Musing of a senior citizen

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Jose M. Montelibano

I do not know why I have found myself lately tackling situations that relate to senior citizenship. I do not mean only the formal one which entitles by law special discounts to senior citizens, but the general one which is simply age-related – 60 years old and above.

First, in the advocacy work that I have dedicated almost two decades of my life, the youngish leadership that is fast approaching 50 years old is already pushing the organization to raise younger leaders. Because the work of Gawad Kalinga (GK) is seen to be generational, as any mission that is anti-poverty and seeks the empowerment of the poor in the Philippines will be, succession and sustainability are crucial. More than money, it will have to be people with their hearts clearly sympathetic to the plight of the poor and convicted in the soundness of the GK way. Now, it’s not only people but younger people who will not be afraid to step up and accept leadership responsibilities.

As a septuagenarian, my continuing role in GK is largely mentoring or aiding the younger workers and advocates through situations that I have encountered in the past. Because I choose to be as imaginative as before, believing that wider and deeper experience must translate to the agility, not rigidity, of the mind. Although I must admit that I am not as quick to understand and use advanced technology and its derivatives in devices and equipment, I still know enough about their ultimate purpose for society. Technology or more knowledge is not meant for the pleasure of the creator but has a higher purpose – the collective good. It is sensitivity to the common good that age must never set aside; in fact, the older we get, the more we tend to understand what common good means.

I have always stayed wired to political dynamics even though I hate being drawn into partisanship. I learned politics from its ancient meaning, the way of life in any given territory or place (polis), how different sectors relate to one another, if possible with harmony, efficiency, and sustainability. Unfortunately, from a very young age, I also saw the partisan side of politics, so entrenched in a competition that victory is what matters the most – common good be damned. It has been a struggle for me to find objectivity in an atmosphere of partisanship, but I try. I see others do not bother at all. I think they do not even know there is a higher dimension to politics. But the reality is a reality, and we have to input the power of darker side even in the noblest pursuit of aspirations.

By chance, I came across an article about how people, from Japan, I think, are not ready to retire even if they are past 60 years old. That article mentioned that they want to maintain their lifestyle which becomes difficult, even impossible after they do not earn anymore after retirement. Apparently, even in a very developed country, pensions are less than working incomes. I know that this is just as true in the Philippines – that retirement benefits are much less than the wages from regular employment. I wonder how our senior citizens feel. They earn much less after retirement, but their needs do not necessarily become less. If they get sick, good luck to their family because only their family can help them at that stage.

At a time when life expectancy continues to improve, the retirement age was set at 60 years old. The lifespan of Filipino in the mid-20th century must have been as low as the low 50’s. Today, we are inching towards 70 years. It is estimated that our average life expectancy will increase another 10 years in the next 20 years or so. Retiring at 60 becomes impractical when one can live up to 80 (the average Japanese already live to 84 years today). Modern medicine, the lessening of wars around the world, and the impact of modern science will definitely lengthen our lifespan. In no time at all, especially at the speed that time flies, we will feel young at 60 – too young to retire.

Unless one is born and dies poor. Poverty has an effective way of killing people before their time. If the average lifespan is at 69 years for Filipinos, and many are living up to 80, some have to die at 60 to make the national average at 70. I think about this often because I know that dismantling poverty naturally raises the quality of life of the once poor and allows them to live longer. A doctor friend was in tears a few days ago as he related how poor patients can die or be maimed for life simply because they cannot get the medical treatment they need at the time they need it the most. This is not a new story. I know that Philhealth is an awesome improvement versus zero not so long ago but I wish a miracle will multiply its resources for the poor.

For those among us who are more fortunate than others, we who have now surpassed the average Filipino life expectancy, most enjoy their time with their grandchildren. I am one of them with my own. At the same time, because we have lived long and full, mostly blessed with more than the average, we have this propensity to look beyond ourselves. We are able to stare at our mortality in the face yet not paralyzed by fear. And knowing that our time is nearer than farther, we do want to leave something of ourselves behind – and not just our children but what our children can point to as our contribution to the common good. When we attend to this, we are able to set aside the negativity that poisons the air, mostly from partisan politics. How pathetic it would be if our children can only say we complained a lot but did little for the motherland.

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