Action center for senior citizens

VICE President Noli “Kabayan” De Castro (that’s how he signed his name) wrote to say he agreed fully with my Feb. 15 column that “(p)romos and discounts given to all customers cannot nullify, modify or circumvent the senior citizens law.” He was referring to my opinion that hotel and restaurant outlets that have already reduced their prices via sales or promotional discounts must still grant an additional 20-percent discount for senior citizens.

E-mail deluge. That Feb. 15 column brought an e-mail deluge. Ben Canlas, who hosts the “Senior Citizens’ Forum” every Sunday over dwIZ 882, wrote that, at his request, Noli Villafuerte of the Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) in Makati called up the Makati Shangri-la and the Manila Peninsula. The two hotels agreed with my opinion and promised to “rectify their shortcomings” in refusing to honor the seniors’ discount on top of their own sales discounts.

To test this promise, I treated my family (my wife, two daughters, two sons-in-law and four grandchildren) to a Japanese dinner on Feb. 28 at the Inagiku Restaurant of the Makati Shangri-la. After I handed my credit card, “Senses” discount card, and my wife’s and my senior citizens cards, the waiter balked, saying that he could honor only the discount card but no longer the seniors’ discount.

I replied that before refusing, he should first consult his manager. He returned with a wide grin and handed me the invoice (called “guest cheque”) showing a “Senior Citizen Disc” of P435 for my wife and me, and a “Senses Open Disc” of P1,856 corresponding to a 20-percent reduction for all of us. I happily signed the credit card charge slip. Note that the restaurant honored the two discounts of 20 percent each even if I paid with a credit card.

Retired Judge Federico Y. Alikpala Jr. complained that “many, if not most, restaurants” did not extend the elderly discount on “take out orders,” and some, “like McDonald’s,” imposed a maximum of P30-discount, regardless of the amount of consumption. He also suggested that, to be fair, the 20-percent seniors’ discount should be charged in full to the seller’s income taxes—as was the case under the original statute—instead of to the seller’s gross income under the present “expanded” law. In this way, the government would be shouldering the full cost of the discount.

Federico H. Lizarondo independently confirmed Judge Alikpala’s lament on the maximum P30-discount. He added that some professionals jacked up their fees before giving discounts, thereby charging the same price.

Rudy Coronel supported Judge Alikpala’s proposal to charge the entire discount to the government, arguing that making the seller absorb the greater bulk of the price reduction was “downright inequitable” and that, in any event, the law did not contain clear guidelines on how exactly business establishments could “collect from the government what is due them without much hassles.”

Burger King grants discounts. I spoke with Alberto D. Lina, chairman of Burger King, during the Fedex golf tournament in Canlubang on Feb. 27. He assured me that all outlets of Burger King honor the 20-percent seniors’ discount, whether paid in cash or via credit cards.

Retired Air Force Col. Rocky B. Denoga rued that “not one doctor or dentist I’ve consulted with or who treated me has ever given me any discount even when I asked for it.” Jun Guiao went at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28 to the Red Ribbon restaurant “along President Avenue, BF Homes to buy a birthday cake.” He was granted the discount only if he paid cash, but not with a credit card.

After being told of my opinion that the discount should be given even if payment is by credit card, the fast-food outlet called up Guiao “at 2 p.m.” on March 2 agreeing to honor the seniors’ discount even when paid with credit cards. Now, according to Guiao, “the senior citizens around BF Homes are very happy” to patronize Red Ribbon.

Better implementation needed. In his long letter, Vice President De Castro said that, at his intercession, “drugstores (led by no less than the Mercury Drug chain) agreed to honor the 20-percent discount- even for credit card purchases.” I replied that there are still many little details of the law that have not been fully implemented, or that seniors find difficulty in enforcing.

For instance, Gil Guzman asked how he could avail of the tax exemption granted to the elderly. Cromwell O. Refuerzo wondered why seniors are charged the 12-percent VAT that reduces the seniors’ discount to only 8 percent. There are other benefits that cry for implementation, like the provision of express lanes, priority in airport counters and reserved parking.

True, the Expanded Senior Citizens Law (Republic Act 9257)—of which Vice President De Castro was the main author and sponsor while he was still a senator—mandated all cities and municipalities to create the Office for Senior Citizens Affairs.

However, there is no uniform interpretation or enforcement of the law on a centralized level. Consequently, I suggested—and the Vice President agreed—that his office should act as a national action center for the enforcement of the Senior Citizens Law as well as a forum to hear people who are prejudiced by the law’s wrong implementation.

Thus, whenever they have queries or suggestions, the elderly (and those acting on their behalf) may now visit, call or write Kabayan at the 7th floor, PNB Bldg., Macapagal Boulevard., Pasay City; Tel. 833-4507; E-mail vp@ovp.gov.ph

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