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FUNDS FOR P1K MONTHLY STIPEND OF SENIORS URGED

Camarines Sur Rep. and National Unity Party (NUP) president LRay Villafuerte is hoping the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) can ferret out  enough funds in the national budget  to be able to carry out fully  this year a 2022 amendatory law doubling to P1,000 the monthly social pension of   the country’s estimated  4 million-plus indigent senior citizens.

“In the face of the still elevated inflation, the doubling of the P500 monthly pension of our indigent elderly Filipinos to P1,000, as provided for in a new law, will spell added financial relief for these seniors who have to contend with the endlessly spiralling cost of living,” said Villafuerte, one of the lead proponents of Republic Act (RA) 11916 that doubled their monthly stipend for their subsistence and medical needs.

The NCSC  said in a February statement that only the indigent 4.1 million among  the 12.2 million elderly Filipinos have been receiving and will continue to receive the monthly pension, and that the stipend is still at P500 per month and not P1,000.  

“RA 11916, which lapsed into law last July, need not end up being a great but  unfunded program for the benefit of our indigent seniors who are in dire need of state subsidies to help them cope with incessantly soaring commodity prices and recover from the economic scarring caused by the nearly three-year pandemic,” Villafuerte, majority leader of the bicameral Commission on Appointments (CA), said.

The former Camarines Sur governor expressed hope that, “The DBM would be able to scour the 2023 GAA (General Appropriations Act) and other possible sources  for enough funds to bankroll the 100%-increase in the monthly pension of  indigent seniors, in the same way that the Department had managed to ferret out a sufficient outlay to finance Malacañan Palace’s extended targeted cash transfer (TCT)  project for the poorest families.”

The Palace’s economic managers earlier said the government  is set to distribute this month P9.3 billion-worth of cash assistance under this extended TCT project to 9.3 million households considered most vulnerable to the economic shock of the still elevated inflation, driven mainly by  the rocketing prices of certain foodstuff and the high cost of fuel in the global market.   

Villafuerte made this appeal as Chairman-CEO Franklin Quijano of the National Commission of Senior Citizens (NCSC) recently dismissed a report that the NCSC is handing out the higher monthly stipend of P1,000 to all of the 12.2 million senior citizens in the country.

The NCSC  said in a February statement that only the indigent 4.1 million among  the 12.2 million elderly Filipinos have been receiving and will continue to receive the monthly pension, and that the stipend is still at P500 per month and not P1,000.  

“The agency clarified that only select indigent senior citizens, 4.1 million out of 12.2 million, receive P500 social pension per month and will be doubled by virtue of RA 11916, as soon as it gets funding from the DBM,” said the Commission in the statement.

Quijano explained that, “While it’s true that RA 11916 mandates the 100%  increase in the indigent senior citizen’s monthly pension—from P500 to P1,000—it would still have to be funded by the DBM and it could only take effect after the National Treasury (has) allocated the needed fund but as of now it is still unfunded.”

Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno earlier said that under this extended TCT of P1,000, the Marcos administration will give  two-month cash payments to the 9.3 million most vulnerable households totaling  P1,000 per beneficiary-family.   

According to DBM Secretary Amenah Pangandaman, P7 billion was sourced from the “unreconciled” funds from last year’s TCT that was still with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank), while the remaining P2 billion was taken from the contingent fund of the Office of the President (OP).

RA 11916, which lapsed into law on July 30, 2022, amended RA 7432, which provided for a universal social pension for  elderly Filipinos,  and RA 9994, which granted additional benefits and privileges to these senior citizens.

Villafuerte supported the government’s implementation of targeted subsidies, given that  Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio  Balisacan himself had said that the release of such cash aid to low-income families and other vulnerable sectors cushions the effect on them of the high prices of oil and other commodities. 

“Our near-term goal as envisioned in our 8-point agenda (of the Marcos administration) is to safeguard Filipinos against the most pressing issues today, which are rising inflation and the lingering socioeconomic scarring caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Balisacan said last year in a statement.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported last March 7 that headline inflation was slightly slower in February at 8.6% from the January 2023 print of 8.7%, which was the highest on record since the 9.1% rate recorded in November 2008.

Villafuerte said RA 11916 directs the DSWD, and upon full transfer of its functions over this social pension program to the NCSC, to update and validate the list of target beneficiaries on an annual basis.

National Statistician and PSA civil registrar general Undersecretary Claire Dennis Mapa said that of  the 13 commodity groups, only transport posted a lower inflation rate of 9% in February from the previous month’s 11.1%, while nine other groups had higher rates, led by food and non-alcoholic beverages whose rate went up to 10.8% from the previous month’s 10.7%. 

According to  PSA data, there were more than 12.3 million  Filipinos 60 years or older  as of May 2020, or roughly 11% of the country’s estimated population of over 109 million.

Elderly Filipinos eligible for the monthly stipend include those who are sick or with disability, no permanent source of income, with no regular support from their families or relatives, and without any pension from the government or private institutions. 

On top of the increased monthly stipend to P1,000, RA 11916 mandates that social safety assistance be made available to senior citizens to cushion the impact of economic shocks, disasters and calamities, said Villafuerte.

Such aid shall include food, medicines and financial assistance for house repairs, with the funds to be sourced from the disaster/calamity budgets of local government units (LGUs) where the affected senior citizens reside, subject to the guidelines to be issued by the NCSC, he added.

Under this new law, private enterprises  that will employ senior citizens as employees, upon the effectivity of this Act, shall be entitled to an additional deduction from their gross income, equivalent to 15% of the total amount paid as salaries and wages to these elderly workers, subject to the provisions of the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC), as amended, Villafuerte said.

He added that the law provides, though, that for these private employers to  avail of this tax break, such employment shall continue for a period of at least 6 months, and that the annual income of these senior citizens do not exceed the latest poverty threshold as published by the PSA for that year.

Villafuerte said RA 11916 directs the DSWD, and upon full transfer of its functions over this social pension program to the NCSC, to update and validate the list of target beneficiaries on an annual basis.

For Villafuerte, “Legislated measures have been provided by the State to  help guarantee the safety and security of our senior citizens, but, unfortunately, most of them face financial problems as they are unable to work for a living or have no monthly pension—or both. And with inflation and the ever-rising living standards, it is getting harder and harder  for our senior citizens to live as comfortably as they can in their golden age, especially after the inimical impact of the pandemic.”

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