When did they turn the corner into the sunset of their lives? One moment they were in their prime, and the next they had become frail, softer in their voice, a bit tentative in their step. And yet they loom large—still pillars of home and society, suns around which moons revolve.
One admirable aspect of Filipino culture is how much the elderly are valued. Though fading now, they occupy a stellar position in society precisely because of their age and the wisdom that comes with it. (A still largely valid ideal, but fraying in some parts.) It is thus the responsibility of both families and the state to see to the welfare and wellbeing of the elderly, and protect them against abuse as they live out their days. Yet it is also a fact that many elderly Filipinos are without family and alone, or, though ill and infirm, on their own, or, with family but enduring abuse. It remains the state’s responsibility to care for them as well.
This week (Oct. 1-7) is Elderly Filipino Week, and it offers the best chance for the public to reflect on the condition of the old among us. The Department of Social Welfare and Development is the lead government agency tasked with sheltering and providing for the elderly. Says Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo: “Older persons are included in the vulnerable sector who need our care and concern.” Among the DSWD’s announced activities for the week are the recognition of 10 outstanding elderly persons and the launch of the Centenarians Act. (A perk is free rides for the elderly on all the train systems in Metro Manila.)
In the 2010 census there were an estimated 6.95 million senior Filipinos (60 and older)—6.8 percent of the total population. Of the number, 1.18 million live below the poverty line, according to Senior Citizens party-list Rep. Mila Magsaysay.
The DSWD runs shelters for the homeless elderly and distributes a monthly stipend of P500 under the Social Pension for Indigent Senior Citizens Program. It has a new project aptly tagged “ReSPPEC,” for Reporting System and Prevention Program for Elderly Abuse Cases.
“Elderly abuse is a hidden problem,” says Aura Sevilla, project coordinator of the Coalition of Services of the Elderly (Cose). “The No. 1 perpetrators of these are family members, and the [cases] are not reported.” Cose is a group of elderly volunteers who fight for the rights and dignity of other senior citizens—proof that the elderly can still fight the good fight with fire. “We lose members, but every month we have new recruits for orientation,” says Cose’s Crispulo Milgrino.
Which means that the elderly are not necessarily in a state of dependence. “[The elderly in rural and urban poor communities] used to feel like they are just receiving benefits from the government, that they’re just waiting for whatever dole the government gives,” says Sevilla, a volunteer in her twenties who shows exactly how the young can work to protect their elders. “Now, more older persons are being more active. You see that they have self-worth.”
Indeed, says Magsaysay, “there is more dignity for our aged that comes with the pride of self-reliance, rather than sitting around and waiting for monthly doles.”
Yet ageism continues to rear its ugly head worldwide, withholding opportunities from the elderly in a global society that prizes youth. There are too many older job-seekers who fail to land jobs simply because they are seen as less capable. (This is true not just for those 60 and older, but those who are just 30. Last year, Susan Ople of the Ople Policy Center noted: “No matter how skilled they are, regardless of their work ethic, many find themselves unable to land a job simply because they are above 30 years old.” Congress recently passed the Anti-Age Discrimination in Employment Act, effectively banning age limitations in job openings and requiring equality of compensation for employees regardless of age.)
It’s a fact of life: Each one of us will grow old. Those blessed to live to a ripe old age should be able to do so in comfort and with the respect and appreciation they deserve.
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