LOLA Ching tried to avail herself of the P1,300 weekly grocery allocation senior citizens are entitled to a five-percent discount as set down by Republic Act (RA) 9994, or the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010.

Her daughter asked the supermarket cashier why no discount was given for two bottles of cranberry juice and two boxes of prunes Lola Ching needed to aid her digestion and bowel movement.

The cashier said the senior citizen’s discount is only given for selected items, such as meat and eggs. At the age of 74, with diabetes affecting her kidneys and heart, a high-protein diet will do her more harm than good.

Tatay Bert, 80, lined up behind a senior citizen’s counter in a North Reclamation Area supermarket. Although he showed his identification card from the Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (Osca), he did not have the purchase booklet required to avail himself of the senior citizen’s five-percent discount.

Tatay Bert went home without purchasing. He did not bring enough money for the coffee, sugar and milk. He said that for the past three years, the Osca office in Cebu City ran out of purchase booklets for basic necessities and prime commodities.

Affordable nutrition

An official of the Department of Health League of Licensed Nutritionist-Dietitians Inc. recommended a diet rich in vitamins; sufficient in fiber, protein and calcium; and low in sodium and sugar, reported the news website Rappler last June 3.

This recommended diet will not only keep the elderly nourished but also should be within their means: for breakfast, ¾ cup of rice, a slice of papaya and 1/3 cup of milk with sugar; for morning snack, one small boiled potato with margarine; for lunch, 1 ½ piece of matchbox-sized boiled chicken with malunggay, ¾ cup of rice and a serving of fruit; for afternoon snack, malunggay juice and four pieces of crackers; for dinner, 1 ½ piece of matchbox-sized grilled fish with tomatoes and a piece of banana; and for bedtime snack, 1/3 cup of milk and two small pieces of bread.

Yet it comes as no surprise that this recommended diet remains an ideal for many senior citizens. The same Rappler article includes the elderly in the disadvantaged sectors, with the National Statistics Coordination Board reporting a 15.8-percent poverty incidence among senior citizens. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) recorded around a million elderly in poor households.

While old age reduces appetite, it also requires greater attention to nourishment with the onset of disease and infirmity. Yet, social realities make feeding the elderly a challenge.

Many senior citizens’ pensions support unemployed children and their families. Maintenance medicines drain pensioners’ funds. Despite age and disability, many elderly citizens continue to work to support themselves because they are abandoned or neglected by their children and relatives.

Bridging the gap

Very few of the elderly assert their right to a five-percent discount of basic necessities and prime commodities. The Joint Department of Trade and Industry-Department of Agriculture Administrative Order 10-02 defines basic necessities as rice, corn, bread (excluding pastries and cakes), fish and other marine products in fresh, dried and canned forms, fresh eggs, fresh and processed milk, fresh vegetables and root crops, coffee and coffee creamer, sugar, cooking oil, salt, laundry and detergent soap, firewood, charcoal, and candles.

The same administrative order covers the following as prime commodities: fresh fruits, flour, pork, beef and poultry meat in dried, processed and canned forms, dairy products, canned sardines and tuna, noodles, onions, garlic, geriatric diapers, herbicides, poultry, swine and cattle feeds, veterinary products for poultry, swine and cattle, nipa shingle, plyboard and construction nails, batteries, electrical supplies and light bulbs, and steel wire.

Often, the failure to ask for discounts stems from ignorance of RA 9994. In their errands, many of the elderly are unaccompanied and unassisted by a relative or caregiver. Filing a complaint or reporting business establishments that fail to honor RA 9994 is beyond the means of many senior citizens.

If he or she meets qualifications, a senior citizen can avail himself of a monthly pension of P500 from the DSWD’s Social Pension Program. However, the same Rappler article noted that one must be at least 77 years old to be a beneficiary of the Social Pension Program.

Prevailing biases that the old require less in life and must be cared for by their families blind many to the realities of the hidden hunger stalking the elderly.

Soup kitchens are traditionally organized as Christmas drives to benefit homes for the elderly. But looking around closely and with more sensitivity, we may realize the present and pressing hunger of the elderly among us.