Malaysia should emulate Philippines’ senior citizens’ benefits

Recognising the inherent value of seniors is a sign of appreciation for their past contributions to the country

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A senior citizen at a telecom office - FILE PHOTO

Even though the Philippines is not one of Asia’s most affluent nations, the country still gives many privileges to its senior citizens.

These privileges are outlined in the Republic Act 9994. Commonly known as the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010, it defines a senior citizen in the Philippines as a citizen aged 60 and above.

Seniors are entitled to a 20% discount and are exempted from value-added tax on applicable goods and services for their exclusive use.

As stated in a tourism slogan, ageing is considered “more fun in the Philippines”. Grandparents’ Day is celebrated in September, while the first week of October is ‘Elderly Filipino Week’. Government agencies and NGOs are the driving force in organising programmes recognising the country’s senior citizens.

In the nation’s business district, Makati City, dwellers conferred as senior citizens are privileged and given a Blu Card. Commonly known as the ‘Tribe of Senior Citizens’ they are welcomed into the fraternity in a sumptuous party and recognised as a ‘privileged class’. Benefits include yearly birthday cakes, cash incentives and entitlement to perks such as free entrance to cinemas, tours to local destinations, salon and spa services and Christmas groceries.

Enacted in 2016, the Republic Act 10868 or ‘Centenarians Act of 2016’ is specifically for seniors celebrating their centennial year. Coming with this recognition are a congratulatory letter from the president, 100,000 pesos (RM8,200), a plaque and additional monetary gifts.

PhilHealth benefits

The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), under the purview of the Department of Health, was established in 1995 to provide universal health coverage in the Philippines. Compulsory PhilHealth coverage is provided to senior citizens under the Republic Act 10645: all senior citizens are provided with automatic coverage for healthcare facilities.

For private hospital confinement, the 20% discount and value-added tax exemption are deducted first from the medical bill before deducting the PhilHealth benefit. The “no balance billing” policy applies in public hospitals, meaning senior citizen patients need not pay for their hospital bills.

Even without the member data record, elderly patients can avail themselves to treatments through their senior citizens’ identity cards or any government identity card. But it is advisable to register as a senior citizen PhilHealth member to ensure benefits are systematic.

Manila Electric Company and utility discounts

Seniors can get a 5% discount on their power and water bills, as long as the accounts are registered in their name and provided their monthly household consumption does not exceed 100kWh of electricity and 30 cubic meters of water.

Ride-hailing discounts

The Department of Transportation requires ride-hailing services in the Philippines to provide the mandatory 20% discount to seniors. Senior citizens must show their identity cards (with the birth date visible) or other valid government-issued identity cards showing their birth date to get this discount.

Death benefits

Families of deceased senior citizens can claim a 20% discount on funeral and burial services. This death benefit applies to the costs of hospital morgues, caskets, urns, and embalming and cremation services.

If a deceased senior citizen was a member of the Social Security System, the family can claim a death benefit provided that the deceased member had paid at least 36 months’ contribution prior to death. The contribution is 11% of an employee’s monthly salary. The employer is required to shoulder 7.37% of the total 11% contribution, while the remaining 3.63% is shouldered by the employee.

Additionally, funeral benefits are paid to the family. The benefit ranges from 20,000 to 40,000 pesos (RM1,600 to RM3,300), depending on the late member’s number of paid contributions and average monthly salary credit.

Travel discounts

From September 2017, senior citizens get a 20% discount and value-added tax exemption for online bookings to local destinations on the country’s major airlines. Previously, the discount only applied to over-the-counter purchases at physical airline ticketing offices. It doesn’t cover promotional fares, baggage allowances, other fees, and international flight fares. Seniors must insert their senior citizen card number when booking a flight and present the card upon check-in at the airport.

Benefits throughout country

If any shop or retail outlet anywhere in the Philippines denies senior citizens the mandatory 20% discount, they can refer to the store owner or manager. The Expanded Senior Citizens Act applies in all establishments throughout the Philippines.

Getting discounts using valid identity card

Senior citizens must present their senior citizen cards issued by the Office of Senior Citizen Affairs to enjoy the privileges under the Senior Citizens Act. However, even without these cards, they are still entitled to a senior citizen discount if they present other government-issued identity cards showing their age.

Authorised representative can claim

If a senior citizen is bedridden or too weak to buy food and medicines, an authorised representative can claim the discount on the senior’s behalf if the latter are the using the discounted products and services.

To get the 20% discount, the representative must present proper documents to the retail establishment to prove he or she has been duly authorised.

Double discounts disallowed

The senior citizens’ law is explicit when seniors purchase something on promotion: either they can get opt for the 20% discount or the promotional discount, whichever is higher. The same applies for seniors with disabilities: they can get either the senior citizens’ discount or the person with disability’s discount, but not both.

Vehicle exemptions and free parking

Some local government agencies in the Philippines pamper senior citizens with special perks from free birthday cakes to free movies. Registered senior citizens enjoy free parking in cities like Cebu City, Manila, Muntinlupa City and Quezon City.

The most useful benefits for senior citizens are those associated with commuting. For example, in certain areas of Manila, seniors are exempted from the number coding scheme, whether as drivers or passengers. The number coding scheme aims to lessen traffic congestion in the city by allowing only certain vehicles to commute on public roads depending on the day of the week and the last digits of their car licence plates.

Special lanes for seniors

Senior citizens have special lanes in banks, light rail and mass transit stations, fast food chains, supermarkets, and drug stores. Businesses without dedicated senior citizen lanes are required to prioritise seniors.

Cashiers, bank tellers, or government staff must attend to seniors before others as it is mandatory under the law.

Why these privileges?

Recognising the inherent value of seniors is a sign of appreciation for their past contributions to the country. A country like Malaysia can learn a lot from the Philippines about the privileges accorded to senior citizens.

The current benefits accorded to senior citizens in Malaysia are negligible compared to the Philippines. Malaysia must go that extra mile and recognise the contributions of its senior citizens.

Have we forgotten the government’s campaign of “masyarakat penyayang” (caring society)? Or was it just another nice slogan now consigned to history?

Even in Sri Lanka, the government implemented a 15% special interest rate for senior citizens’ bank fixed deposits of up to 1.5m rupees (RM30,000) per person. The government pays for the difference between this 15% interest rate and the standard bank rate. Can’t Malaysia emulate Sri Lanka in this respect?

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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Paul Lim
Paul Lim
7 Nov 2021 4.01am

Even better than inEurope.

Lyra Gomez
4 Nov 2021 2.06pm

Mr Lopez, I am a Filipino residing here in Malaysia. My Dad has been president of the senior citizens association in my kampung and he’s serving for free. No one wants to take over his position because it’s a labour of love. Caring for our senior citizens is enshrined in our Constitution and there is an enabling legislation that accompanies the constitutional provision. It also has a lot to do with our culture because most of us would rather look after our aging parents than entrust them with nurses at old folks home. If I had the opportunity, I would be happy to assist the government in creating a framework as well as frame up laws and regulations that would benefit the senior citizens in this country.

Yeap
Yeap
4 Nov 2021 10.35am

Yes. Except politicians. All Malaysian politicians above 70 shd pay double the normal price for everything in Malaysia. Take it or just leave.

Mildred Lopez
Mildred Lopez
3 Nov 2021 8.19pm

Thank you for this excellent article. Its an eye opener. If a poor country like Philippines can do it it begs the question why hasn’t Malaysia done it. Particularly so since it calls senior citizens ‘warga emas’. The aged are a neglected group in Malaysia.They were in my parents generation Treasure but presently degraded to Trash.