The Filipino family, aging and the changing society

THE Filipino family, its structure in particular, has been changing according to experts. Gravely affected are the family’s most senior members – the lolas and lolos. In one Roundtable Discussion on Changing Family Structure and Aging, experts agreed that the changing Filipino family’s structure has already affected its senior members.

Such concerns were the focus of discussion during the 31st Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), recently at the Manila Hotel. The theme was “Active Aging: Preparing for Quality Life”.

Academician Mercedes B. Concepcion, 31st ASM Co-Chair explained that the topic was considered because of the changes brought about by the expanding overseas employment, increasing urbanization, declining fertility and mortality, etc. The tradition of caring for aged parents and grandparents is now being challenged.

Edward Gerlock of the Coalition for the Services of the Elderly said that the problem is not really cultural but structural and the solution could be an alternatetive structure. His 20-year experience of community organizing has helped 70 urban poor communities in the greater Manila area – a community of older people taking care of themselves. He explained that older people need another reference group besides the family.

Changing household structure and the elderly  (sub-title) The study ‘Changing Household Structure and the Well-Being of Older Filipinos’, was presented by Dr. Grace T. Cruz, UP Population Institute Director. She underscored the increasing male household headship rate over time but declining as age increases and that the role of older Filipinos in the family was changing as more older people serve as surrogate parents to children of OFWs. Older people, those 60 years old and over, are affected by the international labor migration, she added.

Dr. Shelley S. De la Vega of the UP-NIH Committee on Aging and Degenerative Diseases shared her study on the quality of life of the elderly. The older people really want to earn money to give to their grandchildren. She suggested that the elderly should be helped to find sources of income commensurate with their skills or even by learning new skills; contributing to the income of the family and the community. As a physician, Dr. De la Vega raised her concern on the health of those in the institutions, community, and those who are homebound especially those who cannot be reached by traditional health workers, while bringing up the issue on ageism.

Adaptation to old age should not happen only when one reaches 60 because it is a lifelong preparation, according to Dr. Elizabeth Ventura, UP Department of Psychology professor. The total development of an individual should be monitored, evaluated, or enhanced all throughout the lifespan and validated using the life cycle approach.

Former DSWD Undersecretary Lourdes Balanon, shared the emerging issue of elderly abuse in relation with the way that the family and community look at older people.

Multigenerational relationships

Prof. Balanon explained that promoting multigenerational relationships is a global strategy to confront the challenges of a graying world and to preserve the benefits of family ties across generations.

She said that the DSWD has also come up with this type of program. Among the recommendations were Social security and retirement protection schemes, social pension, and cash transfers; Community-based programs to support families caring for older members/relatives; Programs to empower older women; Integration of intergenerational themes into school curricula; multigenerational activities: meals, handicraft sessions, drama, sports, community singing and celebration of cultural festivals, intergenerational camps; and public education with the tri-media as vehicle in changing societal attitudes, specifically ageist attitudes and stereotypes.

Economics and aging

Dr. Claire Dennis Mapa, UP School of Statistics professor, shared his study of the savings rate of the elderly based on the Family Income and Expenditure Surveys from 1985 to 2006. He said that the elderly contribute to the actual saving rate. However, through time the saving rate is decreasing, which is below the 1985 rate, because he believes they are supporting a large number of dependents.

A case of a destitute family who remained destitute was brought up by Acd. Raul Fabella, former Dean of the UP School of Economics. He also cited Makati City as an example and said that its success in responding to the social needs of its residents is not replicable. Its allocation of resources is not any better than any municipality but its income is so high. That is why Makati’s’ experience is not replicable, he explained.

The conditional cash program was good because of the conditions attached to it. He commented on the impact of OFWs on the elderly population which he said was structural. Acd. Fabella noted that since the country has a young population, we are in the position to address global aging; which will also help our aging population in the Philippines. He added. “I’d like to see 15 percent of households headed by, elderly having one OFW. This will clearly address the income poverty of these households he proposed a slogan “An OFW for every poor family?” According to Acd. Fabella, “It may cost a lot but it is sustainable.”

The Senior Citizens Act does not really benefit the poor, those who do not have money, because in order to get the discount one has to pay for something and poor people do not have the money. The majority of older people do not have money.

The next steps

According to DSWD Undersecretary Alicia Bala, the General Appropriations Act mandates at least 1percent of the budget of government agencies and local government units for senior citizens and persons with disabilities. A Philippine Plan of Action for Senior Citizens covering the period 2006 to 2010, a successor plan from the previous plan of action for older persons from 1998 to 2005, was already in place.

She said hat since the devolution of DSWD in 1992, the programs for senior citizens should be implemented by the LGUs but very few give priority to senior citizens except for the creations of the office of the Senior Citizens Affairs; and most of the budget was for socialization and not really for developmental activities.

She cited some LGUs who have good programs for the elderly such as Makati City and Quezon City.

The Golden Acres, a home associated with homeless elderly, would be closing down soon added Usec. Bala.

They would still need to open another institution until the communities are ready. Plans are also underway about the PhilHealth universal health care coverage to include older persons. She said that social pension has been certified as one of the priority legislative agenda of the DSWD and the President. With regard to the expanded Senior Citizens Act especially on availing privileges, Usec. Balanon said that talks are ongoing.

In the academe, some universities and colleges are now offering gerontology program in Family Studies at MA and PhD levels, short courses on gerontology, and spirituality of midlife and aging.

Researches are also ongoing on aging related topics. National Scientist Gelia T. Castillo suggested a continuing network among the key players who supported the NAST-initiated RTDs. She said ‘Mahirap maging mahirap’ alluding to the greater number of older people who are really poor. She also said that health is absolutely essential but not sufficient among older persons in reference to other equally important needs. Aristotle Carandang

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