I always put money in donation boxes for the families of our soldiers who die in battle and one time, a friend who saw that expressed her surprise: “Aren’t you pacifist?” I was ready with my reply: Precisely because I’m so antiwar, I must support the victims of any war, regardless of whose side they are, and, even more importantly, for those who take no sides but still suffer.
The donation boxes always have photographs of children, to tug at our heartstrings. The photographs are quite effective and I think that they should stay as is but at one point I thought maybe they should have photographs of the widows. I’ve seen all too many of the grieving widows — again on all sides of the many raging conflicts we have in the Philippines. Seen. And heard the desperate wailing punctuated by never-ending questions: Why did you have to die, how will I support the children?
But then I think that using their photographs would be too intrusive. Taking their photographs after their husbands have been buried would be even worse: the sullen, sometimes even angry faces reflecting how the grief is now all spent, giving way to even more consuming despair.
It’s the month of March again, during which we will read many articles, hear many speeches about oppression and discrimination against women. There’s a tendency to use “women” generically, forgetting that there are specific groups of women who deserve more attention from society: the poor, the elderly, national minorities, Muslims. Each of those terms also tend to be too generic, masking gradients of hardship within each sector.
Then you have the combinations: the elderly women from among the urban poor, for example.
Or … the widows of those who die in battle: soldiers, police, rebels (and oh, there are so many different kinds of rebels).
I looked up the benefits available to widows and other dependents — the term used is survivors’ benefits — with various government agencies and am glad to say they do exist, but wonder how adequate the payments are. It would take several columns to name them all, and I hope at some point we get a compilation that can be given free to the public … in local languages and in simple terms.
There seems to be many options available for immediate
assistance right after death, like a P30,000 funeral benefit with GSIS. For soldiers, there are death pensions that are unbelievably paltry: P1,000 a month for the spouse, P1,000 for each unmarried minor child, and bereaved parent; and P2,000 for a “single parent (with accretion),” that last category I could not figure out.
I was wondering too about the retirement benefits for survivors. SSS explains the options, which I am going to send to our Institute of Mathematics so they can use them in math classes: the sum of P300 plus 20 percent of the average monthly salary credit plus 2 percent of the average monthly salary credit for each credited year of service (CYS) in excess of 10 years; or 40 percent of the average monthly salary credit; or P1,000, if the CYS is less than 10; P1,200 if with at least 10 CYS; or P2,400, if the CYS is 20 or more.
I can imagine a laborer’s widow trying to figure it out, and probably just leaving it all to the SSS staff.
I could not find the exact survivorship benefits for the GSIS except for mention of a cap on what the widow and dependents can get, which is 50 percent of the current step 8A of an undersecretary’s salary. That’s going to require another long explanation: government workers’ salaries are standardized across all agencies, with a table of grades and steps. An undersecretary is Grade 30, Step 8.
I have to say it was frustrating doing the research for widows and children, and makes me realize too how much more needs to be done. The way it is right now, we seem motivated mainly by pity: a little money for the funeral, a scholarship for the brighter children.
We should be thinking of how widows can be helped in the long term. I googled “Department of Agriculture benefits” and “widows” and got, on the first entry, an item with “widows” crossed out. They have a Punla or Program for Unified Lending to Agriculture, described as a “special lending facility for marginal farmers and fisherfolk.” Nothing in that facility for widows and yet, it is in these sectors where widows are particularly helpless.
Last month the National Democratic Front of the Philippines released its Draft Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, a compilation of proposed changes they had been hoping for, to be discussed as part of the peace negotiations. I was struck by a particular provision that calls for “attention to widows’ and single mothers’ access to land ownership and other agricultural support systems by providing free titling services, free legal assistance in titling, and other appropriate subsidies.”
We need not wait for the peace talks to resume to expand the forms of support for widows, especially in sectors that are seriously disadvantaged.
Not only that, it’s high time we recognized how restrictive the provisions are when government insists only “legitimate spouses” can access survivorship benefits. Yet we have many couples, much more so from poorer households, that are in common-law relationships. I know the government can’t afford to be giving survivor benefits to a man’s bereaved mistresses but surely there must be a way to certify, through neighbors or the barangay, one common-law relationship.
Note, too, the paradox of this GSIS provision for survivorship benefits: “legitimate spouse until he/she remarries, or co-habits/engages in common-law relationship.” In other words, a widow or widower who goes into a common-law relationship loses survivorship benefits, but someone who is in a common-law relationship with someone is not considered a legitimate spouse if that partner dies.
Finally, I did think too about widowers needing assistance, and they do have survivorship benefits but a widow’s situation is much more precarious than that of a widower. Widowers will often pass on the care of his children to other relatives but widows take the children with them and have to find ways to take care of them until they reach adulthood. The future is so much more uncertain: a new husband can be a solution … or the road to even more hardships and risks, especially for the children.
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