SENIOR citizens represent less than 10 percent of the total population but they are a sector that politicians cannot undervalue.
They may be retired (aged 60 and above) but they are among the vocal members of society, quick to participate in political discussions and, during elections, eager to go out to vote.
The sector criticized President Benigno Aquino III when he vetoed a proposed law to increase pensions by P2,000 a month. Aquino had said the veto was necessary to keep the country’s pension system afloat.
It was a welcome development then when incoming president Rodrigo Duterte announced he would increase pensions when he begins tenure in Malacañang. Duterte, 71, will be the first septuagenarian president of the country. The oldest before him was Sergio Osmeña, who became president at 66 in 1944.
Duterte said he would reverse Aquino’s veto of the Congress-approved bill, as he lambasted the Social Security System and Government Service Insurance System for not responding to the sector’s needs.
What Duterte lacked in his pronouncement was a proposal on how to go about granting the pension increase while preventing a bankruptcy scenario. He mentioned the need for better collection and controlled expenditure, the same measures eyed when Congress started talking about the issue. Duterte’s assurance will raise expectations, but there is the danger of falling short on the promise when details on how to implement his suggestion are absent.
One other issue worth reviewing when talking about senior citizen concerns is the process of issuing Office of Senior Citizen Affairs (Osca) cards.
Under the senior citizens law, the requirements to get an Osca card are birth certificate, photo, and a Philippine identification card. It gives leeway, however, to local government units (LGUs) to impose additional requirements.
In Cebu City, for example, the local Osca added a voting record as a requirement. It would not issue a card without the senior citizen presenting a voting record in the city. One who turned 60 but missed voting the past election years for one reason or another cannot get the card. Without the Osca card, the senior citizen would not get discounts for medicine purchases, grocery expenses, restaurant bills and for other services. While an alternative ID may be used, medicine purchases and other services require the Osca card itself.
The LGU requirement is understandable because of the additional incentive it gives the sector. Cebu City grants financial aid every year, spread out in several releases, but only to senior citizens who have voted in Cebu. This is to prove residence and discourage people moving from one city to another.
But voting record does not a senior citizen make. It is the person’s age that defines his or her being a senior citizen who has rights and privileges set by law.
When it comes to pensions, the sector deserves details on how to make an increase happen despite Aquino’s veto. As to practices that deprive them of benefits, the incoming government should do away with old, ineffective ways and impose new measures to ensure protection.
Being a senior citizen himself, Duterte has to put flesh on his promise of more benefits.