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(Speech delivered by REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN at the Elderly Filipino Week Celebration of Tabaco City on 12 October 2018)

The youth are often praised and admired for being the hope of the future and their achievements regularly extolled. But we should not forget that if the youth are the hope of the future, senior citizens are the fulfillment of the present and their invaluable contributions to the development of the nation must likewise be applauded and underscored.

I am therefore heartened to see so many senior citizens here this evening, all as proud of their gray hair and wrinkles as they are of their well-lived and productive lives. And as I look at you, my contemporaries, I am reminded of the adage “For the unlearned, old age is winter; for the learned, it is the season of the harvest.”

Indeed, old age is akin to harvest season when the palay is bent, not because it is tired but because it is heavy with bounty. Old age is synonymous with harvest time because it is also when we reap the rewards of the wisdom, contentment and serenity that often accompany old age.

Therefore, the theme of this year’s Elderly Filipino Week – “Kilalanin at Parangalan: Tagasulong ng Karapatan ng Nakatatanda Tungo sa Lipunang Mapagkalinga” is very appropriate.

Senior citizens must be recognized and honored not only for their valuable contributions to society and the important role they can still play in building this nation, not only during Elderly Filipino Week but every day. Moreover, their rights must be promoted and protected even as they should be treated with care and compassion.

To my mind, the mere fact that you have lived this long is a feat in itself. In the 1940s, the decade when most of us were born, the life expectancy in the Philippines was shockingly low at 47 to 50 years old according to the Department of Health. Clearly, those born during and immediately after World War II weren’t even expected to reach senior citizenship.

We must remember that one of the major indicators of a nation’s human development is life expectancy at birth. To place this in perspective, while babies born in the 1940s on the average would only live to see 50 summers, today given the level of human development of the country, babies born between 2010 and 2015 are expected to live until they are 70 years old.

Clearly, we are the exceptions to the rule.

Human development is attainable when a nation’s citizens live healthy and, consequently, long and productive lives. Living twenty even thirty years over one’s life expectancy at birth is truly an achievement and is something worthy of emulation and recognition.

This room is a veritable testimonial to the increasing longevity of Filipinos because of adequate healthcare brought about by advances in medical science, better financial opportunities especially for women, improved education, and more healthful lifestyles.

       But an ageing population also poses socio-economic problems. Data from the Philippine Statistics Office show that the number of Filipinos aged 60 years old and above is expected to reach 10.25% of the entire Philippine population by 2025. This translates to roughly 12,250,000 seniors.

       My colleagues and I in Congress recognize this impending problem and this is why a host of bills promoting the rights of senior citizens and social protection of the elderly all leading to the enhancement of national policies on senior citizens and the ageing population have been filed.

       Some of these proposed laws include:

  1. House Bill 1522 or “An Act Providing Additional Personal Exemption for Individual Taxpayers Who Take Care of Their Elderly Parents, Amending for the Purpose Republic Act No. 8424, as Amended, Otherwise Known as the "National Internal Revenue Code of 1997";
  1. House Bill 1677 or “An Act To Establish An Elderly Care And Nursing Complex In Every Province And City And Appropriating Funds Thereof”;
  1. House Bill 2989 or “An Act Providing Protection to the Elderly Against Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation, and Prescribing Penalties for Violation Thereof”;
  1. House Bill 44 or “An Act Institutionalizing a Ten Percent Budgetary Allocation of Barangays for the Implementation of Programs, Projects, Activities, and Services for Senior Citizens”;
  1. House Bill 719 or “An Act Establishing and Institutionalizing Long-Term Care for Senior Citizens, Providing Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes”; and
  1. House Bill 6251 or “An Act Creating the National Senior Citizens Commisison  and Placing the Office of the Senior Citizens Affairs Under its Control And Supervision, and for Other Purposes.”

       Additionally, I have always emphasized that in order to confront the problems of an ageing population, there must be a truly universal coverage of PhilHealth, prioritizing senior citizens, and the full implementation of social security for the elderly.

       The concern for the welfare of the elderly underscores the import of Republic Act 10868 or the “Centenarian Act of 2016” which I originally filed in the 15th Congress and was subsequently re-filed by my son and namesake Edcel “Grex” Lagman when he was Representative of the First District of Albay in the 16th Congress. RA 10868 was one of the last bills signed into law by former President Noynoy Aquino on June 27, 2016.

Under RA 10868, all Filipinos who reach the age of 100 will receive a letter of felicitation from the President of the Philippines and a P100,000 cash gift, whether they are residing in the Philippines or abroad.

They will also be awarded with a plaque of recognition and additional cash gift from their respective city or municipal governments during the National Respect for Centenarians Day, which is set on September 25 of every year, in acknowledgment of their longevity.

But if we want to truly celebrate ageing and honor the elderly, we should take the advice of the World Health Organization which recommends that governments pursue policies that would facilitate active ageing which includes improving an older person’s quality of family life, social networks, economic independence and participation in affairs of the community.

All around the world, people are beating the odds and living to a ripe old age. Ageing is now global phenomenon and it is both a triumph and a challenge.

It is a triumph because it is the victory of the body over disease, the mind over ignorance, and the spirit over despair. And it is also admittedly a challenge with the occasional “senior moments” of forgetfulness, keeping track of medications, impaired mobility, social isolation, among others, posing daily challenges for seniors.

The great and singularly beautiful actress Ingrid Bergman describes ageing succinctly: “Getting old is like climbing a mountain; you get a little out of breath, but the view is so much better!” 

Indeed, from where I stand, the view is impressive.