By Ramon J. Farolan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
FIRST the good news. Section 15, Rule 5 of the rules and regulations implementing Republic Act No. 9257 (Expanded Senior Citizens Act) specifically provides for an “Express Lane” for senior citizens. “Express Lanes for senior citizens shall be provided in all private, commercial and government establishments; in the absence thereof, priority shall be given to them.”
Not many commercial and government establishments have been complying with this provision of law aimed at providing a bit more comfort and convenience for our elderly citizens. There is one particular business group that has gone out of its way to provide this necessary service.
During the past few weeks, I have noticed that Mercury Drug now provides a special lane for senior citizens. The lane is outfitted with numbered cards so that clients just get a number and are served easily without having to compete with the rest of the crowd.
Kudos to Mercury Drug for innovations such as this, and I hope the practice is being implemented on a nationwide basis in all their outlets. This action serves as an example for the rest of the business community.
Now comes the bad news.
More than a year ago, I was invited to speak before a group of senior citizen members of the Alabang Country Club Inc. (ACCI). They were interested in knowing more about senior citizen benefits provided by law. I tried to enlighten them as much as possible, particularly by sharing some of my experiences on the subject.
Recently, I was informed that three of the club members, Messrs. Jaime Dela Rosa, Renato Africa and Mamerto Delos Santos, had written a formal letter of complaint to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) regarding their non-availment of the 20-percent senior citizen discount from the club management of ACCI.
A similar complaint was filed by another member, Mrs. Leticia Acuna, with the Office of Senior Citizens Affairs in Muntinlupa City. Apparently the position of ACCI on the issue is that the senior citizen law is not applicable to a private club like the ACCI where membership is not a right but a privilege.
In a letter to Dr. Hermogenes Villareal, president of ACCI, DSWD Undersecretary Alicia R. Bala who is also the alternate chairperson of the National Coordinating and Monitoring Board (NCMB) stated that, “Republic Act No. 9257 did not make any further distinction nor did it provide for specific exemption from the coverage of the law.”
For better understanding of the issue, let me backtrack a bit with some history. The NCMB is a multi-agency body provided for by the implementing rules and regulations of the Senior Citizen Law and is chaired by the DSWD, with the vice chairperson from the DILG and representatives of the DOJ, DOH and five non-government organizations (NGO) representatives. The board is tasked mainly to coordinate government action on senior citizen issues and concerns.
As with all multi-agency bodies, it can be unwieldy and slow-moving. Just getting enough members together on a particular day presents a problem. But when it is able to meet and agree, resolutions are issued on cases presented to the body.
Unfortunately, not all resolutions are paid much attention to by the institutions concerned. A case in point is Resolution No. 1-2008, enjoining all hospitals, clinics and other medical or health facilities to post the Medical Benefits and Health Privileges of senior citizens including Professional Fees. How many of these facilities have complied with the requirement? Personally, I have not seen any of these signs. There is very little monitoring and follow-up work on the resolution, making it ineffective and practically toothless.
There is another course of action available to individuals for violations of their senior citizen rights. Rule IX of the Implementing Rules and Regulations states that “It shall be the responsibility of the municipality /city through the Mayor to … ensure that the provisions of the Act (Senior Citizen law) are implemented to its fullest.” Acting on complaints of senior citizens, the mayor can call to account establishments violating the Senior Citizen Law and since it is the mayor’s office that issues all kinds of business permits, one can appreciate the enormous persuasive powers available to the local officials.
In the case of Orchard Golf & Country Club, through the efforts of its past president, retired Air Force general Charlie Tanega, its senior citizens now enjoy senior citizen privileges in its facilities. My understanding is that another club—Southwoods Golf & Country Club—also honors the discount for its elderly members.
While I am not a lawyer, I believe the law is quite clear. It does not make any distinctions as to whether clubs are private or public, and neither should we. I also am aware that members of private clubs can well afford to pay the normal club dues. But the senior citizen law has nothing to do with capacity to pay. It is all about respect and concern for the elderly in our society. Now I realize there are excellent lawyers among us who can expound quite convincingly on the merits of both sides of the issue. But legal action can be divisive and expensive for all concerned. My unsolicited advice to members of private clubs is to keep in mind that, eventually, all of us become senior citizens who will in the future enjoy the same benefits being accorded under the law.
Let us allow the current crop of senior citizen members to enjoy these benefits. In a well-run club, it probably won’t make a dent in its finances. When the by-laws of the club were formulated, perhaps the senior citizen law was not yet in effect. We must be able to adapt to the changing environment and recognition of the rights of the elderly is now a fact of life just as much as climate change has brought about new energy measures to protect the planet.
One last word: Rule V on the privileges for senior citizens, in particular Article 7 (d), reads: “Recreation Centers—This discount shall be for the utilization of services in the form of fees, charges, and rental facilities such as but not limited to sports facilities and equipment.” My instincts as a senior citizen tell me that green fees in golf clubs and golf carts are covered by the senior citizen law granting the 20 percent discount.
All those in favor, shout “Fore!”