments.

The poor elderly have a lot to contribute to their communities. In COSE areas, the strong work as home care assistants and community gerontologists. The latter monitor the health of the aging. Others act as peer counselors and offer a listening ear to those with problems.

There are the fund raisers, community and social activities organizers. The burial fund officers see to it that bereaved families are not overburdened by expenses. The Botica-Binhi managers make available low-priced medicines.

Others act as advocacy officers to help raise awareness about current issues. The group home managers help the elderly live together independently and harmoniously. Some do writing, others do business management. And there are the teachers who mentor both young and old and who also act as guide for outsiders and students who want to be exposed to community programs and the local culture.

Notice that the prepositions in COSE are of, not for. Coalition OF Services OF the Elderly. They also serve and do not merely stand and wait. COSE believes it is important for older people to remain in the community to share their experiences and wisdom—and to teach us all about our own process of growth and aging.

COSE’s office is on the mezzanine floor of Mariwasa Bldg, 717 Aurora Blvd., QC., 7220418, The place is no longer big enough for group activities of the elderly. COSE is looking for a bigger place, preferably a house with outdoor space for gatherings.