The other night I was at a family reunion and I suddenly realized that the people at our table, mainly cousins, were all senior citizens. At one point, when a cousin urged me to get some food ahead of the others at the table, I deferred, in accordance with Chinese age-first protocol. “I’m the youngest here,” I reminded them, “well, second youngest…” And then I held my breath and announced: “But, hey, I’m now a senior citizen. Kasisixty (Just turned 60). I have my card!”
There was a round of congratulations and suddenly, everyone at the table was talking about The Card. I’m referring to the senior citizen identification card. There was unanimous praise about how useful it was for medicines, and how limited it was for groceries (5 percent off, with a maximum of P1,800 worth of groceries each month). Despite the complaints about the limited groceries, my cousins were all in praise of Puregold for being elderly-friendly, with cashiers deducting the 5 percent right away, while they grumbled about Makati Supermarket, where you pay everything and then go to another counter to get the discounts.
All kinds of other perks emerged, especially in Makati. Apparently, you can get a discount for parking in some establishments in that city. What surprised me most was an exemption from the coding rule for cars. Apparently, you have to be the one driving, or you have to be the only passenger in the car with the driver, to show that the travel is mainly for a senior citizen.
There was disagreement on whether this exemption now applied to all of Metro Manila. No one was sure, so when I got home, I quickly checked the Internet. It seems only Makati has that exemption, while Quezon City has a proposed ordinance that’s been pending for almost a year now.
The last few years I’ve felt some envy listening to senior citizens talking about being members of Club 20, referring to the 20-percent discount that oldies get at restaurants and pharmacies. So, the day after I turned 60, just two months ago, I went off to get my own card, feeling like a child going to a toy store. I got the card without too much hassle, had it laminated, and wondered when I would get to use it.
Alas, two weeks after, the card remained unused. Medicines? I only have one maintenance drug and still had old stocks. Restaurants? I rarely eat out.
Then one day, it happened. I was at a supermarket and needed to use the toilet. I knew there was one on the second floor so, with a rather full bladder, I sprinted up the stairway, even skipping steps. When I got to the top there was a sullen-looking woman waiting to collect a P10 fee but, lo and behold, the sign said San Juan senior citizens were exempted from paying the fee.
Finally, I thought, a chance to use my card. I showed the card to the woman but she stared at me, then at the card, with great suspicion. “Ako ’yan,” I assured her, actually feeling very flattered. She asked me to leave the card with her so she could record it, and I could imagine her sending it down to the dollar exchange kiosk for ultraviolet examination. After I came out of the toilet, I felt like I was still under surveillance so I held on to the stair railings and descended as slowly as I could, as befitting a senior citizen with arthritis.
Another week passed and I was getting quite desperate. My senior citizen card remained unused, except for another visit to the toilet. Was I doomed to a life of senior privileges limited to free use of toilets?
My senior citizen colleagues assured me happier days were yet to come. Book some flights, one suggested, because you get a discount there. Another one joked: Eat out more often so your cholesterol and blood pressure can shoot up and then you get to go to the doctor and get prescribed more medicines.
Then one day in a National Bookstore, I asked the cashier if senior citizens could get discounts on books, which is my one and only vice. She shook her head, looked at me, and asked in Filipino, “Why? Are you a senior citizen already?” I flashed my card and her eyes opened wide, “Kasisixty,” and I wanted to hug her because she said it in a tone like we use when we say “sweet 16.” She called another clerk and practically announced to the whole store that there was this guy who was “kasisixty” but didn’t look it. The clerk came over, looked at the card, looked at me, and then said with genuine sadness that books were not covered.
“Why?” I said, “senior citizens have more time to read.” They were now in a fix for this old man who wanted so badly to get some books. But I was the one feeling uncomfortable now and told them not to worry about this.
The bookstore incident did tell me that Filipinos do indeed respect the elderly, and that The Card was important in “proving” you were now entitled to that respect. The Card opens new possibilities. Many establishments—supermarkets, for example, and government offices like the Department of Foreign Affairs’ passport processing centers—have special courtesy lanes for the elderly, and even in places without one, you can try to flash your card and ask to skip a queue. The LRT and MRT are supposed to have special coaches for the elderly but, as I described last week, the problem is getting to the trains without being crunched and crushed.
The Card identifies you to your peers, and to others, but I’m finding that it also reminds the holder about a milestone, and a passage, in life. That happens whenever I need The Card and fumble in my wallet, sometimes finding it only after some searching, and sometimes realizing I just don’t have it, that I forgot it again. I know in the near future we’ll have smartphone apps where The Card can be inputted, and accepted at establishments. Of course, that presumes we don’t forget to bring the phone when we go out.
The Card did pose new challenges for me. Once in a jeep I paid the P8 fare and my companion told me senior citizens only pay P7. I hadn’t known that, but I thought, do I really want to take away P1 from the already meager earnings of the jeepney driver? I feel the same way about using the discounts in smaller restaurants and stores.
The Card should remind us there’s more to the gray years than entitlements and privileges. It is, after all, a mark of citizenship and not just seniority. The Card then tells us the gray years are golden years, our last chance to be kinder, more considerate, and wiser.
* * *