By Filane Mikee Cervantes

AID FOR SENIORS. Indigent senior citizens from 21 island villages in Surigao City receive their stipends for the first semester of 2024 on April 10, 2024. The House of Representatives approved on Tuesday (May 21, 2024) on final reading House Bill 10423, granting universal social pension to all Filipino senior citizens. (Photo courtesy of Surigao City PIO)

MANILA – The House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved on the third and final reading a measure granting universal social pension to all Filipino senior citizens.

With 232 affirmative votes, the chamber passed House Bill (HB) 10423, which seeks to expand the current social pension program to include all senior citizens, not just indigents.

Under Republic Act No. 7432, indigent senior citizens are entitled to a monthly stipend of PHP1,000 to augment their daily subsistence and other medical needs.

If the bill is enacted into law, senior citizens who are not considered as indigents shall receive a monthly stipend of PHP500.

The bill also stipulates that within five years, all senior citizens will also be entitled to a universal social pension equivalent to at least PHP1,000, regardless of any other pension benefits they may receive from other pension providers.

United Senior Citizens Party-list Rep. Milagros Aquino-Magsaysay, author of the bill, said the approval is a “significant step” towards ensuring the health and well-being of all senior citizens.

“The passage of the Universal Social Pension Bill is not just for those who have walked before us, but for the generations whose journeys have only begun,” Aguino-Magsaysay said. “It ensures that no Filipino senior citizen today or tomorrow will ever be left behind or forgotten. It is about time that all Filipinos have a pension.”

The bill seeks the transfer of the program’s management from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to the National Commission of Senior Citizens (NCSC) within three years.

The DSWD, in consultation with the Department of Budget and Management and other stakeholders, shall be tasked with reviewing and, if necessary, adjusting the amount of social pension every two years, taking into account the diverse needs of senior citizens and relevant economic indicators.

Under the proposed law, senior citizens shall have the right to waive benefits or opt out of the universal social pension program.

According to DSWD data, there are around 4 million indigent senior citizens out of about 12 million senior citizens nationwide.

Bills enhancing benefits for seniors, PWDs

The House also unanimously approved on third reading three measures seeking to expand the benefits of senior citizens and persons with disability (PWDs).

A total of 235 lawmakers voted in favor of HB 10312, which proposes that the mandatory 20 percent discount, value-added tax exemption, and special discount on the purchase of basic necessities and prime commodities granted to senior citizens and PWDs be applied in addition to any prevailing promotional offers or discounts extended by business establishments.

It also clarifies that discounts granted to senior citizens and PWDs are deductible expenses of business establishments.

With 235 affirmative votes, the chamber also passed HB 10313, which mandates a dedicated section in the eGov PH Super App to assist senior citizens and persons with disabilities in accessing government services, including healthcare, livelihood, social services, and informational resources.

Digital copies of the senior citizen identification (ID) or PWD ID shall be issued through the eGov PH Super App.

These digital copies shall be considered as a valid proof of identity of any senior citizen or person with disability for purposes of availing the rights and privileges they are entitled to under existing law.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) shall be responsible for the integration of database of senior citizens and PWDs, as well as the integration of business establishments in the eGov PH Super App.

HB 10314, which seeks to rationalize the benefits and privileges of senior citizens and PWDs to ensure equitable access to essential services, was also approved with 236 yes votes.

The bill introduces a 20 percent discount and value-added tax (VAT) exemption on parking fees and the use of expressways and skyways, as well as the grant of a 15 percent discount on the monthly utilization of water and electricity supplied by public utilities for the first 100-kilowatt hours of electricity and 30 cubic meters of water per month.

It also provides employers a tax deduction of 25 percent of the salaries and wages paid to senior citizen and PWD employees.

Agusan del Sur Representative Alfelito Bascug said the proposals would benefit around 12 million senior citizens and 1.5 registered PWDs.

“This will afford our PWDs and senior citizens greater financial relief as they struggle to have their budget for medical and food expenses at par with inflation,” Bascug said. “This vital legislation will surely uphold the preferential benefits rightfully deserved of these vulnerable sectors.”

Other bills approved on final reading include House Bill 10174, which converts the Dr. Eva Macaraeg-Macapagal National Center for Geriatric Health as the National Center for Geriatric Health and Research Institute and House Bill 10188, which seeks to shield senior citizens from fraudulent acts committed through the internet, mail, and telemarketing. (PNA)