MANILA, Philippines?The government still has to find the multi-billion peso budget to fund the monthly social pension for indigent senior citizens provided in the Expanded Senior Citizens' Law or Republic Act 9994, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon ?Dinky? Soliman said Wednesday.
In a press briefing, Soliman said a provision in the law indicates that poor senior citizens are to receive a social pension of P500 a month.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development was still in the process of identifying the beneficiaries.
Soliman said that the 2006 government census showed there are a million indigent senior citizens, which means the government would need roughly P7 billion a year for the social welfare.
?First, I want to say that we still have to find that (money) because you know we have a huge (budget) deficit and this (fund) was not included in the DSWD's budget for 2010,? Soliman said in Filipino.
Soliman said the projection of the National Statistics Office showed that the population would reach 94 million by this year and of that figure, there would be some seven million poor senior citizens.
The DSWD is also conducting the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR) to identify the poor households using the proxy mean test, a technical system that identifies the poor or those living on $1.25, according to the global definition.
Soliman said that to date, the NHTS has nine million households in its database and of the eight million it has run on the test, two million households have been identified as poor.
?Now what we need to do is run that some more to make sure we identify everyone and our estimate, based on the 2006 FIES (Family Income and Expenditure System), there would be roughly 4.3 million households who will be below the poverty line, which means we have to identify which of the four million households have senior citizens,? Soliman said.
She added: ?They will be the ones who will benefit from the P500 a month (social welfare) on the assumption that I will be able to find money in the budget for this.?
RA 9994 has taken effect last July 6 and allows the country's senior citizens, those 60 years old and above, to enjoy a full 20 percent discount on services and utilities. The law was meant to provide privileges for the senior citizens in recognition of their contributions to the country for many years.
Before the Expanded Senior Citizens' Law, most establishments would add the 12-percent Value Added Tax to the actual cost of the product or service. In effect, the senior citizens pay for the VAT and get to enjoy less than the 20 percent discount afforded to them by the law.
?Before July 6, pinapataw ang VAT sa Senior Citizens' Act. Effectively, what they (senior citizens) enjoy is an eight-percent discount. From July 6 until this law is effective, they can get the full 20-percent discount,? Soliman said.
Just as there are establishments that try to circumvent the law, Soliman also appealed to the beneficiaries of the law not to abuse the privilege that has been given them.
?I am appealing to the senior citizens to really try to take the right path. Let us not put one over the business establishments. These are privileges given to you as a senior citizen. If this is abused, it will mean losses for our entrepreneurs and businessmen,? Soliman said in Filipino.
She said a senior citizen card cannot be revoked but those who are proven to have abused the privileges would be fined P50,000 to P100,000.
Soliman said senior citizens should only purchase food or medicines that they themselves would consume.
?If you want to order pizza for your grandchildren, maybe their parents can buy the pizza for them,? she said.
Under the expanded law, senior citizens can enjoy a full 20-percent discount on medicines, in restaurants and hotels, leisure facilities like movies and theaters, and transportation such as airplanes, boats, buses, jeepneys, and taxis, among others.
Dual citizens can also avail of the privileges under the law as long as they have a senior citizen identification card and are staying in the Philippines for six months.
The law also provides a five-percent discount in electricity and water if the subscription is under the name of the senior citizen member of the household and as long as the consumption does not exceed 100 kilowatt per hour for electricity and 30 cubic meters per day for water.
Senior citizens can also enjoy free medical and dental services in all government hospitals and 20-percent discount when purchasing essential medical supplies such as crutches, eyeglasses, hearing aid, dentures, and the like.
Soliman said Bureau of Internal Revenue chief Kim Henares had told her that there was no need to issue guidelines of the expanded law to establishments because the law is ?clear.?
?I called BIR Commissioner Henares and she said there are no more guidelines (to be issued) because the law is very clear. They (BIR) only need to identify the different establishments that are VAT-exempt,? Soliman said.
For example, Soliman said, senior citizens should be given a 20-percent discount at restaurants regardless if the food they purchase for themselves were for dine in or take out.
Soliman said complaints or questions about the new law can be directed to the national office for monitoring and coordination body. This is chaired by the DSWD with the Departments of Health, Justice, Interior and Local Government and Trade and Industry as members.
An e-mail address is provided at the DSWD website where they can send their complaints to the body.
Complaints can also be sent to the body through every city's Office of the Senior Citizens Association (OSCA) or through the hotline number 0999-3417425.
Regional help desks would also soon be set up for the senior citizens, Soliman said.