Thursday, February 4, 2010

Senior citizens ask for so little

LET ME REPEAT what I had written in this space many months ago (“Pension now for poor older people” 3/19/2009) in relation to poor Filipino senior citizens (SC): The Philippines is the only country in Asia that has no social pension for poor, older people. I am referring to the ones not 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), a non-government organization that focuses mainly on the elderly poor.

Now comes the much-awaited expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2009 (SBN 3561) which was passed by the House of Representatives and by the Senate on third reading on Jan. 27, 2010. It is titled “An act granting additional benefits and privileges to senior citizens, further amending RA 7432”.
Only the signature of Pres. Gloria M. Arroyo is being awaited.

If passed, The Senior Citizens Act would grant SC their entire 20 percent discount and exempt them from the 12 percent value-added tax (VAT) provided under the National Internal Revenue Code on the sale of goods and services from all establishments. It is one of the major significant provisions of the Act. SC have been complaining that they have not fully enjoyed the 20 percent discount because of the VAT.

Under the proposed Act, SC shall be entitled to a 20 percent discount and exemption from value added tax on the following:

1. On the purchase of medicines, including the purchase of influenza
and pneumococcal vaccines, and such other essential medical supplies,
accessories and equipment to be determined by the Department of Health

2. On the professional fees of attending physicians in all private
hospitals, medical facilities, outpatient clinics and home health care

3. On the professional fees of licensed professional workers
providing home health care services as endorsed by private hospitals
or employed through home health care employment agencies.

4. On medical and dental services, diagnostic and laboratory fees in
all private hospitals, medical facilities, outpatient clinic and home
health care services.

Aside from the VAT exemption, there would be exemption from payment of individual income taxes for SC considered minimum wage earners. There would be death benefit assistance of a minimum of P2,000 for the bereaved families, monthly stipends of P500 for indigents, and building senior citizens’ wards in government hospitals.

Other benefits for poor SC are free medical and dental services, no diagnostic and laboratory feeds in government facilities, full PhilHealth insurance coverage, free anti-flu and anti-pneumonia vaccines and five percent discount on water and electric bills. These benefits would also ease the burden on poor families who love and care for their elders but who cannot provide for their basic needs.

The estimated P54.4-million in foregone revenues is really a pittance and should not be considered a loss to the government. Think of society's gains from improved health care and increased purchasing power that the elderly would have. The foregone revenues should not be a compelling reason to deprive our elders of the quality of life they deserve.

Last Monday, hundreds of SC braved the heat and marched from Morayta to Mendiola to ask the President to not dilly-dally and to sign the expanded Senior Citizens Act. (Two fainted but recovered.) When told that the President will sign the bill on or before Valentine’s Day, COSE’s executive director, Francis Cupang, said the SC should not be made to wait. “We Filipinos pride ourselves as loving and caring of our elderly,” Cupang said. “Our national policies should reflect this Filipino value. Senior citizens’ interest is of national interest.”

He was worried that interest groups might sway the President to do otherwise. Last week, Malacanang was said to have shown signs of hesitation because exemption from the 12 percent VAT would mean P54.4 in foregone revenues during the first year of the bill’s implementation. How easily they computed and came up with the figure.

Citing national Economic Development Authority figures, Cupang pointed out that of the seven million Filipinos who are over 60 years old, three million live in poverty and 900,000 are “desperately poor.” These SC should not be considered a burden. As COSE has proven through their programs and projects, these poor elderly they have served for 20 years still have much to give by way of services to their communities.

Note that COSE means Coalition of Services of the Elderly, with emphasis on “of the elderly” not “for the elderly.” I have visited some communities where COSE-initiated community programs of the elderly operate. COSE started home care services in some Metro Manila communities but these services need to be replicated and institutionalized by local governments.

The poor older people have a lot to give to their peers and the younger generation. In COSE areas, the strong work as home care assistants, community gerontologists and peer counselors. Others are fund raisers, organizers and mentors for the young. Many who found themselves alone in the sunset of their lives live together, take care of one another and do something for their neighborhood.

Why does the President need to wait for Valentine’s Day to sign The Senior Citizens Act of 2009?