Pinoy Kasi

Wise men, and women

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DID YOU know that Jan. 6, Three Kings’ Day, has also sometimes been called “Pasko ng mga Matatanda,” the Christmas of the elderly?

The story of the three kings is itself a mix of folklore with many variations, but in all versions, across the world, the three kings tend to be older men, possibly because of the association of wisdom with age. Most accounts I found referred to Melchor as the oldest, but Filipino versions have Balthazar as the most senior.

Rizal’s “El Filibusterismo” has a chapter on Christmas Eve festivities, including a description of a procession headed by Joseph and Mary, followed by an old bearded man, seated with a  kalan  or earthenware stove and a pot, and a mortar used to grind betel nut. The old man is supposed to be Matusalem, better known in English as Methuselah, the biblical character who supposedly lived to a ripe old age of 969 years. It is only after Matusalem that we have the three kings, riding ponies rather than camels.

Three queens

Cultures are constantly borrowing, and adapting what they borrow, and the strong representation of the elderly in our Christmas festivities is striking. The changes continue. For several years now a tongue-in-cheek joke has been going around through e-mail and the Internet on the theme “What if the three kings had been women?” Most versions say the wise (wiser) women would have brought more useful presents, asked for directions, arrived on time to help with Mary’s delivery, and cleaned the stable. For still another twist, visit marysoderstrom.blogspot and “three wise women” to get answers to: “What would they have said after they left?”

I did want to propose that in the Philippines, we can transform Jan. 6 to a special day for the elderly, appreciating the many wise kings and queens among them. I have, as many of you know, my vested interests here being a “kasisixty” who wrote recently about the adventures of dealing with a senior-citizen card. Since then, there have been more adventures, plus e-mails from other senior citizens complaining about the inconsistent policies in the implementation of the 20-percent discount for food and medicines.

I did some research and found Bureau of Internal Revenue Memorandum Circular No. 38-2012 issued Aug. 6, 2012. You can download the full text from the Internet but I have to warn you the memorandum leaves many questions unanswered. The most important points brought out in the memorandum is that the discount should apply to all “food, drinks [but not alcohol], dessert and other consumable items … offered for the consumption of the general public [which means no kiddie meals!].” The general rule as explained by the memorandum is that the total billing amount should be divided by the number of senior-citizen customers (with a senior-citizen card) less 12-percent VAT multiplied by 20 percent. The memorandum goes on to declare: “There should be no fixed, maximum amount or cap which will limit the discount below the rate of 20 percent.”

The other provisions tend to be unclear, and I’m checking with my lawyer-friends, one of whom has already raised her hands in despair at the unclear passages.

Which brings me to the point about the need for more advocacy concerning senior-citizen needs and rights. Four months after turning 60, I’ve become so much more conscious about how insensitive many establishments can be when it comes to the needs of the elderly, starting with physical access.

Hunks and thieves

In her “Forever 81” column last Sunday, Gilda Cordero Fernando described how she had to be lifted two flights of stairs to watch a theater presentation. I’m holding my head in shame because that was Palma Hall in my college. Gilda did text me the night before to say she was going to watch the play and was bringing two of her hunks (her gardener and houseboy, I think) to lift her wheelchair. I quickly offered two more hunks from among the college security guards to help out, and I think Gilda quite enjoyed the perk. But how many people can be as lucky as Gilda? (And, let’s face it, most of the time, the elderly have to be really wary about the hunks that do offer help.)

There are also problems of access to services, and for today, I wanted to zero in on the financial institutions, starting with bank ATMs. These machines are a boon for younger people but can be harrowing for the elderly. Simply memorizing the pass code can be a challenge for senior citizens. Following the instructions can be daunting, too, especially for people whose literacy levels are low. As if that were not enough, the banks have put a kind of hood over the keyboard to protect users from thieves trying to steal their pass code, but the hood also makes it even more difficult for the elderly to use the keyboard—and in one bank, the hood partly blocks the slot where money is issued. I can’t imagine how someone with arthritic hands can use these ATMs.

Institutions dealing with financial matters—banks, stockbrokers, insurance—need to review all their policies for the elderly. Because they deal with money, they do come up with stringent requirements that make transactions really complicated and difficult.

I’ll give one concrete example: One of these institutions recently asked me to update my 92-year-old mother’s records by submitting two of her valid government-issued IDs. She doesn’t drive, and so never had a driver’s license.  (And tell me, how many 92-year-olds still renew their driver’s license?) She hasn’t traveled in years, so her passport expired years ago. SSS and PhilHealth didn’t exist in her time, so those are out as well. And I certainly am not going to wheel her into the NBI office to get a clearance card. All she has is her senior-citizen card. Now the institution wants affidavits from her doctors, so we haven’t heard the last yet of the story.

I know all these requirements are meant to protect the elderly, but these can backfire. Some elderly end up asking a younger relative to handle the papers, but I’ve heard elderly friends quip, “Paano  na  kung  nasa  loob  ng  bahay  ang  magnanakaw  (What happens if the thief is already inside your house, or is part of your household)?” Sometimes, too, I wonder, while filling out long-winded forms in quadruplicate, with all kinds of passages in microscopic print, who is going to protect the elderly from the banks and the financing institutions?

The elderly in the Philippines only constitute 6 percent of the population, but have considerable financial resources because life expectancy tends to be higher as you go up the income strata. It’s time to translate those resources into consumer clout. Some of my readers are already proposing a boycott of restaurants that don’t give the full discounts. I’m skeptical about boycotts but certainly, the elderly have to go beyond just complaining. It’s time for more good old men and women to put their wisdom to making life safer, and easier, for the elderly.

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E-mail: mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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