Senior Citizens' Welfare: Lessons From The Philippines
Every young person today expects to grow old and hopefully age gracefully. The United Nations defines ‘old age’ as persons who are 60 years and above, of which Africa is home to around 48 million old-aged people. Analysts say that by 2025 their numbers will have almost doubled to 85 million. In respect to this demographic situation, the UN and some non-governmental organizations argue for the need to address the well-being of older people, stressing that an ageing population is a present-day development challenge, notably for Africa.
|Aged man happy to have a meal Photo courtesy|
In Kenya for instance, 2.4 million people out of a population of 32 million are considered old while the life expectancy stands at 48.9 years of age, the 25th lowest rate in the world. Furthermore, in Kenya, according to a February 2007 report by Voice of America, most of this ageing population does not have access to medical care while only 10% receive a pension. Access to health services is not a benevolent act but a basic human right for any human being regardless of age.
Old age in many African countries, including Kenya, is however often accompanied by chronic poverty and material deprivation. As a consequence, neglect and destitution among older people have emerged as a particularly visible 'social problem' especially in many of the continent’s cities. According to a study by Gondi Alum, the key areas of concern which have a direct bearing to the older persons in Kenya are: persistent poverty, low level of health and nutrition, risks of HIV and AIDS, inadequate housing, nagging income insecurity and limited social services, risk of abuse and violence, weak community and family support system, low level of adult education (high illiteracy), and persistent unemployment.
Kenya is one of the signatories to the International Plan of Action on Ageing adopted in 1982 in Vienna, Austria. Since then the government has indicated commitment to the United Nations principles which stipulate the rights of older persons to independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment and dignity. However despite commitment to the Plan of Action agreed on in 1982, it was noted at the Second World Assembly on Ageing (that) held in Madrid in 2002 that most developing countries, including Kenya, did not take specific steps to domesticate and operationalise the recommendations in the key thematic areas namely; family, social welfare, income security and education. Further at 38th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) held in Durban, South Africa in 2002, the Policy Framework and Plan of Action was approved and binds member countries to formulate national policies on ageing, in order to improve the lives of the continents older persons.
Kenya has prepared a final Draft National Policy on Ageing in line with Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) and African Union Framework Guidelines. This policy would consolidate other policies touching on its older citizens such as the 9th National Development Plan (2002 – 2008); Sessional Paper No. 1 of 2000 on National Population Policy; the proposed and latter rejected Constitutional Review; the Kenya National Policy on Ageing; policies that have remained in paper as very little has been done to implement them. With this Bill there is a flicker of hope that old age will not mean deprivation and neglect in Kenya. Indeed on May 18th, 2011, a motion that envisages Kenyans aged over 60 receive a Sh2,000 monthly stipend received huge support from Members of Parliament.
As Kenya grapples with this issue, a number of countries are steadfast in this endeavor. I choose to highlight the case of the Philippines, an archipelagic nation located in Southeast Asia, comprising 7,107 islands in the western Pacific Ocean, and bordering countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Palau and the Republic of China. It is the only Southeast Asian country to share no land borders with its neighbors. The Philippines is the world's 12th most populous country with a population approaching 90 million people. I opt to chose this country because unlike its neighbours, the Philippines is still categorised a third world developing nation with regards in the same light as Kenya and where the two countries are comparable in the social, political and economic challenges they both face. With regard to the subject on senior citizens, the Philippines enacted the Republic Act 7432 of 1992, “an Act maximizing the contributions of senior citizens, granting benefits and special privileges and for other purposes.” The Government later enacted the Republic Act 9257 that provides additional benefits and privileges to senior citizens coming from the government and the private establishments.
In early 2010, an Expanded Senior Citizens Act was passed to provide the elderly additional benefits and privileges not included in the Senior Citizens Act of 1992. With this new law, some 5 million senior citizens will receive a 20% discount and exemption from VAT on the sale of goods and services (medicines, medical and dental fees, transport fares, services in hotels and restaurants, admission fees in theaters and other places of leisure). The elderly will be provided with free medical and dental service, diagnostic and laboratory fees in all government facilities covered under a mandatory PhilHealth coverage (equivalent of the NHIF in Kenya). A monthly stipend of P500 (US$ 12) will be availed and P1,500 (US$ 35) stipend for indigents with additional free vaccination against the influenza virus and pneumococcal disease.
Included in the new benefits are a 5% discount on water bills (if consumption is less than 30 cubic meters a month) and electric bills (if consumption is less than 100 kilowatt-hours). Educational assistance will be be equally extended to those who shall meet school admission requirements. The law also orders the Department of Health, local government units and other concerned organizations to institute a national health program for the elderly. It also establishes an Office for Senior Citizens Affairs in all cities and municipalities, and a senior citizens ward in every government hospital. Other enjoyments for the seniors include the Express Lane Privilege in all private, commercial and government establishments; where in the absence thereof, priority is given to them.
All one needs to enjoy these privileges at old age is an identification card - issued by the city or municipal mayor / Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) or of the village (Barangay) captain of the place where the senior citizen resides; Passport and or other documents that establish the senior citizen as a citizen of the Republic and who is at least 60 years old is equally accepted. Other provisions in the original Act include the Establishment of Various Inter-Agency Monitoring and Coordinating Mechanism - at the national and regional level to undertake the various functions for the interest of senior citizens. First-time violators of the law face imprisonment of six months to two years and a fine ranging from P50,000 to P100,000 (US$1,170 to US$ 2,400 equivalent). For subsequent violations, the fine can go up to P200,000 (US$4,600 equivalent)and a prison term reaching six years.
I am not of the opinion that we strictly emulate the Philippines’ structure of welfare support for senior citizens. The purpose of this article is to highlight the glaring gap in our very own system in Kenya. Lessons can be derived from this case example on government responsibility to its seniors. As we spend insurmountable tax payer monies on bloated government structures, and especially at present given the anticipated modified government system under the new constitution, a serious thought should therefore go towards our neglected lot of senior citizens as well. After all with improved health and life standards we all shall in the long run end up being in the defined age category.
By Satwinder Reha
De La Salle College of Sainte Benilde
Manila, The Philippines.
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