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Senior citizens deserve greater consideration

/ 02:13 AM February 29, 2016

THERE ARE about seven million senior citizens in the country and if you include adult members of their families and close relatives, this figure easily comes up to at least 14 million voting citizens. They may not vote as a solid block but through word of mouth in their respective communities, they can influence others one way or another particularly when it comes to local issues.

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Three months ago, senior citizen Oscar Lagman, wrote to complain about a business establishment in Mandaluyong City.

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Briefly, Lagman had been buying an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid for his use from various Generics Pharmacy outlets since 2008. However, when he tried to purchase the same from Generics Pharmacy Qualigen, located at Star Mall Edsa corner Shaw Boulevard, he was informed that company policy did not allow senior citizen discounts for the product he wished to purchase.

Refusal by the outlet to honor his senior citizen status prompted Lagman to e-mail a complaint to Delfin Asistio, coordinator of the Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (Osca) of Mandaluyong City and to Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman.

He received no response from them.

However, after I wrote about his experience, he received an e-mail reply from Secretary Soliman saying that “Osca of LGU (Mandaluyong City) and the concerned drugstore had been advised of the validity of my complaint and that the Senior Citizen Secretariat of the National Coordinating and Monitoring Board (NCMB) had been informed of the communication to Osca and the drugstore.”

Nilo Villaruz of Osca Mandaluyong City called up Lagman to ask for the details of his complaint. Apparently no one in his office had read Lagman’s letter-complaint.

After being asked by Lagman what action had been taken on the matter, Villaruz replied that their Business Permit Office had sent a communication to the drugstore concerned. When Lagman asked about any results in connection with the communication, no reply was received.

Three things are clear: first, Secretary Soliman considers Lagman’s complaint valid and informed Osca Mandaluyong City and Generics Pharmacy Qualigen of their position; second, Osca Mandaluyong City by inaction failed to uphold the law; and third, the NCMB failed to take any action on the matter. It probably ended up as a statistic in their office.

It has been three months since the complaint of Lagman was sent to the government offices concerned. He has not heard from them since the initial reaction when I wrote about the matter. Generics Pharmacy Qualigen continues to operate even as it refuses to honor the senior citizens law. Unfortunately, for the great majority of our people, the experience of Lagman is typical of the bureaucracy and is more the rule rather than the exception. We have so many laws, but proper implementation and enforcement is either poor or nonexistent.

It is basically the local government unit, in this case Mandaluyong City, headed by Mayor Benhur Abalos, that is responsible for enforcement. If the city executives do not do their duty or fail to carry out their responsibilities, the senior citizen suffers.

What should senior citizens do?

We shall be electing our officials, local and national, come May. Let us use our vote wisely. This is perhaps the only occasion when we can hold our officials accountable for what they have done or what they have failed to do.

DO NOT VOTE for officials who ignore complaints from their constituents.

DO NOT VOTE for officials who pay lip service to the needs and concerns of their constituents and become deaf and dumb once in office.

VOTE for change if one is not satisfied with the performance of incumbents.

What is also needed is an example. We need to see business establishments being penalized for violations of the

senior citizens law. Lack of punishment for offenders only perpetuates a climate of impunity. Fear of retribution is the best deterrent against any form of criminal activity.

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What else can be done for the benefit of our senior citizens as well as for persons with disabilities (PWDs)?

In Congress, we have a party-list group with the acronym “Senior Citizens.” Their objective is to assist senior citizens in the enjoyment of their rights and benefits under the law. They are supposed to serve as the voice of the senior citizen sector in Congress. One of their more important functions is to sponsor and implement projects geared toward the enhancement of the general welfare of senior citizens.

What have they accomplished so far?

Not much, since they have been quarrelling among themselves for some time now. In fact, a number of representatives have been facing charges of corruption.

But if they have the time and the inclination to do some work on behalf of their constituents, let me provide some ideas for them to chew on.

• In Brazil a law requires that all private business and government facilities provide immediate and “differentiated”

attention to people aged 60 and over. To comply with the law, many establishments have set up exclusive service windows known as “preferential lines” to attend to senior citizens and PWDs. The Brazilian Constitution says the government must defend the “dignity” of the elderly and provide them with free public transportation.

The city of Fortaleza in the Brazilian state of Ceara goes even further. It passed an ordinance in 2014 allowing seniors and PWDs to cut to the front of any line or queue. Since the law went into effect complaints have produced 114 fines totaling some $20,000.

• Instead of an Osca, what is needed is a “Senior Citizen Advocacy Agency” that will address in a speedy manner all complaints of senior citizens and PWDs. It is safe to say that Osca in its present form does not satisfy the needs and concerns of senior citizens. There are better ways of addressing the problem. It only requires sincerity, initiative and determination, particularly on the part of local executives, to bring about badly needed improvements in the implementation of the senior citizens law.

TAGS: Benhur Abalos, Delfin Asistio, Elections 2016, Generics Pharmacy Qualigen, Mayor Benhur Abalos, Office for Senior Citizens Affairs, Office of Senior Citizens Affairs of Mandaluyong City, Oscar Lagman, Senior citizens
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