Discounted senior citizen discount

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The signing into law that now grants one-time cash gift to Filipinos reaching the age of 80, 85, 90 and 95 years old is the most welcome reward for achieving long life. We may even call it as an incentive for all Filipinos – not just for us senior citizens – to remain healthy and strong to live life to the fullest.

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) signed last Monday Republic Act (RA) 11982, or “An Act Granting Benefits to Filipino Octogenarians and Nonagenarians.” The newly signed law provides for P10,000 cash gift to Filipinos once they reach age 80 years and become octogenarians, and every five years thereafter.

PBBM cited in his speech that RA 11982 is a homage to and an expression of gratitude to Filipino elderly. Himself also a senior citizen already, the 66-year-old PBBM joked about ulterior motives that drove him and the proponents to push the new law. “And there’s some of the…many of us here who have already crossed that Rubicon line. That’s why we might be suspected of having passed this bill for ourselves in preparation for our dotage,” PBBM snickered, drawing laughter from the audience.

Among those in the audience were Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and other senators, including the President’s sister, Sen. Imee Marcos; Speaker Martin Romualdez and several members of the House of Representatives and Cabinet secretaries, majority of whom are senior citizens, too.

A favorite running joke among us in this age group is to refer ourselves as being “dual citizens.”

Based on 2020 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), there are 9,242,121 senior citizens, or those aged 60 and above, nationwide. Based on the combined numbers of the PSA and the DSWD, PBBM rightly pointed out the “demographic” picture of the elderly in the Philippines is growing. Sadly, we are fast having an ageing population.

Actually, RA 11982 amended RA 10868, or the “Centenarians Act of 2016,” which grants P100,000 cash gift to those who reach 100 years old. Incidentally, PBBM’s Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Juan Ponce-Enrile (JPE) recently celebrated his centenary. PBBM hosted for JPE a centennial birthday reception at Malacañang where the cash gift from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) was presented in a “framed” check of the Land Bank of the Philippines.

A little birdie perched at the fabled balete tree in front of the Palace chirped that JPE encashed the check several days later. Purportedly, the entire amount was distributed among the loyal household staff who included helpers, drivers, security guards and JPE’s nurses working at the Enrile residence in Makati City. Giving away the P100,000 is nothing for someone with wealth earned and accumulated in those 100 years and still living a comfortable life.

In Makati City, Mayor Abby Binay informed me that the city government also grants P100,000 to its residents who reach 100 years old on top of the P100,000 cash gift from the DSWD. Although a Makati City resident, Mayor Binay noted, JPE is not a BluCard holder of their registered senior citizens.

However, the funding for the new law on one-time cash gift to octagenarians and nonagenarians was not provided for in the DSWD budget under the 2024 General Appropriations Act (GAA). As the voice of his fellow elderly persons in the 19th Congress, 71-year old Senior Citizen partylist Rep. Rodolfo Ordanes exhorted PBBM to allow the use of savings of the DSWD this year, or tap the unprogrammed funds in the 2024 GAA to implement the new law.

Ordanes fears it may suffer the same fate that befell RA 11916 that mandated the additional P500 to the P500 monthly stipend for indigent senior citizens. It lapsed into law on July 2, 2022. But no budget was provided in the 2023 GAA to implement it.

Ordanes largely blamed the newly created government agency called the National Commission of Senior Citizens (NCSC) for this injustice done to the poor and needy elderly folks. The NCSC was created under RA 11350 that was signed into law in 2019 by former president Rodrigo Duterte. Among other things, this law transferred to the NCSC all the ayuda programs of the DSWD for senior citizens.

Ordanes deplored that the NCSC came out with its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) only in March last year. So the increase was finally included in the 2024 GAA and is now being downloaded to its intended beneficiaries all over the country. Ordanes vows to make sure the new law this time is faithfully and effectively executed.

Now, let me break another good news and bad news. It was a pleasant relief to see a decrease in the latest monthly billing from the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) as previously announced. The bad news was the announcement included in the Meralco billing notice for this month that they will again collect the feed-in-tariff allowance (FIT-All).

Payment of FIT-All was suspended during the pandemic period in December 2022 and several times extended to provide relief to Filipino consumers. But starting this month, all Meralco customers will resume paying the FIT-All at a rate of P0.0364 per kilowatt-hour (kwh) after it was earlier lifted by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

Another Meralco billing shock is finding out that we are all being made to pay for the mandated subsidy for senior citizens’ discount on our electricity bills. Though it appears minimal in terms of kwh, it will shock you more to find out that we pay higher tax for Meralco mandated to give this subsidy for the senior citizens’ discount.

According to Meralco, this is in compliance with the IRR of Expanded Senior Citizens Act and the ERC’s corresponding guidelines. “Electric bill discounts for eligible customers are funded by the other customers of the host DU (distribution utility),” the Meralco Regulatory Office explained.

We can only invoke the exhortations of PBBM during the signing rites of the new law when he stressed: “Our senior citizens deserve more than cash in an envelope. What they should get is a support infrastructure that every society owes to its greying population.”

Making both ends meet, discounted seniors’ citizen discount does not help us any.

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