MANILA, Philippines - One of the more serious violations of the Senior Citizens? law?to my mind, almost criminal?was recently brought to my attention from the province of Oriental Mindoro. Senior citizen Carlo A. Castillo of Sta. Isabel, Calapan City, wrote about his problems with a new senior citizen ID that was issued last May. On the back of this new ID are listed the benefits and privileges enjoyed under Republic Act No. 9257.
One of the benefits listed is a 20-percent discount on the purchase of unbranded, generic medicines. This distinction resulted in Mr. Castillo being denied the senior citizen discount for medicines.
The Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) covering RA 9257 call for a 20-percent discount on all medicines sold at drug stores, pharmacies and similar establishments. Nowhere does the law limit the discount to unbranded, generic medicines. Whoever made this distinction has been playing around with the law for the benefit, perhaps, of pharmaceutical establishments but to the detriment of senior citizens.
Calling the attention of Calapan City Mayor Leachon and the Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) head Mr. Benjamin Tolentino: Please rectify this serious error in the senior citizen card being issued by your office. The benefits listed do not conform to the provisions of the law and undermines one of the most important privileges being enjoyed by senior citizens. My own senior citizen card reads quite clearly: It calls for a 20-percent discount on medicines (no restrictions) from drug stores.
Mr. Castillo also writes that when he brought up the discrepancy at a senior citizen federation meeting, the local DSWD representative was in attendance. Unfortunately, when asked about it, instead of clarifying matters, the representative only added to the confusion by saying that the ID in question was issued by the national federation and that ?pharmaceutical companies were not consulted before RA 9257 was passed.? Social Welfare Undersecretary Alicia Bala should look into this case and reprimand the Calapan City social welfare representative for making such uninformed remarks. Instead of providing accurate guidance, she completely muddled the issue. I can fully understand and appreciate the frustration of Mr. Castillo. We need public servants who are well informed about their job and are prepared to assist senior citizens in these circumstances.
* * *
Last month, I got a call from Rod Reyes, former press secretary of Presidents Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada, inviting me to speak before a group of Parañaque senior citizens. It was an opportunity to reach out to more members of the fastest-growing sector of Philippine society and I gladly accepted his kind offer to discuss some of the issues affecting elderly folks. The breakfast meeting was capped by an exchange of views on some specific problems, the most pressing of which is the move to increase senior citizens discounts to compensate for the imposition of the Value Added Tax (VAT). For all practical purposes, the VAT reduced the 20-percent senior citizen discount to only 8 percent. Consultations continue with congressional leaders for an amendment of the law. There are various formulas being considered and we hope some agreement will be forthcoming. Any adjustment would be most welcome considering the increasing cost of living these days.
Little did I realize that within a few weeks of my meeting with his Parañaque group, Rod Reyes would come out of retirement and return to his first love?the print world. The result is ?Seniors Monthly,? a glossy mag featuring interesting articles on prominent senior citizens and tips on how to keep in shape and hopefully celebrate the century mark in our lives.
The cover story by Bibsy Carballo features actor Eddie Garcia, who at 79 looks a lot healthier than most men half his age. He attributes his longevity in show business to the discipline that a stint in the military service ingrained in his personal life as well as a lifestyle of ?doing everything in moderation.?
A lot of grandparents would empathize with Boots Anson Roa who dwells on the joys of grandparenthood. Boots defines grandchildren as ?my ROI or return on investment.? And for her, this comes in the form of nine grandchildren ranging in age from 21 years down to 20 months. Most senior citizens are also grandparents. They are appreciative of the fact that grandparenthood carries with it the joys minus the responsibilities associated with raising kids. In our case, my wife and I have three, all girls and all living abroad in Vancouver and Chicago. So the time spent with them is even more precious than if they were with us in the Philippines.
?Four Presidents? features Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, with their respective views on life as only presidents can possess and articulate.
Perhaps of greater personal interest to senior citizens is how Makati City cares for its elderly. Its programs, which stand out for the innovations introduced by Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, are funded by a budget of more than a hundred million pesos and are aimed at upholding the Filipino tradition of tender loving care for the elderly.
The ?Lakbay Saya nina Lolo?t Lola? program enables senior citizens to travel free to popular spots not only in Metro Manila but to other parts of the country like Baguio City, Cebu City, Villa Escudero in Laguna and Corregidor Island. This year, senior citizens visited Puerto Princesa, Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro.
A ?Free Movies? program was started in 2001. Senior citizens need only to show their senior citizen IDs at the ticket booth. Of course this applies only to Makati senior citizens at Makati cinema houses.
Makati also hosts a ?Welcome to the Tribe of Senior Citizens Party? for those newly minted senior citizens with birthday cakes to mark the event. (Not all women are thrilled about this welcome party, as some may understand.)
All in all, these benefits go beyond the requirements of the law and make Makati residents the envy of senior citizens in other cities and municipalities in Metro Manila and around the country.
The Seniors Monthly magazine is a giant step in the continuing effort to inform and educate our people on the Senior Citizens? law. I have always said that a large part of the problem faced by senior citizens is the result of inadequate dissemination by the national government of this piece of legislation, which greatly affects the lives of the elderly. There is also a need for speedier resolutions by the DSWD of issues that have been raised from time to time on the implementation of the law.