Recently, we received some good news that among several bills that recently lapsed into law was the increase in the social pension for indigent senior citizens from the present ₱500 to ₱1,000 per month or from ₱6,000 to ₱12,000 annually. We filed this bill early in the 18th Congress as Senate Bill 133 and it is now officially known as Republic Act 11916.
The social pension for indigent senior citizens was first introduced as an additional government assistance under R.A. 9994 or the Expanded Senior Citizen’s Act of 2010, which we co-authored. R.A. 9994 amended the original Senior Citizen’s Act (R.A. 7432) to provide more benefits for Filipinos aged 60 and above, including the grant of a 20 percent discount on the purchase of certain goods and services such as medicines, a special five percent discount on prime commodities and basic necessities, and an exemption from the value added tax on the sale of goods and services. Both laws were authored by my father, the late former Senate President Edgardo Angara. In recognition of his role in the shaping of this landmark law, R.A. 7432 has since been known as the Angara Law.
The increase in social pension is long overdue. If we take into consideration inflation then ₱500 per month is definitely not enough even for the most frugal.
Based on the guidelines of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), as the implementing agency for the distribution of the social pension, eligible seniors should fall within the following criteria: frail, sickly or with disability; without pension from the Social Security System, Government Service Insurance System, or from any sources of pension in government and private agencies; and without any permanent source of income, compensation or financial assistance from relatives to support their basic needs.
We also welcome the move of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to extend the discounts given to seniors and persons with disabilities (PWDs) to online purchases of basic necessities and prime commodities (BNPC), as well as medicines.
This is contained in Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1 Series of 2022 which states that BNPCs purchased through digital channels or by phone are entitled to a five percent special discount. The discount is limited to a total of ₱1,300 worth of BNPCs per week. For medicines purchased on online platforms or merchants, they are also entitled to the same 20 percent discount and exemption from the 12 percent value added tax as provided under R.A. 9994. Unlike the BNPCs, this has no purchase limit.
Clearly, our indigent seniors are among the most vulnerable in our society. They have no savings or any source of income and for many of them, no relatives around to support them. The 2015 Census of Population data shows that close to 10 percent of all Filipinos aged 65 years and above are living alone.
A report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) had the same observation— that older persons are particularly vulnerable to economic insecurity, as well as poverty, with limited options for escape.
The report noted that on average, the poverty level for individuals over-75 years old across the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries is 14.7 percent, which is 3.5 percent higher than the poverty level among 66 to 75 year-olds. The “oldest-old” or those aged 80 years or over are more likely to have spent their savings and are most in need of age-appropriate health and long-term personal care services.
This is why we echo the recent call of NEDA Secretary Arsie Balisacan for the private sector to hire more senior citizens, considering that life expectancies continue to lengthen. In the United Kingdom, where I studied, one would often find seniors manning the tills as cashiers in drug stores, pharmacies and groceries. The same can happen here. Though our lolos and lolas may no longer be as agile as younger folk, many of them are still qualified for several types of work. Some are even willing to continue learning and gain new skills.
The Philippine Statistics Authority notes that there are 12,336,355 Filipinos who are 60 years and older as of May 2020, representing 11.31 percent of the estimated 109,035,343 population of the Philippines at the time. According to the DSWD, there are 4,079,669 indigent senior citizens who are receiving ₱500 social pension every month this year. The number is constantly increasing—from a mere 930,222 in 2015, it went up to 3,203,731 beneficiaries in 2021.
These benefits for our seniors, while small, can go a long way in addressing their everyday needs. They made a lot of sacrifices in their lives to care for their children and loved ones so we must constantly find ways to give back to them.
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Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 18 years—nine years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and nine as senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 250 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.