Reveille

Seniors’ gripes and frustrations

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Of all, let me greet a senior citizen of the clan who recently marked his 63rd birth anniversary.

A few years ago, Mabini “EQ” Pablo closed out a distinguished career of 33 years in public service as undersecretary of public works and highways. Last Saturday, he brought relatives and friends together to celebrate another milestone in a year of personal challenges that often confront other senior citizens. In May this year, his wife, Clem, daughter of the late Justice Ines Luciano, was diagnosed of and found positive for a malignancy requiring chemotherapy treatments. Despite her condition, she insisted that the party proceed as planned.

And so with the slogan “Stay with Us” emblazoned on a background banner, EQ put up a stand-up, one-man musical performance at the Teatrino in Greenhills, showcasing the Pablo fighting spirit. He began and ended the evening with an ol’ Sinatra favorite, “I’ve Got You under My Skin,” dedicated to Clem.

By the way, EQ stands for Elpidio Quirino. When he was born, his grandfather Bishop Santiago Fonacier, head of the Philippine Independent Church, noticed the baby’s chubby cheeks and baptized him with the nickname EQ, after the sitting president. EQ is my nephew, the youngest son of Rizalino and Bituin Pablo. Rizalino served as director of the Bureau of Commerce and, later, executive director of the National Economic Council (NEC) under Secretary Cornelio Balmaceda during the Quirino administration. His mother, Manang “Bit,” is my first cousin. At 92, she remains in the best of health and spirits, definitely a role model for senior citizens.

EQ finished secondary school at UP Prep, Padre Faura. He then graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration and later completed a master’s degree program in Urban and Regional Planning, both at the UP. He took up post-graduate studies in Economics at the Institute of Social Studies at The Hague.

Present at the Pablo gathering were former public works secretaries Gregorio Vigilar and Jose de Jesus, undersecretary Teddy Encarnacion, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, Quirino Gov. Junie Cua, Mon Fernandez of Metro Pacific, and other colleagues at the Department of Public Works and Highways, Red Cross (where he is at present a governor), and Mt. Carmel Parish.

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Calling the attention of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In an earlier column, I wrote about the plight of our elderly who, for medical reasons, are unable to eat much of our regular food. They have to rely on special nutritional supplements such as Ensure or Glucerna. Ensure is advertised as “a source of nutrition in connection with aging, recovery from illness, injury or surgery, and with managing physical and mental conditions that cause an inability or refusal to eat, appetite loss, overall weight loss.” Glucerna is designed for “people with diabetes to help minimize blood sugar spikes and manage hunger as part of a diabetes weight loss plan.”

Let me reiterate what the IRR [implementing rules and regulations] of the Senior Citizen Law says. Under Rule IV, entitled “Medicine and Drug Purchases,” the IRR reads in part as follows: “The 20-percent discount and VAT exemption shall also be granted to the purchase of vitamins and mineral supplements, which are medically prescribed by a physician for prevention and treatment of diseases, illness or injury.”

Unfortunately even with this clear ruling, the FDA has gone against the spirit of the law with a narrow-minded and myopic classification of products such as Ensur e and Glucerna as foods and not nutritional or vitamin supplements. Just by reading the advertisements of these products, one can easily conclude that they are not ordinary foods, especially since they are covered by a doctor’s prescription.

In answer to my earlier column on this subject, I received an e-mail from the director of the FDA, Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go. To say the least, it was the kind of response from a bureaucratic mind. He said, “Food supplements are not considered essential medicines and not covered within the scope of the 20-percent discount. The OSCA [Office for Senior Citizens Affairs] nationwide knows this.”

I beg to disagree with Doctor Go. Many OSCAs nationwide are not even aware of the problem and if they are, they passively accept whatever ruling is laid down by the FDA and the DOH.

What senior citizens are asking for is a review of these rulings through multisectoral discussions that will take into account the requirements of the elderly as well as the opinions of various medical and health groups. Nowhere in his communication does the FDA director try to explain his unilateral position.

My next move was to check with the DOH. Dr. Aleli Sudiakal at the office of Health Secretary Enrique Ona referred me back to the FDA offices. Director Go was out of the country and I was passed on to the chief of legal office, lawyer Emilio Polig. He reiterated the stand of the FDA, classifying Ensure and Glucerna and similar supplements as “foods,” without much elaboration. But he also provided a glimmer of hope by informing me that next week a meeting is scheduled with the DSWD to review the matter and it is hoped other sectors will be invited to present their various positions.

There is a prevailing doctrine in law that in case of some doubt in the construction and interpretation of social legislation statutes, the liberality of the law in favor of the beneficiary should prevail in light of the Constitution’s social justice policy. In layman’s language, this means that where social legislation enactments are concerned, the law should be interpreted in favor of the beneficiary, in this case, the senior citizens.

It is our hope that the participants in the coming meeting keep this idea in mind.

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We have an e-mail from Pocholo Romualdez, editor of Malaya newspaper. He asks, “What is the law on the 20-percent discount on the excess consumption on the value of gift certificates? I got two different interpretations recently. In one case, the establishment honored the senior citizen discount. The other did not.”

My response: There is no specific legal provision that covers this situation. The issue of excess consumption is not relevant. Gift certificates are just like cash payments and should be treated as such. Whether one pays by cash or gift certificate, the senior citizen discount holds.

Incidentally, Pocholo says that our fathers were old friends and he got his first reporting job with the Philippines Herald, courtesy of my father who was then the Herald publisher.

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Reader Bayani Tamayo is complaining about Conti’s Restaurant at Trinoma. He says that the computations covering the senior citizen discount are so complicated, it is difficult for an ordinary citizen to understand them. Some people make things complicated just to muddle the issue.

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