Senior citizen rights, responsibilities
DURING the year that is about to end, many of our people have developed an increasing awareness of their rights and benefits under the Senior Citizens Law—a piece of social legislation that has provided our elderly some respite from the growing costs of health care, along with similar advantages in public eateries, transportation and other facilities. While Republic Act 9257 was signed into law more than four years ago in February 2004, it is only recently that we have begun to feel its impact on our lives. For one thing, there was little effective dissemination of the provisions of the law and, oftentimes, business establishments came up with all kinds of interpretations on its implementation, often to the detriment of the senior citizen.
In my case, the moment of confrontation arrived when two years ago I decided to use my credit card to pay for medicines at a Mercury Drug outlet. Over the years since a heart bypass operation some 12 years ago, my medical needs for blood pressure control, diabetes and prostate problems had kept mounting, and with the increased costs of prescription drugs, the situation required a larger cash outlay each time I visited the drugstore. Every now and then, I would attempt the use of my credit card but the clerk would always inform me that I could only enjoy the senior citizen discount with a cash payment. And because I didn’t know any better, I accepted with a growing feeling of frustration what was being unilaterally imposed by the business establishment.
Earlier, Vice President Noli de Castro had sent a letter to the Inquirer informing senior citizens that they could avail of the 20-percent discount regardless of the manner of payment. He went on to say that the law did not distinguish whether the payment was made in cash or via a credit card. Armed with a copy of the Vice President’s letter, I proceeded to my favorite Mercury Drug outlet prepared for a showdown on the issue of the use of the credit card by a senior citizen. To my great disappointment, Mercury Drug refused to budge from its original position, saying that the matter had to be referred to their main office for instructions.
I related my experience to Vice President De Castro and he immediately called for a meeting attended by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Trade Secretary Peter Favila, Finance Secretary Gary Teves and Ms Vivian Ascona, president of Mercury Drug Inc. It was agreed that Ms Azcona’s problem with the BIR on the treatment of the 20-percent discount as a deduction from gross income instead of a tax credit was an issue that should be addressed separately. The benefit granted to senior citizens should not be held hostage to this problem.
A few days later, the Vice President’s office informed me that Mercury Drug had agreed to honor the discount on payments made through the use of a credit card. After allowing some time to get the new arrangements in place, I decided to visit Mercury Drug for my usual supply of medicines. To my relief, the 20-percent discount was honored with my credit card!
Since then, friends have informed me that they now also enjoy the same arrangement. But from time to time, we still receive various complaints from other senior citizens. Some drugstores limit hours of operation for senior citizens, some indicate a lack of supply of the medicines when they become aware that senior citizens are their customers and, in a few instances, their use of credit cards result in non-availment of the discount. In the face of these practices, not much could be done immediately to correct the situation considering the urgency of their needs.
So for us senior citizens, the year 2008 has been a mixed bag of blessings and frustrations.
Let me mention a few of the positive developments aside from the credit card issue which we had just related. There is now a general acceptance of the 20-percent senior citizen discount in most restaurants and entertainment facilities. There remains the issue of uneven, inconsistent application of the discount particularly when it involves a mixed group of senior and non-senior citizens. There needs to be more fine-tuning of this problem area for greater uniformity of implementation. I might add that a number of business establishments have been quite liberal in their own interpretation of the law in favor of the senior citizens.
Some local executives, particularly Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay and Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, have been actively supportive in ensuring that the Senior Citizen Law is properly implemented, at times calling to account those establishments that have come up with their own versions of the law to the detriment of elderly citizens.
If we think about it, even more than national agencies, it is the local government units that can readily assist us in ensuring compliance with the law. In fact, the law specifically provides that “it shall be the responsibility of the municipality/city, through the Mayor, to require all establishments covered by this Act to prominently display posters, stickers and other notices that will generate public awareness of the rights and privileges of senior citizens and to ensure that the provisions of this Act are implemented to the fullest.” The Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) in each city/municipality throughout the country should be the first line of defense for the senior citizens. I realize that often the local
OSCA is undermanned and ill-equipped to deal with the problem but we must not be discouraged. Change never comes easily.
A word about KFC—it has mellowed in its treatment of senior citizens. Whereas in the past, it highlighted the restrictions (sometimes of its own making) applicable to senior citizens, I now notice its signs proclaiming that “the senior citizen discount is honored in this establishment.” What a few changes in language can do for its image!
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While the law provides these benefits for senior citizens, it is important to bear in mind that they are for the exclusive use or enjoyment of senior citizens. Friends or even family members are not legitimate beneficiaries of this law. Let us not abuse the privilege. Such actions may lead to the imposition of all kinds of safeguards if not outright revocation of the privilege. Remember that every right carries with it a corresponding responsibility and if we are to live up to our title as senior citizens of the nation, we must show our juniors that we are not above the law and that we lead by example.