They all looked their best. Most of them were still in their Sunday dresses. Their hair are grayed out. The wrinkling of their skin are too obvious. We greeted them with warm smiles on that sunny afternoon. We introduced ourselves and explained to them the very reason for our visit. I was tasked to give the introductions and as such I explained the objectives of the livelihood program we were planning to conduct for the senior citizens. As I was discussing each one of them, I had to pause from time to time because each one of them had always something to say. As a feedback, one of them said “Maayo kayo ning naa mi trabaho sir para di na mi magsige’g pangayo sa among mga anak ug para di na mi ingnon nga walay mga pulos” (Having a job is beneficial so we don’t need to ask money from our children and we won’t be called worthless). The last line caught my attention. I grew up with my grandparents but I have never perceived their presence as worthless. Is that really what most of us think of them? Why do we even bother to say that we hold golden values like respect for the elderly when we can’t even view them with respect? One of them as I noticed was wearing a worn out pair of slippers. Ang tsinelas ni lola (Grandma’s slippers). I was hesitant to ask her why she hasn’t used a new one. In my mind, I assumed she didn’t have the money to buy a new pair. And at the end of that Livelihood Assessment Session, I was asking myself: If I lose my job in the future after my retirement would I also be called worthless? Would I be that poor?
The context of poverty in Filipino society is well defined. We are still a developing nation – a third world country. While I personally don’t like to use the term, it is truth that we must all face, or more like a focus on a goal for development. From a personal point of view, we may say that most of the poor individuals in this country belong to those aged between 20-45. Middle adults are the largest portion of the populace. A small yet increasing part of this whole are older adults, those aged 60 and above. Even for this age group poverty is still greatly felt.
The elderly poor are a special concern to our nation. Approximately 10-12 percent of the elderly live in poverty. More than 25 percent of older women who live alone are poor. The oldest old is the age group most likely to be living in poverty. The fact is many middle-aged individuals do not adequately plan for retirement. (CNU Instructional Manualon Gerontology and Geriatric Nursing).
According to Grace T. Cruz (1998) in her “Economic Wellbeing of the Filipino Elderly”, a paper presented at the Population Association of America Annual Meeting, a small yet significant proportion (5.6 percent) of the elderly in the study declared to have absolutely no income and expenditure. This phenomenon is more preponderant among females, those who are not married, older and urban residents. While almost nine out of ten older people reported some income (more males than females), a low level of median income was reported coupled by a considerable level of indebtedness. The health and wealth of the elderly are positively correlated with each step down the income ladder clearly associated with lower health status.
Dr. Clarita Carlos (Concerns of the Elderly in the Philippines, 1999) said “One of the issues is the security in old age. Poverty is perceived as an obstacle to a secured old age. As such, the current pension system in the Philippines requires careful consideration and evaluation. The government offers welfare services such as homes for the aged and Senior Citizens Centers to better address the plight of the Filipino elderly. However, the effectiveness of such welfare services can only be confirmed by the level of satisfaction of their intended beneficiaries.”
The great question is: Are our senior citizens, the golden men and ladies who shaped our nation’s history and culture, satisfied with the “security” that they get from the government? Does the Philippine pension system need to be refined? Amaryllis Tiglao Torres, executive director of the Philippine Social Science Council Inc. (PSSC), said during the 20th Biannual General Conference of the Association of Asian Social Science Research Councils held in Cebu City, that in the traditional Philippine society, there is high expectation for the children to look after their elderly parents but what the information is showing us is that the older people do not necessarily depend on their children for their sustenance. In many cases, they continue to have their own income from pension or from their own livelihood efforts. In some cases, she said, older people even provide economic support to their children and grandchildren. This situation is more evident in rural areas. (http://www.sunstar.com.ph April 6, 2013).
In one of our graduate school classes, our professor gave an example of an elderly who told her that whenever she asks money from her daughter because she wants to go to church every Sunday, she would be told “Unsaon man na nmu ang kwarta? Sakto ra nang akong gihatag” (What are you going to do with that money? I gave you enough). And in fact she is the one doing the dishes, watering the plants, doing the laundry and does the cooking at home. Financial support is a right of every human person and as such no one should be deprived of it based on age. This is clearly a violation to human rights. This is a form elderly abuse. And while ageism seems to be “normal” in Philippine culture, we don’t really need to tolerate them.
Sen. Edgardo Angara, in a privilege speech, had said that younger people should start saving for their retirement. This is definitely a good advice but let’s face it, saving money for old age is “easier said than done,” with many workers earning income barely enough to meet their daily needs. Perhaps we can suggest to the lawmakers that we need a Philippine Retirement Program that is effective – something that begins a few years before they reach their retirement. This is more like retirement preparedness program – prevention is better than cure!
Article XV Section 4 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that “It is the duty of the family to take care of its older person members while the State may design programs of social security.” As stipulated in the Republic Act 9994 or the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010 “Senior Citizens who have the capacity and desire to work, or be re-employed, shall be provided information and services to enable them to be productive members of society. The Department of Labor and Employment in coordination with other government agencies such as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) shall assess, design and implement training programs that will provide skills and welfare or livelihood support for senior citizens without them paying for training fees”
The elderly are often considered the surplus of the world that needs to be shut in institutions to give way to the young which society admires and celebrates. Ironically these are the people who are most in need of care and attention given their waning health and their increasing withdrawal from the economic sphere (Cruz,1998). Where are we so far with our advocacy for the older adults? Is the Pension truly enough? Can we even say that we have implemented RA 9994 fully? The lack of support from the government really is the main reason why the law is not implemented well. For instance the lack of geriatric wards in the hospitals which are clearly stipulated in the law is not really taken much into consideration simply because we even lack geriatricians. And even if we do have a surplus of nurses in the Philippines we may lack the proper training or that the government may not be able to give us a decent properly paying job.
To develop of a sense of independence and productivity among senior citizens the government has to do something about it. Livelihood programs may provide our elderly Filipinos with extra income for them to continue to be part of the productive sector of the society - that they will not become liabilities but assets in our country’s development. The government should not depend on NGOs to do this. Furthermore these programs may prevent them from being stagnant and “just waiting for their twilight hours”. While earning money they may find it enjoying and self-fulfilling to be able to learn something new or perhaps to do something they’ve always wanted to do before. I would say, expanding the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) to include more benefits for our lolos and lolas is going to make an impact among senior citizens too. They all deserve it.
And if we can’t give them new jobs why not let our lolos and lolas continue the careers they are so passionate about. Why not let them continue being teachers for example. They can always work as private tutors, lesser pressure but the same jobs they are all proud about. It is never accurate to assume that they cannot provide up-to-date information because, as the striking line of Leo Martinez in the movie Tuhog, they “are just retired not retarded”. They may still be taught to learn new knowledge and skills.
All senior citizens in this country deserve our attention. Dahil di lamang tsinelas ang kailangan nila. Kailangan nila ng pang-unawa at tulong (Because they don’t just need slippers, but our understanding and our help). We should start listening to their voices. How about putting ourselves in their places or better yet how about placing ourselves inside their “slippers”?
***A portion of this manuscript contains an excerpt from the project proposal for the paperbag making livelihood program that we have designed with fellow gerontology nurses at school***