After more than a year of lockdown, fully vaccinated senior citizens are now allowed to go out in General Community Quarantine (GCQ) and Modified General Quarantine (MGCQ) areas, subject to presentation of a duly issued COVID-19 vaccination card and strict observance of prescribed health and safety protocols.
This is a most welcome decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. Previously, senior citizens were allowed to go out of their homes only for “essential activities” such as buying food provisions or medicines.
The grant of expanded mobility is limited to their quarantine zone. For instance, senior citizens in the NCR-plus bubble are now permitted to travel directly to other places with the same quarantine classification, but not to the areas currently under Modified Expanded Community Quarantine (MECQ). They may also travel directly to hotels, resorts and destinations allowed by the Department of Tourism to operate point-to-point transfers of their guests.
There are around 7.5 million senior citizens in the Philippines, or less than seven percent of the country’s population. But the influence of senior citizens extends beyond numbers. In our family-oriented society, senior citizens are accorded respect and are addressed in polite language.
Yet realities on the ground, especially since the onset of the pandemic, paint a not too rosy picture.
According to the 2018 Longitudinal Study of Ageing and Health in the Philippines, 46 percent of the senior citizen population lives below the poverty line. In terms of gender, 57 percent of the men work as compared to 39 percent of the women within this aged group. Moreover, “while 42 percent of the senior citizens have a pension, only half declared pension as their most essential income source.” Evidently, the very poor and women senior citizens are hard-hit by the protracted quarantine.
In enacting Republic Act 11469, the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act last year, Congress directed the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to distribute cash assistance between 5,000 and 8,000 pesos to vulnerable sectors of society which included the senior citizens.
But our senior citizens need more than cash dole-outs. As pointed out by the United Nations, four priorities need to be addressed, namely: “first, ensure that challenging decisions related to health care for older people are well guided; second, strengthen the social inclusion of older people in preventive measures; third, integrate an emphasis on older people into the different humanitarian responses; and fourth, enjoin the participation of older people in developing policies that affect them.”
For example, those living alone must be encouraged to strengthen their physical and mental health by walking around the park and performing similar exercises. In Pasig City, a “mobile market” was organized and deployed to assist senior citizens who do not have internet connectivity, or are not used to ordering vital provisions through online gadgets.
Concrete measures to assist the elderly in our communities reflect the ethos of a humane and compassionate society.