Seniors’ privileges

LAST Sunday, I commended—among others—retiring Justice Adolfo S. Azcuna’s ponencia upholding the constitutionality of the 20-percent senior citizens’ discount. In reaction, readers asked me to explain the extent and coverage of the seniors’ privileges. Ambassador Ramon J. Farolan, in tandem with Vice President Noli L. de Castro, has long been championing the senior citizens’ cause. In support of their advocacy, I am answering the questions.

Benefits for seniors. Republic Act 9257 (the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2003), which became effective on March 21, 2004, granted senior citizens (those who are at least 60 years old) several benefits, mainly the following:

(1) Free medical and dental service, diagnostic and laboratory fee (such as, but not limited, to x-rays, computerized tomography scans and blood tests) in all government facilities.

(2) Exemption from income taxes provided their income does not exceed the poverty level; and exemption from training fees for socio-economic programs.

(3) A 20-percent discount from hotels and similar lodging establishments; restaurants and recreation centers; drugstores; funeral parlors; theaters, cinemas, concert halls, circuses, carnivals and similar places of culture, leisure and amusements; medical and dental services, and diagnostic and laboratory fees (such as, but not limited to, x-rays, computerized tomography scans and blood tests), including the professional fees of attending doctors in all private hospitals and medical facilities; domestic air and sea travel; and public railways, skyways and bus fares.

(4) There are other benefits that have no specific amounts, like “educational assistance” to the extent practicable and feasible, the continuance of the same benefits given by the GSIS, SSS and Pag-ibig’ to the extent possible, special discounts’ on purchase of basic commodities.;

(5) “Provision of express lanes” in all commercial and business establishments; in the absence thereof, priority shall be given to them.;

In general, the 20-percent discount “shall be allowed as deduction from the gross income” of the establishments that granted it. In this sense, the privilege is not really a “sales discount” from the selling price but—in the words of the Supreme Court in Carlos Super Drug vs Dept. of Social Welfare (June 29, 2007)—a tax deduction scheme that reduces the gross taxable income, and ultimately, the income tax to be paid by the establishment. Viewed in another way, the 20-percent seniors’ discount is partially absorbed by the State via a tax reduction granted to the seller.

Promos do not nullify law. Comes now a common question posed by readers, “Some hotels like the Shangri-la and the Peninsula sell discount or promo cards that entitle the buyers to a 20-percent reduction on the entire purchase made by the cardholder. However, their restaurant outlets refuse to honor a further 20-percent discount for consumptions of senior citizens only. Are they correct?”

I do not think so. The initial 20-percent reduction is a voluntary sales discount or promo given by the hotel to all cardholders regardless of age. This discount is deducted from the regular selling price. On the other hand, the seniors’ discount is computed only on the consumptions or purchases made by the elderly, and is deducted from the seller’s gross income that, as earlier explained, results in lower income taxes for the seller. It is a reduction imposed by the law, not by the seller.

The hotel promo is given to all customers regardless of age. Hence, the resulting price is really the selling price from which the elderly should get their legally mandated discount. Promos and discounts given to all customers cannot nullify, modify or circumvent the senior citizens law.

To avoid any confusion and to give our elderly what is legally due them, I think the mayors and the Office of the Senior Citizens Affairs in the cities concerned, with the help of Vice President De Castro, should clarify this matter soonest.

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Judicious action. Comelec Chair Jose A. R. Melo was correct in refusing to sit Elias Yusoph in the poll body, even after the latter brandished his “appointment” as a commissioner. Under Sec. 16 of Article VII of the Constitution, “the President shall nominate and, with the consent of the Commission on Appointments (CA), appoint” Comelec commissioners (and other top officials). While Congress is in session, as it is now, the President can make appointments only after the CA has first consented to the nomination of the appointee.

Yusoph’s appointment was issued on Jan. 12, 2009 during the recess of Congress. Hence, it is deemed an “ad interim” appointment, in which case he should have taken his oath prior to the resumption of the session of Congress on Jan. 19, 2009. Not having done so, he has allowed the appointment to lapse and become inutile.

To preserve the independence of the Comelec, any new appointee should await CA confirmation before taking office. After all, there are enough commissioners now sitting in the poll agency.

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Forever Yang. Two weeks have gone by since taipan George Yang held his memorable concert at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. How he has been able to excel concurrently in both opera singing and business continues to amaze his friends. Impresario Eddie Yap and I discussed the idea of holding a joint concert of multi-talented professionals, including churchmen like Bishops Camilo Gregorio (piano) and Julito Cortes (tenor). Go for it Eddie!

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