Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Benefits and the Privileges of Being a Senior Citizen in the Philippines

A person that is at least 60 years of age is called a “senior citizen” in the Philippines. When I reached that age on March 21 this year, it was, at first, hard for me to think that I would join the club of elderly people. Slowly but surely, however, I came to accept the reality of what I am- a new senior citizen. I have realized that the only thing that is permanent in this world is change. Time does not stand still, and I cannot turn back the clock so that I will not grow old. I am not as physically strong as I was before. My body built, physical appearance, color of hair among others things have changed not for the better with the passing of years. However, it’s a consolation that some good things also happen as I aged. With age comes increase in wisdom and the understanding and love of my fellowmen. I love the company of my family especially my four grand children who are now the apple of my eye. I am fortunate that I grow up and live in a society where young people are highly respectful of the elderly.

It is also nice for me to know that the government fulfills its obligation to its senior citizens through its social security programs. One of them is embodied in Republic Act (RA) 9944 which is also known as “Expanded Senior Citizen Act of 2010”. In this article I will discuss some of the benefits and privileges of a senior citizen under the act.

Value Added Tax (VAT) exemption and 20% discount, if applicable, on the purchase of goods and services which are not limited to the following items:                                                                                                                                                                       
·         On professional fees of attending physicians  in private hospitals, consultation in outpatient clinics, services in home health care, and dental services including the price of prescribed medicines and essential medical supplies and accessories.

·         On fees of lodging, inns, hotels, restaurants and recreation centers such as theaters and carnivals.

·        On actual fares of public utility jeep (PUJ), public utility bus (PUB), Asian Utility vehicles (AUV), taxis, and on actual fares of airplanes and ships as well as fares of trains of railway companies owned and operated by the government. 

To emphasize how this privilege helps a senior citizen, let me assume that he buys goods covered under RA 9944 with a selling price that includes VAT.  For the sake of simplicity, let me also assume that the price of the goods is PHP 1,000. Since the VAT rate in the Philippines is 12%, I shall first determine the cost of the item before VAT. Dividing the price by 100% plus 12% (1,000/1.12) equals 892.86. Multiplying the quotient by 20% (892.86x.2) equals 178.57. Therefore, the senior citizen has to pay only P714.29 (892.86-178.57) out of the sales price of PHP 1,000. In this illustration, a senior citizen gets a whopping discount of PHP 285.71 or an effective discount rate of 28.57% from his purchase!

Other benefits which are not limited to the following:

·       A 5% discount on the payment of water and electric bills to public utility companies provided that the consumption is not more than 30 cubic meters for water and 100 kilowatt hours for electricity and that the meters that are used are registered in the name of a senior citizen in the consuming household.

·         A PHP 2,000 death benefit assistance to the heir of a senior citizen.

·        A PHP 500 monthly stipend for indigent senior citizens.

·         Free dental and medical services, diagnostic and laboratory test such as but not limited to x-rays, computerized tomography scans and blood test that are conducted in government facilities subject to the guidelines to be issued by the Department of Health in coordination with the PhilHealth.

·         Educational assistance for senior citizen who wishes to pursue high school, college, and vocational or technical education.

·         Mandatory enrollment to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

·        An express lane in private and commercial establishment for customers who are senior citizens. In the absence thereof priority shall be given to them.

·        Continuation of GSIS, SSS and Pag-ibig benefits.  
A senior citizen has to apply for an identification card (ID) at the Office for Senior Citizen Affairs (OSCA) in the city or municipality where he lives so that he can identify himself as such and avail of the benefits under RA 9944. The ID given by the OSCA is valid for use anywhere in the Philippines. Other government-issued IDs such as driver’s license, passport, PRC ID, voters ID on which the birth date is indicated will suffice to identify the holder thereof as a senior citizen.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Prayer "Ave Maria" or "Hail Mary" in Song

The Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the most revered religious figures of the Roman Catholics, she being the mother of Jesus Christ who, Christians believe, is the promised Messiah and the Son of God. The “Hail Mary” is a prayer dedicated to her. A song of the prayer with Latin wordings is one of the all-time favorite Christmas songs. Although the song is mostly heard during Christmas, it is also played in any other time of the year especially in September 8 which is celebrated by the Roman Catholics as the “Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary”.

“Ave Maria” was originally composed and written by Franz Schubert in 1825. The original German lyrics were based on a poem by Sir Walter Scott called “Lady of the Lake”. The revised and updated version of the song in Latin has lyrics that are taken from the Roman Catholic prayer “Hail Mary”.

Celine Dione, Beyonce Knowless, Mario Lanza, Pavarotti, Karen Carpenters are some of the many artists who covered the song. My favorite is Karen Carpenter’s version which is included in her and her brother Richard’s album entitled “Christmas Portrait” which was released in 1978.

Below is the video of the song “Ave Maria” with lyrics in Latin that is sung by Karen Carpenter. (Credit to Homero Souto who uploaded the video in You Tube)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Some Lawmakers Are Guiltier than Janet Lim- Napoles in the PDAF Scam

Janet Lim- Napoles
Hogging the headlines of Philippine dailies, radios, TVs and the social media is the PDAF scam to the tune of billions of pesos which is allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim- Napoles, a wife of an ex-major of the Philippines marines. A Commission on Audit (COA) special report for 2007 to 2009 has it that about 10 billion pesos of the legislators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was channeled into Napoles’ bogus Non Government Organizations (NGOs).

Senators are each allocated 200 million pesos PDAF while each congressman has 70 million pesos. PDAF is allotted to a lawmaker so that he can help his constituents in his district of their needs such as public infrastructures, health and education among others without going to the office of the president to ask for money. It is the practice of the lawmakers to identify the projects and choose the NGOs that will implement them.

The reports of the PDAF scam came to the fore when Ben-Hur Luy, a former employee and cousin of Napoles who was allegedly kidnapped on her instruction divulged in public the magnitude of the raid of the public coffers perpetrated by his ex-boss. He claimed that the NGOs that she put up were illegitimate. Luy along with other whistle blowers who surfaced claimed that her bogus NGOs siphoned off PDAF money that ends up in the pocket of corrupt government officials and some private persons. Napoles and the involved politicians earned money in the scheme. It has also turned Napoles from a struggling business woman into a very rich and well connected person.

A contractor that implements a PDAF funded project claimed that it is the lawmakers who get the lion’s share of kickback that is as high as 40%. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) which releases the fund is allegedly given back 15% of the money by the project implementers. The government agency to which the fund is released gets 5%. The heads of Local Government Units (LGUs) where project is implemented have 20%. The actual projects or beneficiaries of the fund get only 5% out of the PDAF. What remains of the money after giving involved government agencies or officials their share goes to Napoles who takes responsibility of having the funds liquidated to comply with the requirements of COA. The loss of money in terms of commission given to government officials is the reason why infrastructure projects from the PDAF are inferior in quality, and funds for social services are inadequate. It is also for that reason why persons like Janet Lim-Napoles who deals with the PDAF of the legislators becomes filthy rich overtime.

The scandal surrounding the PDAF scam shows that corruption has permeated the Philippine society in a grand scale, and that high government officials are involved in it. Napoles is able to do her scheme because high government officials tolerate her. Or worse of it, they use her to earn huge kickbacks out of their PDAF. Senators involved such as Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Gregorio Honasan and other lawmakers claimed that their signatures were being forged and that they did not know how their fund was spent because it is the government agencies where the fund is channeled which should oversee the proper utilization of the money. However, failure to take care of huge amount of tax-payer’s money entrusted by the government to an official that resulted to its loss and waste is negligence in the highest order and is punishable by law. It would be na├»ve for the Filipinos to believe that Janet Lim- Napoles could pull a fast one on highly intelligent and astute politicians such as Enrile, Honasan and other law makers many of whom are high-caliber lawyers. On top of it, Janet Lim- Napoles is not a government official, the lawmakers are.

Corruption has destroyed the moral fabric of the Philippine bureaucracy so that some officials who are entrusted with the custody of government fund think that it is theirs to loot from. And the rich, the influential and the powerful can get around the rules to further their vested interests. The NGOs put up by Napoles are classic example of how an unscrupulous person can connect with high officials and gain financially with their help, connivance or indifference. Former Senator Edgardo Angara, even put up his own NGO with himself as an incorporator, stockholder and member. He even downloaded 14.4 million pesos of his PDAF to it. There are reports that there are at least 82 bogus NGOs which are conduit of the PDAF, and Napoles owns only about ten of them so there are probably more persons other than her who are involved in the plunder of the PDAF.

While the use of the PDAF portrays the corrupt ways of some high government officials, it also shows the good traits of other officials who are in the government. Although, probably, not all of the COA personnel are honest and some might have conspired with persons such as Napoles, others such as the COA commissioner Grace Pulido- Tan set an example of what a good public servant should be in the midst of the big scandal that is faced by the government.  She could have just opted to keep silent, maintain the status quo and earn big money by conspiring and cooperating with the wrong doers. But this brave lady has chosen to be on the right side. She makes reports on what things really are even to the extent of implicating powerful people in the government for corruption and of risking her own life.