Time for senior citizens to fight for our rights

Rafael E. Evangelista
'It is about time that the young be taught to sit, listen and learn once again at the footsteps of the wise and the experienced'

Is age just a number?

The country’s total number of senior citizens continues to rise. The current population of Filipino senior citizens is estimated at 7 million, comprising nearly 7% of the total population. 

In 1995, the number of Filipinos 60 years old or higher was pegged at 3.7 million, representing 5.4% of the population. By 2000, this figure had increased to around 4.8 million or almost 6% of the total population. 

In the foreseeable future, the percentage of seniors vis-a-vis the total population might escalate to 10% and beyond.

Rights of senior citizens

We, the senior citizens of the Philippines, must fight for our rights. These rights are not simply for senior citizen discounts at restaurants, movie houses, pharmacies, and hospitals, although these are also welcome. 

We must fight against the growing pernicious culture in this country of “copy-catting” the western world’s practice of putting its senior citizens out to pasture simply because they have reached their 60s. (READ: Health insurance for seniors)

Has anyone noticed, for example, the work ads that come out in print media which state the anyone above a specified age need not apply? 

A decade or two ago, many Filipinos in their 60s may be considered physically, mentally, and emotionally old. The life expectancy then was in the late 50s. But people today have a life expectancy that extends to their mid-to-late 70s, and most seniors are still physically and mentally active. 

The beautiful love story of two seniors, Francisco “King” Rodrigo and Boots Anson Roa is a testament to this. They got married in 2014, both for the second time. A 70-something-year-old King and a 60-something-year-old Boots are obviously still filled with the sense of wonder, adventure, love of the “young.” 

The country must adjust to this reality of a growing “youthful” senior population.

The remedy

OLD, POOR. NSCB reports that the latest poverty incidence among the country's senior citizens is 15.8% as of 2009, while the magnitude of poor is around 1.1 million. File photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA

There is admittedly a need to open up employment opportunities to the younger generation, but the remedy is not to put Seniors in homes for aged. 

The solution is for the government and the private sector to focus on the creation of more jobs for all – young and old alike – based on abilities, talent, and experience. One simply does not create employment for one sector of society by creating unemployment in another.

There is also a need to correct the growing mindset that senior citizens are of necessity infirm, mindless, and non-productive. (READ: Home for seniors

We, seniors, must fight for the right to continue to be productive for our communities, using our knowledge and experience that we have gathered over the years. Some of these knowledge and experiences are yet to be acquired by the younger generation.

We should fight for the right to gainful employment that will allow us to pass on our wealth of information to the next generations. (READ: Hunger and the elderly)

The government and the private sector can develop tests and systems – rigid, if need be – to screen those who, because of age and illness, can no longer productively contribute to society, from those who, despite age, continue to be valuable assets.

Start with barangays

Perhaps the fight for seniors’ rights can start at the barangay level. 

Every barangay should consider having a Senior Hall where seniors can congregate not just to passively share memories of yesteryears or to secure medical attention, but where they can also proactively teach and train the younger members of their community.

The seniors do not have to do this for free. A portion of the revenue of the barangay, including its internal revenue allotment, can be set aside to pay the qualified seniors for their community services.

On a broader scale, senior residents of barangays can and should, with the cooperation and support of the rest of the barangay, consider setting up Barangay Senior Associations which would serve as a proactive senior advisory body. It will be the voice of moderation to the Barangay Assembly, the Barangay Development Council, and the Barangay Council — a barangay’s most influential and potent bodies.

The Barangay Seniors Associations of the over 42,000 barangays nationwide could then come together in a National Confederation of Seniors Filipino Citizens, which could proactively be involved not only in the affairs of the elderly, but also be a source of wisdom for the national and local governments. 

This is not a unique suggestion. In the United States, for example, there is a national society for seniors. When the Seniors speak, even Washington listens. Meanwhile, other countries like Japan, Great Britain, France, and Germany have highly influential and organized societies representing seniors.

There are laws that enable and empower people with disabilities. Let us push for and support legislations that would provide the same for senior citizens. 

It is important to empower and enable senior citizens through gainful employment according to their abilities, so they can remain productive citizens. 

Most of us seniors grew up in a culture of learning at the footsteps of our parents and grandparents. We are all members of the so-called “Greatest Generation.”

Now that today’s youth are immersed in self-centered activities and their laptops, cellphones, and electronic gadgets, our country might be in danger of drifting away from the real and important values that, that “Greatest Generation” has sought to pass on to the young: being someone of service to others, and being engaged in family, community, and nation-building.

It is about time that the young be taught to sit, listen and learn once again at the footsteps of the wise and the experienced. – Rappler.com

Rafael E. Evangelista is 74 years old. He is a lawyer and currently a consul of the Republic of Lithuania to the Philippines, the National Commander of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, the director of the Prime Foundation for Media Arts, and the President and National Co-Convenor for the Gising Barangay Movement.