The elderly among us
In the week just past, the government through the Department of Social Welfare and Development honored the elderly among us with activities that included a “Walk for Life,” an awarding ceremony, a concert, and a forum tackling various issues concerning the sector.
Today, the first Sunday of the month, is “National Respect for Centenarians Day,” which will see the honorees receiving a congratulatory letter from the President and a cash gift to mark their wonderful milestone.
This celebration is empowered by Republic Act No. 10868, or “An Act Honoring and Granting Additional Benefits and Privileges to Filipino Centenarians, and For Other Purposes.”
The law is another illustration of how Philippine society largely attempts to measure up to a culture that values elders (3.4 million Filipinos were 60 years and older as of 2010), their counsel, and their esteemed place in the national life.
It’s a mark of its progress when a society extends to its elderly the benefits, respect and recognition that they deserve, representing public gratitude for their service to their families and to the national good, and helping ensure their comfort in their twilight years.
There is infinitely more to be done, of course, starting with the elderly who are ailing, homeless, and otherwise no longer able to provide for themselves. It was as early as 1994 when President Fidel V. Ramos signed Proclamation No. 470 directing the executive branch to design a social welfare program that will promote the wellbeing of the elderly.
Which is why recent news of the killing of 62-year-old Lorna Soza is truly shocking, condemnable — and indicative of the depths to which this society has dropped.
According to reports, on Aug. 6 Soza stole a cell phone from a mall store in Ormoc City. Security cameras allowed Ormoc police to identify and arrest her. She was taken to Ormoc Police Station 1, where she sought forgiveness from the store owner and offered to pay for the phone with P10,300, all the cash she had in her wallet.
Her family later said she was afflicted with kleptomania, had stolen things and been arrested before, but had always been released when her condition was explained.
Soza was detained until Aug. 11 although no charges were filed against her. On that day, she was taken from her cell before dawn and forced to board a police vehicle.
Later that morning, her corpse was found in a grassy lot in the nearby town of Kananga in Leyte. Her head, disfigured by a gunshot wound, was wrapped in packaging tape; her hands were bound using the same tape.
The Kananga police have filed a complaint for murder against six Ormoc City policemen in connection with Soza’s death; a complaint for arbitrary detention was filed against two of the officers. The policemen are now held at the Eastern Visayas regional police headquarters in Palo, Leyte.
What brought about the murder of this 62-year-old woman? Was her killing a bit of sport in the dead of night? The brutality is incomprehensible and of a piece with the murderous atmosphere resulting from the government’s bloody war on drugs and now enveloping the nation, in which the lives of both young and old are so easily snuffed out in the most distressing ways.
“This is most disturbing news — an elderly Filipino was allegedly executed for stealing a cell phone,” Assistant Social Welfare Secretary Aleli Bawagan said in a statement. “We have no more means to determine [her] reasons for stealing the cell phone, but whatever her reasons were, there is no justifying what was done to her afterwards. The reports about her killing are shocking. We are greatly dismayed whenever we encounter reports of how elderly Filipinos are abused, or worse, killed under the most suspicious circumstances.”
Bawagan added: “Our call is for the whole of government to unite in efforts to support the elderly and to help them cope with the challenges created by their age, poverty and other negative social circumstances.”
Soza’s killing is simply unacceptable and should be cause for deep outrage, not only because the nation had just observed Elderly Filipino Week. We call for swift action from the authorities.
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