MANILA — Like the country’s little boys and girls who need protection from child abuse, men and women in their senior age or twilight years also have to be protected from maltreatment by others.
Sad to say, there seems to be no adequate laws or policies that will protect older persons from institutional, community and domestic abuse and violence during these fast changing times as can be gleaned from the views expressed by various groups during a Forum on Elder Abuse held two weeks ago in Quezon City.
In essence, the need for bolder steps toward the prevention of neglect and abuse among elderly persons was underscored during the forum attended by representatives from various sectors of the society at the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) Bldg. along Visayas Ave.
It was facilitated through the partnership of the PIA, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP), Coalition of Services for the Elderly Inc. (COSE), and Confederation of Older Persons’ Associations of the Philippines (COPAP).
In his speech, PIA Director-General Jose Mari M. Oquinena said the forum was a venue for the elderly to express their concerns about the existing reality that many senior citizens are experiencing abuse and neglect which should not be ignored.
According to him, it was their way of expressing support to the advocacy that will promote the welfare and protection of the elders against any form of maltreatment that they should not experience in their twilight years.
“A nation that does not take care of its elders loses its soul and will not find its way to the future. Let us be a better generation that supports their welfare, for one day, we will all cross the path where they are right now,” he stressed.
Oquinena said “these elders who are more matured than us…, who shared with us their wisdom at some point in time, can become ‘angels’ that will watch over us one day when we die, if we will also be like ‘angels’ to them now by taking care of their ‘rights’ which are being violated whenever they are being neglected, abused or maltreated.”
The forum participants noted the sad reality that there are elderly people who are suffering from abuse and choosing to keep it to themselves is undoubtedly happening in Philippine society for a long time.
According to Fransiskus Kupang, executive director of the Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE), the existence of elderly abuse is clearly happening and yet only a few are being publicized and voiced out.
“Most elders are afraid to come out or just hide in silence because the perpetrators itself are within their family circle. They fear that their privacy will be lost,” Kupang said in an interview with the Philippines News Agency (PNA).
Kupang noted that elderly abuse is the gravest experience that the elders suffer and yet many refuse to reveal or talk about their plight for reasons that they do not want to divulge to the public the sad fact that more often, the perpetrators are either their very own spouses, children, grandchildren and other people taking care of them due to their old age.<
Dr. Deana Santos-Ringor, a Health Director of Bantay Matanda Inc., an organization geared toward the welfare of the elderly, cited that there are reasons why most elders refuse to report or there is under-reporting of the abuse.
“Among the reasons are discomforts in confronting the alleged perpetrator, fear that the perpetrator will retaliate to the victim, unaware of the procedures for reporting, disinclination to be involved in legal matters,” Dr. Ringor explained.
She noted that most elders who are being subjected to abuse even find out that it is difficult to complain because they are either being blackmailed to suffer more mistreatment or be placed in nursing homes.
“Some elderly leave the abuser to God’s intervention and just pray that such predicament will eventually stop whenever they suffer in silence,” she said.
She added that if everyone will get involved in confronting the issue, much can be achieved and will prolong the life expectancy of the elders by having elderly protection team or formation of a hotline where the abuse can be reported immediately.
In a case study presented by Dr. Edna Estifania A. Co, professor from the University of the Philippines-National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG), it was noted that some children of the elders rank highest in number in terms of perpetrating the abuse, followed by spouses and then grandchildren.
Dr. Co pointed out that in another study, it was also learned that most elders were being abused by their children while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
A grave elderly abuse case that was cited was about an old man who was tied with a dog neck chain so that he would not loiter around in the neighborhood.
One of those who bravely came out to reveal the abuse perpetrated by his own child was Cesar Estecado in San Juan who said that he was being hit by his son whenever the latter was under the influence of alcohol.
“It is very painful for me to admit it but it is true. He often hit me and even verbally abused me as a sign of lack of respect,” Estecado revealed during the Forum on Elder Abuse.
The old man said the reason why he opted to speak out was because he wanted his son to change his behavior and realize his faults.
To properly address the issue of elderly abuse in the country, the participants in the forum agreed to launch campaigns to encourage the members of both chambers of the Congress to expedite the passage of the pending bills that seek to promote their welfare and protect them from institutional, community and domestic abuse and violence.
Currently, there are some pending bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate to address the issue of elderly abuse.
Among these measures are House Bill No. 408 introduced by Rep. Susan Yap (2nd District-Tarlac) and HB 2415 by Rep. Teodorico Haresco Jr. (Lone District-Aklan) which both call for crime preventions against senior citizens and titled “Seniors Safety Act of 2013.”
Another measure, HB 2569 filed by Rep. Marisol Aragones (3rd District-Laguna) and titled “Elder Victims’ Assistance Act,” aims to establish programs and activities to aid victims of elder abuse, and provide training to health and government professionals in the assistance of such victims.
Under Section 4 of the said bill, the establishment of Elder Victim Assistance and Programs is proposed through an inter-agency task force that shall be created and mandated to implement it.
The same bill also provides that the task force shall be chaired by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). The other members of the task force shall include the Department of Finance (DOF), the Department of Health (DOH), and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), non-government organizations such as the National Federation of Senior Citizens Associations of the Philippines (NFSCAP) and the Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE).
The program shall be implemented in coordination with relevant national and local and community-based public entities such as the municipal and city Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA), private agencies, and other entities relating to elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, and other crimes against elderly individuals.
Among the services envisioned to be provided to all victims of elder abuse are immediate, short-term emergency services, including shelter, care services, food, clothing, transportation to medical or legal appointment as appropriate, and any other life services deemed necessary by the entity for victims of elder abuse.
Others are counselling and assistance for victims of elder abuse in accessing health care, educational, pension and other benefits for which senior citizens may be eligible under the law; mental health screenings for victims of elder abuse to identify and seek assistance for potential mental health disorders such as depression or substance abuse, job placement assistance and information on employment, training, or volunteer opportunities for victims of elder abuse and others.
According to Joan Ison, DSWD Focal Person for the Center for the Elderly, they fully support the lobbying for the passage of the bill into law and the conducts of forums for public awareness to ensure that the welfare of the abused elders are addressed through the inter-agency task force that will be formed once the bill is passed and approved by the Office of the President.
“We in the DSWD, as early as 2010, have exerted efforts by conducting some policy forums to address this phenomenon. And this was followed by policy papers. In the Congress, we also helped push for the promotion of elderly abuse legislation by giving some recommendations,” she said.
Dioscorro Benalla, president of the Confederation of Older Persons Associations in the Philippines (COPAP), cited that in addition, there should be a formation of Community-Based Programs for the Elderly (CBPE) where the elders can seek relief aside, from higher authorities.
“Older people need reference group besides the family, other older people that they can belong to, talk to share experiences with, work with, laugh with without being chided for looking old and moving slowly,” Benalla said.
Although elderly abuses do happen, as of now, the DSWD is still in the process of documenting the exact numbers of elderly people who have become victims.
Severo S. Catura, executive director of the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat, shared the idea that the PIA and other media outfits, whether print or broadcast, include in their advocacy campaign the support for the passage of the pending bills for the welfare of the elderly in order to prevent abuses and neglect among them now and in the future.
“Let’s join hands in making the Philippines known to be a champion for the welfare of the elderly for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Elderly,” Catura said.
To date, among the rights being enjoyed by the elders are fare discounts in public transportation and establishments, free medical and dental services in government establishments, and social pensions.
Other rights that should be further secured are safe and appropriate public infrastructure facilities such as roads, pedestrian overpasses and crossings, more centers or facilities for abandoned, abused or neglected older people, free burial services and others.