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Archive for July, 2015

Ways Forward with RA 8972

WAYS FORWARD: Specific Recommendations

1. The law must be amended to harmonize its provisions with that of the IRR. Not only were there a lot of disparities, there were a lot of insertions and inclusions in the IRR that can be deemed a ultra vires since they have no concrete basis in the original provisions of the law. Such “add-ons” while meant to “correct” certain gaps in the law are certainly “out-of-bounds” and illegal. Such additional requirements and inclusions must now be formalized in the new law.

2. Currently, the Special Review Committee (SRC) established only in the IRR is operating by virtue of a mere Terms of Reference (TOR). Their legal personality must now be formalized in the law as the primary monitoring and coordinating body for the implementation of the Solo Parents Act. Even as this inter-agency body is functioning already, it would still be better that they finally be “institutionalized” through a clear legal authority mandated under an amended law.

3. The true intention of the law that is to provide social protection for a vulnerable sector like single parents can be better exemplified if the real target beneficiaries, that is both the parents and their children, are clearly identified and their situation more deeply analyzed before any programs or services are developed in their favor.

4. As such, it is highly recommended that the bulk of the amendments be focused on the definitions of who can be considered a “Solo Parent”. This would entail some clarifications and considerations such as the inclusion of “adoptive” parents in line with “alternative parental care” similar to foster parents and legal guardians, consideration of “divorced” parents since it is similar to those who are separated, legally or de facto and those whose marriages have been legally annulled.

5. The existing benefits and privileges granted to Solo Parents and their kids should also be reviewed if they are truly responsive to their current needs. Any limitations on eligibility for benefits based on income bracket or economic status should be clearly anchored on special or additional financial benefits (such as the social pension and free flu vaccines for indigent seniors) prioritizing poorer Solo Parents. Otherwise, the proposed amendments should simply do away with the poverty threshold as a requirement and provide all Solo Parents applicable programs and services regardless of income. It is highly recommended that counseling, stress debriefing, legal advise and other “general” assistance be provided to ALL solo parents. Since leave privileges and flexible work hours are only applicable to those formally employed, other “responsive and applicable” benefits and privileges should be granted to other Solo Parents such kasambahays.

6. The proposed discount privileges in the pending bills are not feasible for a variety of reasons discussed above. Besides the expected resistance from other stakeholders, the real clamor from the Solo Parents sector is for more income generating opportunities, whether it is in the formal or informal sector. And this includes ensuring access to opportunities for self-sufficiency and financial independence of both Solo Parents and their children. Thus, programs and services currently provided by DOLE, CSC, TESDA, PTTC under the DTI, and the DA should be emphasized and strengthened.

7. Speaking of educational needs, the law must ensure that both Solo Parents and their children are able to access formal educational, vocational and technical training opportunities. There are existing programs under the DepEd, CHED and TESDA, and these include scholarships and financial assistance which should be taken advantage of. Any other new programs seeking to address the needs of the Solo Parent families like quotas and reserved slots in scholarships or MOAs with private educational institutions, must focus on this aspect.

8. Another major issue of concern of Solo Parents is on healthcare needs. Just like educational needs, there are current government programs, specifically under the DOH and the PhilHealth which may be maximized. Hence, these may harnessed and strengthened further.

9. The need for legal advise and counselling must also be addressed by the proposed amendments. This is especially relevant when the Solo Parent has an accompanying case for VAWC under RA 9262 or the Anti-Violence against Women and Children Act of 2003. Even as female Solo Parents enjoy the legal services of women’s rights NGOs, legal assistance must be institutionalized as part of the comprehensive benefits package to be made available to female or male Solo Parents nationwide.

10. Present leave privileges and flexible work schedule should also be expanded to apply to those under MOAs, job orders, and contract of service in the government service. Already this is being enjoyed without distinction in the private sector as per DOLE guidelines, so it would seem fair for CSC to also consider extending this to the thousands of “non-regular” employees in the public sector.

11. Other possible amendments to the law may consider bringing back the additional personal exemption of “Head of the Family” as a different rate from single or married individuals in due recognition of the added burden of “single-income” households.
B. Conclusion: A Paradigm Shift

The changing times and the growing number of Solo Parents calls for a more pro-active and substantial help from the State for one of society’s most vulnerable groups. This is imperative in the light of the cultural premium placed on traditional families and the social stigma attached to not being married or being no longer married.

During one the meetings of the Special Review Committee (SRC) of the Solo Parents Act, the representative of one of the NGO/POs stated that improving the programs for Solo Parents might “open the floodgates” and encourage more women to become unwed mothers. Surely this is a myth, for who wants to experience the hardship of supporting a family all alone. As such, this kind of thinking based on social stigma and discrimination must be done away with. As policy-makers, legislators, and service providers in government, we must do our duty and provide for the needs of an acknowledged vulnerable sector.

One of the most significant aspects of the law is the clarification of who is really the intended beneficiary of RA8972. While it is important to identify who are considered “solo parents” under the ten (10) categories/definitions, it must be emphasized that their “children” are also covered by the benefits of this law. Thus, besides addressing the stigma attached to “broken” or “dysfunctional” homes, these kids must find support in having their “alternative-arrangement” families acknowledged and protected. After all, being “different” does not always mean “bad” or “wrong”

As such, it is this change in perspective, a complete paradigm shift, away from all the stigma and discrimination, which must be guiding principle behind the Solo Parents and their Children Act. We are in the business of changing, not just minds, but also of changing hearts.

Other Relate Issues: Implementation Concerns (SoloParents #5)

Other Related Issues and Implementation Concerns

In the course of reviewing the relevance of the law and its current effectiveness, there were a lot of implementation-related issues that were raised. While these foregoing issues are mere details which may be best addressed during the IRR drafting and formulation of implementing guidelines, the context and insight they provide may be worth considering for any other possible amendments.
1. Lack of National Database on Solo Parents

Presently, there is no specific agency or body that can determine the exact number of Solo Parents in the Philippines. While the SRC has been established by the Chairmanship and Secretariat lodged with the DSWD, deriving figures and statistics is not really its primary function. They once asked for submissions about Solo Parent employees per member agency, but that only worked for offices with established Solo Parent organizations and support groups. And this is only for government agencies, not including the private sector which the DOLE does not have available statistics on either.

When the then National Statistics Office (NSO) was asked about the registration of birth certificates which includes the legitimacy status of children, their representative replied that the current practice of registering births to reflect the legitimacy status of kids, may still not be an adequate or accurate system for determining the true number of solo parents.

Meanwhile, the issuance of Solo Parents Identification Cards has also been raised as a basis for determining the actual number of Solo Parents nationwide. However, as in the experience of senior citizens, because the law and the rules specified that the ID issuance be done by the cities and municipalities at the LGU level, there is still no “centralized” database at the national level.
2. Additional Supporting Documents for Solo Parents IDs Issuance

Speaking of Solo Parents IDs, while there are guidelines already providing for the proper issuance of Solo Parents IDs, it has been observed that there is great difficulty in producing the “supporting” documents required, ie., death certificate, declaration of annulment, medical certificate of physical/mental incapacity because these entail additional expense and effort.

While requiring these legal documents as official proof cannot be done away with, LGU social workers are enjoined to rely more on their personal assessment and interview with a Solo Parent applicant especially in cases of abandonment and de fact separation. In addition, procedures must be made flexible enough to allow official referrals from DSWD Field Offices and/or other LGUs, as well as other additional proof as notarized affidavits or barangay certifications to be used as basis for Solo Parents status and ID issuance.

Moreover, this issue is the same for Indigenous People (IPs) and other ethnic groups. As pointed out by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Solo Parents who are IPs also have a problem with documentary requirements such as birth certificates to prove minor children as dependents. It has been recommended that while they are encouraged to still apply for late registration of their kids, additional proof such as certification or affidavit from their local community or tribal leaders may also suffice.
3. Lack of Awareness on RA 8972 and its Benefits: More Advocacy

A high awareness level about RA 8972, its benefits and relevant procedures is not only necessary but essential for all stakeholders and duty bearers. It is a sad reality that as with many social welfare legislations, not all DSWD employees or LGU social services staff have the proficiency or expertise to fully discuss Republic Act 8972 or the Solo Parents Act of 2000. While many may have heard of RA 8972, not everyone is familiar enough with the laws exact provisions such as its benefits and privileges.

During the 2012 forum-workshops, even the designated Focal Persons claim not to be confident enough because they were newly assigned or because there is really no specific Solo Parents “sector” that is given focus, and it is usually subsumed under women’s welfare or under family and/or community only. Similarly, even focal persons such as City or Municipal Social Welfare Officers at the LGU level are not certain who are actually “solo parents” and who can really benefit under this law.

As such, the correct and uniform interpretation of who should be considered a Solo Parent is critical at this point. This can be taken as a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Without a proper orientation on who is a Solo Parent, some LGUs can be too restrictive and limit the issuance of Solo Parents IDs on technicalities. Some eligible Solo Parents can be “disqualified” because the LGU social worker has a different interpretation.

At the same time, they can be as flexible as they want to be. Presently, since the LGUs issue the IDs and are providing additional Solo Parents benefits and privileges under the authority of local ordinances, they have been given much leeway and flexibility in covering the persons they see fit the profile of s Solo Parent.

4. Institutional Arrangements: The SRC and Empowering the Sector

This brings us to the very important matter of having a centralized authority for implementation and monitoring of the law and its programs. The SRC has to be legitimized under the law through an amendment. It cannot rely on its existence by virtue of the IRR and their current TOR. Their functions and duties must be clearly spelled out. This includes providing the necessary guidance and uniform interpretations of the law and its provisions – be it determining who really is a Solo Parent and what necessary documentary proof are acceptable for the proper issuance of ID cards, to whether or not some essential services like counseling. stress debriefing, temporary shelter and legal assistance should be provided only to those below the poverty threshold and merely granting leave benefits and flexible work schedules to those above poverty level, or to formulating and developing policies that will be truly responsive to the specific needs of all Solo Parents around the Philippines.

To assist the SRC or whatever lead agency or body in studying and reviewing these matters, the Solo Parents sector itself must be encouraged to organize themselves; not just because a support network is important, but having a consensus on issues and a unified voice is essential in articulating their needs to legislators and policy-makers. Organizing and forming networks is likewise very empowering; it can possibly lead to more visibility, as well as more participation and representation in critical venues like Congressional hearings on pending bills, sectoral consultation dialogues and other special meetings.

However, it must be emphasized that Solo Parents groups are encouraged to also formalize their existence and legally register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to have legal personality. Not only will this allow them to be legally recognized by NGAs and LGUs, but this will also enable them to officially transact with government bodies especially in accessing budget allocations or financial assistance. In addition, they may even be invited to sit as regular NGO or People’s Organization representatives in the SRC or similar inter-agency or multi-sectoral bodies.

Hence, while the law and the IRR may provide for some representation and participation from Solo Parents groups in the SRC, a similar guideline as the one utilized by the National Coordinating and Monitoring Board (NCMB) for senior citizens for NGO/PO accreditation with the DSWD may be formulated.

Actual Needs vs Available Interventions (SoloParents #4)

ACTUAL NEEDS VS. AVAILABLE INTERVENTIONS

Like most social welfare laws, there appears to be some preference given to those who are poor or indigent, hence the “below poverty threshold” criteria stated in the law. What is limiting under this provision is the statement reserving the comprehensive benefits package composed of Livelihood Development Services, Counseling Services, Parent Effectiveness services, Critical Incidence Stress Debriefing, and other special projects like temporary shelter, legal assistance, medical care, and crisis management, to those Solo Parents falling below the poverty threshold. For those above the poverty level, RA 8972 states that these Solo Parents may only enjoy the other benefits under the law like flexible work schedule, parental leave and protection against work discrimination.

Such pronouncement in RA 8972 gives the false impression that those slightly well-off Solo Parents would not require counseling, stress debriefing, and other necessary assistance. It also assumes that most Single Parents are employed in the formal sector where employers and employment contracts allow them to avail of leaves and flexible work schedules. This is ironic since available documentation have consistently shown that a great majority of single parents are in the informal sector because of their inability to keep regular hours in the office. Some of them are forced to stay at home and care for their kids while trying to eke out a living through other available means such as home-based enterprises and small-scale industry endeavors. And now, with the recent focus on Kasambahays and their labor rights, these presumptions and restrictions under the present Solo Parents Act is not only incorrect but also counter-productive.

Evidently, the law miserably failed to address the actual needs of the sector by failing to understand their unique situation. A common thing binds them – and that is the reality of having to care for and raise a family on their own without the support of a partner, and possibly after an emotional and traumatic separation. The government in formulating any interventions must have a genuine insight into this before devising any program or technology. The whole range of emotional, psychological, material and financial concerns of a single parent must be recognized and appreciated before any actual programs or services are developed.
A. Proposed Amendments – Discounts for Solo Parents?

The current bills filed before Congress propose the grant of discounts on certain transactions like a 10% on baby’s clothes, a 15% discount on milk and other food supplements, a 15% discount on medicines, and a 12% discount on basic necessities and school supplies. These proposals seem to be anchored on the current discount privileges being enjoyed by senior citizens. Nowadays, all the other sectors are so envious of these senior citizens discounts, everybody now seeks to have the same rights and privileges. They forget that the only reason this was granted was because of the recognition that our elderly, after having retired and having diminished earning capacity due to physical incapacities and various other disabilities, no longer have the same financial resources as others given their higher and more expensive healthcare needs. People also forget how difficult it was to get the private sector to agree to this and cooperate in providing these benefits at great cost to business establishments. We must recall that the Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) who also have discount privileges are not really enjoying it that much due to implementation problems. And the proposed Centenarian law granting an additional 75% discount benefit to senior citizens 100 years old and above has been vetoed and cannot seem to pass because the private sector is now resisting. It is expected that the representatives of the various business industries will certainly resist, if not oppose this.

Nonetheless, should these proposals for discount privileges push through, the business sector will surely not allow a 12% discount on basic necessities. Senior citizens only enjoy a 5% privilege on prime commodities and basic necessities, and considering the very low profit margin allowed for the groceries and supermarket industry, the business sector will not go any higher than 5%. Also, with all the limitations imposed by the Milk Code, pharmaceutical companies supplying formula milk might not take too favorably to this 15% discount as well.

Thus, besides the possible lowering of the discount rate and limiting it to certain transactions, this may be the only time the current poverty threshold/criteria for support provision becomes highly relevant, thereby restricting the benefit to those who are poor or most in need.
B. A Clamor for Programs and Services:

1. Livelihood and Income-Generating Opportunities
It must be noted that based on the feedback from the 2012 forum-workshops conducted and on-going discussions with different Solo Parents groups, they are not expecting discounts or dole-outs. Their clamor is for more income generating opportunities, be it in the formal or informal sector. So instead of discount privileges, legislators and policy-makers should consider providing alternative or supplemental income sources or livelihood opportunities to augment or enhance their income-generating capacities.

Hence, the relevance of current programs and services providing educational, employment, and livelihood skills training opportunities, in both the formal and informal sectors, must be carefully harnessed and strengthened to cater to the needs of Solo Parents and their kids. As such, present programs and services being offered by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Civil Service Commission (CSC), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and the Philippine Technical Training Center (PTTC) under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), as well as the Department of Agriculture (DA) must be revisited if they are indeed responsive to the issues of Solo Parents and if need be, carefully amended to address Solo Parents concerns. Besides possible discounts on skills training fees, these can also be given for free if the enrollee or applicant is a Solo Parent or a child of a Solo Parent. This has been quite effective with the senior citizens sector.
2. Educational Needs and Scholarships

Once again, this is an area where both the Solo Parent and the kids can benefit. Presently there are available scholarships and financial assistance for formal, vocational and technical education under the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the TESDA. These services are important because proper education and/or technical training assure them of continuing self-sufficiency and financial independence in the future. Moreover, these benefits can be maximized by both the solo parent and the children.

Meanwhile, to ensure that Solo Parents and their kids are able to access these educational, vocational, or technical training opportunities, a possible quota of slots may be reserved for them by these implementing agencies. In addition, LGUs and private educational institutions are encouraged to have their own initiatives in addressing this need. Already, some LGUs provide scholarships to needy students to their city and community colleges. Some private colleges and universities have Memorandum of Agreements (MOAs) with LGUs or organized Solo Parents groups/networks themselves for scholarships and other financial assistance.
3. Medical Expenses and other Healthcare Needs

Just like educational needs, another major expense for Solo Parents is for medical and healthcare needs. Especially for very young kids where regular check-ups and mandatory vaccines are required, most Solo Parents often face emergency pediatric care and hospitalization.

At present, the Department of Health (DOH) offers free medical check-ups and vaccines for babies and may be availed of at local health centers. However, it has been said that these services are only applicable for “well” babies. Having a sick baby is a completely different matter and the expected medical expenses is very hard to estimate. Meanwhile, the PhilHealth also offers a “maternal health package” for pregnant women and newly-born babies. These also include regular check-ups, provisions of essential vitamins, as well as newborn screening. However, as correctly pointed out by Solo Parents themselves, these health services are “time-bound” and can no longer be availed of by Solo Parents with older children.

It has been noted that under the joint National Household Targetting System (NHTS) and PhilHealth program, many indigent or poor Solo Parent households are able to enjoy these services under the the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps). Meanwhile, others are still covered by the Sponsored program c/o their respective local government units (LGUs).

One may also say these government health programs are applicable to female Solo Parents mostly and not to males. Nonetheless, it is the children who are deemed to benefit most from these available health services. Thus, Solo Parents are encouraged to maximize and take advantage of these current programs by the DOH and PhilHealth for their medical needs.
4. Legal Assistance

Another common issue that cropped amongst Solo Parents is their need for legal advise and counselling. Most of them do not know their basic rights and entitlements under Family law. As such, they never claim or assert their right to these legal protections even as Philippine civil law grants them.

Based on the 2012 Forum-Workshops conducted in the seven (7) regions visited, both male and female Solo Parents need to be familiarized about the exact terms of parental authority, custody, and financial support under the Family Code. Another glaring concern is that a great number of Solo Parents are females who have accompanying cases of VAWC or domestic violence, with particularly instances of economic abuse or deprivation of financial support.

While the women’s rights NGOs have apparently answered this need among female Solo Parents for now, government agencies must still mandate the relevant offices like the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), the Commission of Human Rights (CHR), and even the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) to provide legal advise and assistance to Solo Parents and their cases.
5. Formal Sector Employment: Flexible working hours and parental leaves

Besides financial resources, the most valuable asset Solo Parent have is their time. Because they have no substitute of “alternate” co-parent, they are oftentimes forced to take care of everything themselves – from everyday care, to school enrollments, to hospitalization. Thus, they often say “the hours of the day are just not enough” and that “they sometimes wish they could chop up themselves in little pieces to divide up all the responsibilities they need to attend to.”

Thus, it appears the special parental leaves and flexible work schedules is still a very relevant benefit to be extended to Solo Parents. Based on various feedback, this is the most “popular” and most taken advantage of benefit under RA 8972. And since this has proven to be quite advantageous for Solo Parents, similar work arrangements must be encouraged in the formal sector.

These must not just be limited to flexible work schedules and parental leave credits, but could also include “work-at-home” options that can be institutionalized in all work environments, public or private. It would do well to look into the Civil Service Commission’s pronouncements on this as a model, and have the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) review existing employment policies for the private sector.

Speaking of DOLE and the CSC, Solo Parents leaves are available to all Solo Parents employed in the private sector regardless of employment status – whether regular, permanent or contractual. But It is different in the public sector where the CSC depends its policies on a strict employer-employee relationship. Currently, many employees under the government service are employed under Memorandum of Agreements (MOAs), job orders, and Contract of Service (COS) only. It has been a clamor from the solo parents support groups in many government offices that CSC reconsider this policy and likewise extend Solo Parent leaves to employees hired under MOAs, Job orders, and COS status. And based on initial discussions of the SRC and the statement from the CSC representative at the recent TWG meeting of the pending bills in Congress last May 21, 2015, the CSC is amenable to extending this leave benefit as a special leave privilege similar to the Anti-Violence against Women and their Children (VAWC) leave.

However, we must not forget that these leave privileges only benefit those employed in the formal sector. It must be reiterated that many Solo Parents are in the informal sector because it is difficult for them to hold regular 9 to 5 jobs. Most of them are forced to become stay-at-home parents to care for their children while trying to make ends meet by engaging in non-formal enterprises such as buy-and-sell of small or basic items. We must also not forget that with the dawning of the Kasambahay Law, Solo Parent-Kasambahays must also be considered. Given the nature of their job, they cannot really benefit from Solo Parent leave credits.
6. Taxation and Single-Income Families

We must remember that financial concerns are still the main consideration for solo parents and the single, most common issue amongst all of them regardless of gender or economic status. Single-Income families experience concrete disadvantages because the family’s basic needs are the same as others, but the capacity to answer these needs depend only on a single individual. And we are not even talking about the human toll, the emotional stress and the psychological pressure that falls on one person.

To mitigate the impact on single income families, it has been suggested that the category “Head of the Family” again be restored as a possible basis for additional Personal Exemption on income taxes. The “Head of the Family” distinction may be appropriate especially for some who even have additional dependents such as elderly and sick parents.

The current tax code merely imposes a P50,000 personal exemption for single or married individuals, and an additional P25,000 per child for up to four (4) kids. Still, it has been asserted that “Heads of Families” with multiple dependents should be considered as an altogether different class. An amendment to the tax code should not only bring back this “Head of the Family” as a higher personal exemption, but also acknowledge the existence of elderly sick and disabled parent as additional dependents.
7. Maximizing Child-Minding or Day Care Centers

On the other hand, many forget there are existing programs and services, facilities even, that may work for Solo Parents. Child-Minding and Day Care Centers are one resource that must be fully harnessed once again to add to the benefits of Solo Parents. One of the original purposes of these facilities is to provide a safe, and conducive child-caring, learning and socialization venue for parents and children alike. Since the passage of the Day Care Law, this system has been encouraged to be established and institutionalized in many private corporations and government offices. Hence, its importance must be revived once more as part of the many programs and services that must be properly harnessed and harmonized to add to the Solo Parents benefits.

Who Are “Solo Parents”

WHO are considered Solo Parents

Any analysis or review should begin with the law’s target or intended beneficiaries. Under RA 8972, there are ten (10) categories of who qualifies as a Solo Parent, and these are the following:

1) A woman who gives birth as a result of rape or crimes against chastity, but has chosen to keep and raise the child;
2) Parent left solo or alone with the responsibility of parenthood due to the death of a spouse;
3) Parent left solo or alone with the responsibility of parenthood while spouse is detained of serving sentence for a criminal conviction for at least one (1) year;
4) Parent left solo or alone with the responsibility of parenthood due to physical and/or mental incapacity of the spouse as certified by a public medical practitioner;
5) Parent left solo or alone with the responsibility of parenthood due to legal or de facto separation for at least one (1) year provided he/she is entrusted with the custody of the children;
6) Parent left solo or alone with the responsibility of parenthood due to declaration of nullity or annulment of marriage provided he/she is entrusted with the custody of the children;
7) Parent left solo or alone with the responsibility of parenthood due to abandonment for at least one (1) year;
8) Unmarried mother/father who chose to keep and rear her/his child/children instead of having others care for them or give them up to a welfare institution;
9) Any other person who solely provides parental care and support to a child or children;
10) Any family member who assumed the responsibility of Head of the Family as a result of death, abandonment, disappearance or prolonged absence of the parents.

Said definitions seem absolute, but there are still a lot of questions and confusion that have arisen. Firstly, there was some reference to those who have been annulled or whose marriages have been declared void ab initio, as well as those who are separated, either legally or de facto. However, there was no mention of “divorced” parents who are technically in the same context of “severed” partnerships. This matter would have significant implications for those who have been granted legal divorce abroad and for Muslim women in Mindanao who are covered by Sharia Law and are allowed divorce by Sharia Courts. Hence, the possible inclusion of divorce as a basis for being a Solo Parent must be duly considered.

It has also been observed that the law considered any person providing sole parental care and support to a child can be considered a Solo Parent. However, the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) limited these “substitute” parents to court-appointed legal guardians and DSWD-licensed foster parents only. The clear exclusion of adoptive parents is quite glaring and it has been reasoned that single individuals become adoptive parents by choice and are not “forced” into the situation of rearing a child alone unlike the other categories. However, such is also the case of legal guardians and foster parents; there is a degree of voluntariness and conscious effort required even if the final pronouncement comes from a court appointment or a DSWD license. Hence, it has been strongly opined that adoptive parents likewise be considered as a possible category of Solo Parents.

(Note that there is already a Civil Service Resolution granting special parental leave to a new adoptive parent who is single, although she cannot be deemed a having given birth under the normal maternity leave benefits.)

Another issue touches on the length of time; the one-year “waiting” period before one can be considered a Solo Parent has been criticized as being too long. Solo Parents cannot wait that long before they are eligible to enjoy benefits. At the first instance they are left alone to fend for themselves and their children, assistance must be made available by the government. After a year, most would have adjusted already and managed to survive by whatever means. In fact, they may have already “moved on”, so to speak. Nonetheless, this is not the intention of the law. Single parents need help here and now. The State seeks to assist the single parent in this life-changing state and must provide interventions at the soonest available time so that the Solo Parent can “recover” fast enough. Therefore, one of the strongest arguments for amendments is on this aspect, reducing the 1 year period to a mere six (6) months. This would certainly have an impact for those who have detained or incarcerated spouses, those who are separated or have been abandoned by virtue or disappearance or prolonged absence.

B. Qualifying for Benefits: Redefining who is a Solo Parent

We must expand and clarify the definition of what is a “Solo Parent” in the context of the evolving Filipino family, especially in the light of labor migration. Previously, there was much resistance to this suggestion because OFW families are presumed to be “rich” and “well-off” due to remittances. However, the harsh reality is that a lot of these families become “abandoned” when prolonged absence lead to eventual complete and total absence of communication from the OFW spouse because they have found new partners or have new families abroad. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on Migrant Workers Rights like Kanlungan Centre Foundation, Center for Migrant Advocacy and BATIS have all reported an increasing number of abandoned OFW families over the years.

Thus, the issue of “abandoned” OFW families should be looked into in terms of: a) is there really a need to wait for a period of one (1) year abandonment to be declared a Solo Parent, or can it be shortened to three (3) to six (6) months?, b) what can be alternatives to the legal or documentary requirements of “proving” technical abandonment, and c) how about those who are no longer receiving regular financial support from OFW spouses and have completely lost communication with them? Note that this is especially hard for this kind of single parents and their families because they were used to receiving financial support for existing and continuing needs like children’s schooling, and were suddenly cut-off.

On the other hand, termination of benefits under RA 8972 is dependent on the finding or disclosure that the single parent now has a new partner. Once more, this presumption that just because the solo parent now has a lovelife, this translates automatically to having this new partner support her or him and the kids. A new boyfriend or girlfriend, albeit even a live-in partner, does not ensure that the kids will receive financial support or other material benefits from this new household member. Thus, the termination of Solo Parents benefits should depend upon the formal and technical effects of being legally married under Philippine law where mutual financial support can actually be compelled between people whose family relations are by affinity or consanguinity.

And what about same-sex couples? Lesbian and/or gay partners can never marry under Philippine law, and technically shall never be considered legal spouses bound to provide mutual financial support. Since same-sex partners never enjoy any of the marital benefits or legal protections such as tax exemptions, conjugal properties, mutual social security or insurance benefits, etc., shall they now be precluded from enjoying privileges under the Solo Parents Act because they are now considered “partnered”? Hence, it not just an act of liberality on the part of LGUs who issue Solo Parents IDs to lesbians and gays with kids. It is actually an act of justice because legally and technically, these LGBT parents DO qualify under the law.

In connection with this, we must keep in mind the Filipino “tradition” of becoming “adoptive” parents in the informal, albeit “illegal” sense. It is a common practice and an accepted cultural trait to welcome into the family home abandoned or homeless children, whether they are distant relatives or not. This is the so-called tradition of “pagkupkop at pagpapalaki”. Because of the additional legal expense and tedious process, most parents do not bother to go through the legal proceedings of becoming either adoptive or foster parents, or legal guardians. Such is the case for many urban poor folks and not so-well off families, including alternative household set-ups like LGBT families. Understandably, it is still in the best interest of the child (and the parent) to have some legal basis for the proper exercise of parental authority and custody. But can we not “reward” their good intentions by making them eligible for Solo Parents benefits?

Another issue pertains to pregnant women who will clearly inevitably become single parents. Presently, they appear to not qualify because they haven’t given birth yet, but they already have some immediate material needs. The law seems to require that the child be born already before the mother becomes eligible. The issue brings us to the formal definition of a child for purposes of inheritance and other legal protections. Civil law states that if a child is born alive and survives for at least 72 hours after its birth, it shall have legal personality and all the rights it is entitled to. Nonetheless, it has been suggested that pregnant mothers who are bound to become solo parents should be considered as Solo Parents eligible for benefits starting from their last trimester at the very least. EcoparkJune2013

Single Parenting in the Philippines

Single parenthood may have a variety of reasons and may take on different forms – be it overseas work, abandonment, widowhood, incarceration, legal or de facto separation, annulment, adoption, or a child out of wedlock due to poor education and promotion of methods of contraception. But in this day and age, as a matter of social statement on the respect for life and women’s reproductive rights, it must be expressed as a State policy that a solo parent’s brave choice and genuine struggle to raise a child alone even in adverse circumstances should be lauded and commended.

In 2000, Solo Parents constituted 2.9 or nearly 3 million of the country’s population. A more recent World Health Organization-funded study by the Department of Health (DOH) and the University of the Philippines – National Institute for Health (UP-NIH) placed the number of solo parents at 14 to 15 percent of the estimated 94 million Filipinos. Today, around 13.9 or 14 million Filipinos are solo parents struggling to support their families and raise their children alone. According to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), there are around three (3) million children in solo parent homes in the Philippines today. These are children of single parents, widows, and kids of migrants or overseas workers.

DSWD records show that under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), 170,000 beneficiaries are Solo Parents. And in the DSWD alone where the organizing and empowerment of Solo Parents was first piloted as a “support group”, there are more than 200 solo parent-employees nationwide.

It cannot be denied that this phenomenon may have dire implications and consequences. Several international organizations involved in the development of Asia are concerned about the high ratio of single moms in the Philippines because it threatens to become a socio-economic menace. For example, some single moms may not be able to afford education for some or all of her kids and in most circumstances, such children can take to drug abuse and/or crime. In view of the existing poverty and low education, such children can also become ideal recruits for any terror network or human trafficking – since job opportunities for these citizens will be lower. Some studies have shown that female children of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) left in the care of grandparents or relatives are also prone to becoming single parents themselves.

Meanwhile, there have been reports of parish priests in Catholic churches turning away children for baptisms because the parents cannot produce a marriage certificate. Some private Catholic schools are also said to be refusing admission to children because their parents are not married or are separated.

Clearly, we need progressive State policies on the evolving nature of the Filipino Family that will acknowledge, recognize and respect the existence of “alternative” families or the varying compositions of the family. In addition, we need policies that must address the issues of stigma and discrimination being experienced by children of solo parents from private Catholic schools which technically deprive them of their right to a high quality education.Xmasvillage

The “New Poor”: LGBTs as a Vulnerable Sector

In April 2012, the Policy Development and Planning Bureau initiated a timely and ground-breaking policy forum-workshop entitled “The NEW POOR: Sexual Minorities as a Vulnerable Sector” tackling for the first time the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community as a marginalized sector in need of social protection. This was closely followed by a Policy Study Session in May 2012 where sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) and its impact on child rights protection was discussed in the light of increasing incidence of LGBT youth bullying. Eventually during the 2012 Mid-Year National Management and Development Conference (NMDC) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) leadership, the Gender and Development (GAD) Focal in the person of then Assistant Secretary Florita R. Villar shared with the DSWD officials their desire to begin expanding GAD to cover SOGIE issues in response to emerging trends and concerns in gender and development, especially in terms of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Since then, there has been a draft comprehensive policy paper on LGBT rights and SOGIE issues that was submitted to the Secretary through then Undersecretary for Policy and Plans Alicia R. Bala. While the policy recommendations and action points were categorized into institutional/organizational plans, employees’ welfare, and DSWD mandate/sectoral concerns, said policy recommendations focusing on the latter category would is the most substantive and would have most impact to the Department’s social development work.

Also in June 2012, after providing feedback to Undersecretary Alicia R. Bala on the proceedings of the April Policy Forum and May Policy Study Sessions, the PDPB was directed to formally transmit it to the Office of the Secretary for due consideration. That same year, the DLLO commented for the first time on the anti-discrimination against LGBTs bills in Congress, with the PDPB providing additional inputs for incorporation into the Department’s final position paper. Then, in February 2013 that the DSWD Central Office GAD finally held it’s first orientation/briefing on SOGIE for its Focal Persons. On the other hand, DSWD-NCR through the initiative of Dir. Alice Bonoan and GAD Focal person Froilan Maglaya maximized their March 2013 Women’s Month celebrations by conducting a series of Gender-Sensitivity Trainings (GSTs) for NCR staff and the Haven for Women’s staff and clientele.

In June 2013, UNDP and USAID co-sponsored the “Being LGBT in Asia” event for the Philippines, a national dialogue between various LGBT organizations nationwide and where key government agencies were invited to share their efforts on SOGI issues and LGBT human rights. DSWD had a lot to boast of in terms of internal education and capacity-building as well as external support and advocacy for SOGIE-related issues, Forwarding the proceedings of the said UNDP/USAID activity to the DSWD Secretary afterwards, she acknowledged and welcomed all policy recommendations relevant to the DSWD mandates and sectoral concerns. Thus, it is but proper that DSWD continues along this policy track.

SEXUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Sexual orientation, like gender and race, relates to the fundamental aspects of human identity. While formally defined as the pattern or direction of sexual and emotional attraction and conduct, sexual orientation relates to the “deepest affairs of the heart, the innermost desires of the mind, and the most intimate expressions of the body”. In other words, it goes into the very core of what it means to be human. Meanwhile, Human Rights are founded on the concept of respect for the inherent dignity and worth of a human being. The right to freely determine one’s sexual orientation and the right to express it without fear are human rights in the fullest sense. Therefore, gay and lesbian issues and problems as part of the human rights agenda crosses into both categories of human rights; those that are “liberty-oriented” and those which are “security-oriented”. They seek to ensure the Civil and Political Rights or “liberty rights” such as the right to life, liberty and security, freedom of expression, and freedom of association and assembly. They also ensure Social and Economic Rights or “security rights“ such as the right to work, education, food, shelter, and a decent standard of living.

EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION

Employment and decent work is part of the basic human rights involving social and economic concerns. No less than the Philippines Constitution provision on Social Justice and Human Rights mandates this.

To date, many Filipino LGBTs still do not get equal opportunity in employment and are deprived of the right to earn a decent living. Even with the proper education, training and experience, some LGBTs are not hired, promoted or given the opportunity for professional advancement in the workplace. In many job applications or interviews, one’s sexual orientation becomes the focus instead of the relevant qualifications/credentials needed for the job. If one is lucky enough to be employed, an LGBT has to contend with “Dress Code” issues because their outward appearances are viewed as a limitation. Vague “immorality clauses” in employment contracts also subject them to a seeming “higher” standard of conduct or behavior. And because of the notion that LGBTs are “sexual predators”, they are more prone to allegations of sexual harassment. Less obvious forms of discrimination involve LGBTs sometimes being deprived of the opportunity for trainings and seminars, or of being promoted. Always seen as “single” individuals with no children or families to support, they do not enjoy the usual social security benefits/insurance privileges that can be extended by employers and the government. In the most extreme cases, LGBT workers risk dismissal from their jobs because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The difficulty here is that no employer will actually state that as the reason for termination, but will use some other bases to justify firing an LGBT employee or not renewing a contract.

Of particular concern also, is the fact that since some LGBTs are deprived of equal employment opportunities, they are forced to resort to illegal or “unsavoury” sources of livelihood. This is the reason some transgenders engage in “sex work” or prostitution. Such instances of marginalization fall squarely into the social protection mandate of the DSWD and bears looking into.

Note that education really plays an important role in getting the appropriate employment later on. Some LGBT youth miss out on completing their formal education. Either their parents pull them out of school for being LGBT and the family “black sheep”, or schools and colleges actually expel them or subject them to disciplinary sanctions which prevents them from graduating. With little or no educational attainment, few skills or inadequate training, LGBTs are again relegated to jobs that further marginalize them.

CHILD RIGHTS PROTECTION AND LGBT YOUTH

Child rights advocates and human rights activists love to talk about protecting children and promoting their welfare, but they have never really seen how this impacts on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. Nowhere else is child abuse more evident or prevalent than in sexual orientation and gender identity- related cases. LGBT youth are more vulnerable to abuse and violence because of how their sexuality and gender is viewed by society.

Numerous documentations on violence against LGBTs show that early experiences of discrimination begin from childhood. Instances of child abuse are perpetrated by family members who are embarrassed about the homosexual tendencies of children and they try to make these kids conform to heterosexual gender stereotypes. Most parents are prepared to employ whatever means possible to force kids to exhibit more heterosexual traits and spare the whole family the humiliation and stigma of having a gay relative. All this under the “right” of parents to discipline and ensure obedience from own their children.

From researches done by LGBT groups like IWAG Dabao, Link-Davao, and LEAP, Inc., the common findings show that a great majority of Filipino LGBTs who suffered discrimination and violence say it started from their childhood, and respondents in these studies cite their own parents or family members as the primary perpetrators who abused them under the guise of “disciplining” them to become “normal” because they were already exhibiting signs or tendencies of being LGBT. It is under this context that this type of child abuse must be looked into. Is there ever an acceptable ground for committing child abuse, and where does the right to discipline of parents end? It appears that even with the Child and Youth Welfare Code (PD 603) and Republic Act No. 7610, corporal punishment or child abuse must be viewed with the added dimension of a child’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

The family is not the only social institution that children move in during their young lives. LGBT youth spend at least 15 years of their lives in the educational system where they suffer discrimination and abuse from adults exercising substitute parental authority. Teachers, guidance counsellors, and other school officials impose disciplinary sanctions that involve verbal, emotional, psychological and sometimes, physical abuse for students’ actual or perceived homosexual orientation. In the Philippines, where the good schools are mostly Catholic-run private schools, the treatment of effeminate boys and masculine girls range from being chastised in the principal’s or guidance counselor’s office, to public humiliation in front of classmates, or even suspension or outright expulsion. It bears emphasizing that LGBT youth are also deprived of their basic right to education when their schools expel them or subject them disciplinary sanctions because of their actual, or perceived, homosexual tendencies.

As true child rights advocates, these are just some issues which must be looked into. Sexual orientation and gender identity is a part of children’s personhood, and cannot be ignored. If this aspect of their humanity is denied, young LGBTs are deprived of their right to security and well-being, and most of all, their right to development.

“HATE” CRIMES and PROFILING

According to research conducted by the Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch, of the 141 documented cases of hate crimes from 1996 to 2011, ninety five (95) cases involved gay men, twenty six (26) involved transgenders, sixteen (16) involved lesbians and four (4) involved bisexuals. From an average of ten (10) LGBT people murdered between 1996-2008, the number has risen to twelve in 2009, 26 in 2010, and 27 from January to May 2011. Unfortunately, majority of these cases get labelled as “robberies gone wrong” or get merely dismissed because “there was a disagreement about the fee”. These criminal cases get “sweeped under the rug” and don’t get pursued because authorities don’t think they’re a priority as if the LGBT victims are dispensable people, or because the families themselves wish to keep everything quiet for fear of being embarrassed about their kin’s sexuality. Until now, there is no proper appreciation for such crimes which are clearly motivated by “hate” because of the way the victims seem to be “targetted” for their seeming vulnerability, and the manner or cruelty by which they were killed to become almost unrecognizable corpses.

In a period between 2007 and 2010, the police repeatedly conducted raids of gay saunas, old cinemas, and parks in Metro Manila on different charges of vagrancy, indecency, pornography, prostitution, sex trafficking, operating without license and other flimsy reasons. Clients, bar staff, bystanders were arrested by groups and detained for more than 12 hours. The arrested persons are usually threatened by the arresting officers with exposure to media or to their families. And once again, the particular weakness or vulnerability of LGBTs because of sexuality issues are used against them.

 

GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE

Meanwhile, R-Rights’ 2012-2013 gender-based violence research was conducted in a wide range of languages and included people from all parts of society. The findings show that while violence and exclusion takes place in every sphere of LBT women’s life and covers a whole range of physical, emotional, and sexual violence, including family violence, state violence, forced marriage, and marital rape, LBT women experience violence more frequently when their sexual orientation and gender identity are visible. This important study mention the presence of laws that “target” LGBT people, and the absence of specific laws that protect LGBT. Because direct state violence is not reported as much as family violence, this reflects how the messages from the State about sexual orientation and gender identity play out in the private sphere of the home and in families. Once more, family violence really dominate the findings and the stories where are often quite extreme, including subjecting lesbian daughters to “corrective rapes”.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Expand basic Gender-Sensitivity or Gender and Development (GAD) trainings to include SOGI issues and LGBT rights
  • Review laws, policies, and programs for specific sectors under DSWD mandates with an added dimension of SOGI/LGBT concernsPolicyNotesSOGIE

Proposed UN Convention on Elderly Rights

The elderly sector has been recognized as a vulnerable community in need of special protection since the early 1990s. But twenty five (25) years hence, still no United Nations convention or treaty has been drafted in their favor. Compared to the other marginalized sectors such as women, children, Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), and even migrant workers, older people have seemingly been left behind and they still don’t have an international human rights basis to call their own and rely on. Thus, it can be said that older people’s rights are largely “Invisible” in international law. The explicit recognition of older people’s rights is still absent in most international human rights instruments. Except for the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families, nowhere is age discrimination specifically mentioned.

Existing International Human Rights Law
Indeed, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights (ICSECR) are the basic international human rights documents meant to promote and protect the rights of all persons, young or old, regardless of status. But as in the case of women, children, PWDs, etc. senior citizens or older persons are also a vulnerable sector in need of special, if not additional, protection.
While it cannot be said that existing human rights instruments do not protect the rights of the elderly, these international law bases are deemed as not sufficient to address the unique concerns of senior citizens because these documents do not capture all the nuances and features of ageing. There must be an understanding of why the ageing population becomes a marginalized sector by virtue of a combination of factors and influences. These require an insight into ageing vis-à-vis gender issues, economic status, socio-cultural beliefs and traditions, as well as politics and social welfare services. What is critical to this framework is the need to find a “universality” to these concerns that the international community will finally take notice. Governments and States around the world must acknowledge that ageing and an elderly population is a commonality that all countries share, and any genuine effort to address older people’s needs may entail some international standard of elderly care and legal protection that must be based on social justice and human rights. While concrete measures by each State may vary depending on their resources, thru a binding international instrument such as this, there may at least be a benchmark for a progressive achievement of a level of care and protection for our senior citizens worldwide. It is this scenario that will hopefully give proper context to approaching ageing and elderly issues, and guide our own interventions.

International Instruments on Ageing
As early as 1982, there was the UN General Assembly Resolution that led to the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing adopted during the 1st World Assembly on Ageing. It was the first time a consensus was reached that ageing was indeed a “Life-long” process which must be given attention early on for preparation in social, economic, and health aspects. It was only in 1991 that the UN General Assembly adopted the 18 UN Principles for Older Persons which focused on independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment, and dignity. Several other UN GA Resolutions followed, ranging from a Proclamation on Ageing to a Declaration on the International Year of. Older Persons It was only in 1998 that the Macau Regional Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and Pacific was developed. This document focused on seven (7) major areas of concern which included health and nutrition, income security, maintenance and employment, housing and transportation, social services and community, as well as social position of OPs. This was followed in 2002 by the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing which was adopted by the 2nd World Assembly on Ageing. And while this document gave priority to security, dignity, full participation and human rights, it set policy directions in three (3) major areas of concern, namely: ageing and development, health and well-being, and enabling and supportive environments. It also called for a change in attitudes, policies and practices to put an end to age discrimination and to include ageing in global development agendas. By the time the Shanghai Implementation Strategy came out as a follow-up by the Asia-Pacific region to the 1999 Macau and 2002 Madrid Plan of Actions, the three (3) Areas of Concerns also included a portion on implementation and follow-up. The strategy provided guidelines on the implementation of commitments on ageing made under the two previous Plans of Action.
But while these international instruments on ageing are recognized bases for promoting elderly issues, they are not of the same status as international human rights law. They are not like a treaty or convention signed and ratified by different member States that can officially compel compliance with international commitments and obligations. The above-mentioned documents merely provide guidelines for the implementation of plans, programs and services for older persons They are merely “recommendatory” at best, and governments may or may not act upon them. These documents are also very general in scope; they do not provide specific guidance or outline State obligations in detail. What more, because they are not legally binding, they provide no additional incentive for implementation or accountability.
Yet a convention would provide governments with a clear, conceptual and legal framework, one that will mainstream human rights issues, ensure greater visibility of older people, and provide more exposure for senior citizens’ concerns. It can clarify States’ responsibilities, including the minimum standards and action necessary.

Translating Rights into National Laws and Policies
The Philippines is one of those countries whose fundamental law specifically mandates caring for our elderly. In the 1987 Constitution, every Filipino was assured of a rising standard of living and an improved quality of life. But along with other underprivileged sectors like the sick, disabled, women and children, the elderly were promised priority in health and social services. And while it is still the primary duty of families to care for their elderly, the Philippine government is obliged to design social security programs for seniors. On the other hand, not all countries expressly mention their senior citizens in their Constitution.
Our Filipino elderly also enjoy an assortment of benefits and privileges under several national laws like the Republic Act No. 344 or the Accessibility Law, RA 7876 providing for the establishment of Senior Citizens Centers in every city and municipality, RA 8425 or the Social Reform Act allowing sectoral representation for seniors in the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC). In fact, RA 9994 is actually the third version of the Senior Citizens Act which grants discount privileges, free services, and additional government financial assistance for indigent senior citizens. But the beauty of RA 9994 is that it sought to provide for the needs of Filipino seniors under a social protection framework, integrating a life cycle approach – a variety of “from womb to tomb” interventions that maximizes educational and employment opportunities to the elderly and providing for a social security and healthcare system that will allow them greater financial independence and self-sufficiency in the future. Other countries do not provide this and only have “piece-meal” legislations for their senior citizens, such as healthcare services, social security schemes, retirement or pension benefits, and universal social pension.
We also have the Philippine Plan of Action for Senior Citizens (PPASC). Of late, we already have a third 5-year successor plan spanning 2012-2016, which first started as a Philippine Plan of Action for Older Persons (PPAOP) 2000-2005, and then was followed by the Philippine Plan of Action for Senior Citizens (PPASC) 2006-2010. These national sectoral plans were all anchored on the Macau and Madrid Plan of Actions, and the Shanghai Implementation Strategy. But since these are not legally binding commitments, not every country formulated a national plan for their elderly.
These realities were evident during the 1st Regional Meeting on Ageing and Health for the Western Pacific organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) in July 2013. While the more affluent countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Japan clearly have an advantage because of their resources, the Pacific island nations admitted they were still a long way off. Their governments had no laws to fall back on, so there are no clear national plans or programs for their elderly. With their governments not providing concrete interventions, families serve as primary caregivers and healthcare is mostly out-of-pocket.
Having a United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Elderly will certainly compel different countries to have this more comprehensive and integrated approach to caring for their older persons – from national laws and policies, to sectoral plans to actual programs and services. It will no longer be “optional” as what the current international documents on ageing only manage to do.

The Way to Go: Five Basic Reasons for a UN Elderly Rights Instrument
Simply put, the following are the basic reasons why pushing for a UN convention on the rights of the elderly is a good idea and a cause worth supporting:
1. Ageing is inevitable and good portion of any country’s population will be composed of older people. They are already a growing demographic given the many ageing societies around the world, so there must be deeper understanding of their needs and issues, and these must be articulated in the language of human rights and contained in a single universal text..
2. Vulnerability is not only experienced by children by virtue of their minority; elderly folk are marginalized and discriminated against by virtue of their seniority and ageism is so prevalent, if tolerated any further it already borders on abuse and violence.
3. Present international human rights mechanisms neglect the rights of older people. Besides being absent in many treaties and conventions, there are clear gaps in protections available to older people in existing human rights standards.
4. While general provisions in the two international covenants do apply to everyone, the lack of specific standards around what these rights mean for older people and in the context of old age means there is little understanding or attention to older people’s rights.
5. There are no specific human rights standards on issues like elderly abuse, long-term, and palliative care. A growing body of evidence shows that many older people face abuse and violence in their own homes, and in institutional and long-term care facilities.
As such, the DSWD must support this effort to come up with a UN convention for older persons to protect their rights and welfare.

The Phenomenon of Elderly Abuse

For many years, Elder Abuse was a hidden, unspoken issue in society. Similar to wife-beating, incest, and child abuse, it was a private problem kept within the confines of the domestic realm. But as a form of family violence, it has remained under or mis-diagnosed, under-reported, and poorly addressed by public policy even if it is not uncommon that if one type of abuse is occurring within a home, other forms of abuse may be (or will soon be) taking place. Meanwhile, elderly abuse is still often ignored by health professionals, and sadly, most perpetrators of the abuse are usually one’s own family members.

As the elderly population multiplies, so will the incidence of elder abuse. One out of every 20 elderly people will be a victim of neglect or physical, psychological or financial abuse this year.

Extreme cases of elder abuse have obvious manifestations, like pressure marks on the body, broken bones, depression, unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, unattended medical needs, or strained, tense relationships. But most elder abuse is subtle. It is difficult to tell the difference between normal interpersonal stress and abuse. Thus, it seems, elder abuse and neglect are often “hidden”.

But the phenomenon of elder abuse is becoming increasingly recognized by both medical facilities and social agencies. More and more studies have highlighted the seriousness and magnitude of elder abuse as an issue concerning the health and welfare of older persons. As such, Elder Abuse is now considered a major public health and human rights issue.

DEFINING ELDERLY ABUSE

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Toronto Declaration on Elder Abuse defines elder abuse as “a single or repeated act, a lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust that causes harm or distress to an older person.” It is not just an intentional negligent act that causes harm to a vulnerable adult, but may actually consist of neglect, abuse, and actual violence against an older person. It may take the form of physical, psychological and emotional abuse, financial or material exploitation, medical maltreatment, even sexual exploitation and abandonment.

FACTS AND FIGURES AT A GLANCE

Statistics uncover a frightening picture of elderly abuse around the world. The problem may get worse as the number of senior citizens increase. In the United States, it is estimated that people over the age of 65 will number about 52 million in the year 2020. With those aged 85 years or older as the fastest growing group, they will comprise a big part of America’s population-almost 1/6 of the tota

he Philippines elderly population has been steadily increasing in both size and proportion. By 2010, Filipino senior citizens are estimated to be 7M.

Initially thought to be a problem of the developed world, elder abuse is now recognized as universal, although evidence from less-developed countries is primarily anectodal. In the Philippines, elderly abuse is still not as prevalent as in the West. But of late, elderly abuse is no longer unheard of in modern Filipino culture. Despite our strong tradition of filial piety, it is not as unknown as people perceive it to be. It may be quite disturbing, but we have to admit that it may be a sign of the changing times.

FACTORS INFLUENCING ELDERLY ABUSE

Caregiver stress. This commonly-stated theory holds that well-intentioned caregivers are so overwhelmed by the burden of caring for dependent elders that they end up losing it and striking out, neglecting, or otherwise harming the elder. Much of the small amount of research that has been done has shown that few cases fit this model.

Personal characteristics of the elder. Theories that fall under this umbrella hold that dementia, disruptive behaviors, problematic personality traits, and significant needs for assistance may all raise an elder’s risk of being abused. Research on these possibilities has produced contradictory or unclear conclusions.Cycle of violence. Some theorists hold that domestic violence is a learned problem-solving behavior transmitted from one generation to the next. This theory seems well established in cases of domestic violence and child abuse, but no research to date has shown that it is a cause of elder abuse.

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

a) Establish information programs and increase public awareness to minimize risks of neglect, abuse and violence to older persons;

b) Include training on the prevention, detection and management of social problems of senior citizens among  healthcare professionals and law enforcement officers, specifically on the handling of elder abuse;

c) Encourage the development and utilization of supportive community resources that provide in-home services, respite care, and stress reduction with high-risk families; In addition, explore the possibilities of subsidies and outreach support for family and caregivers to promote quality homecare for senior citizens; and

d) Ensure high priority to the enactment of measures that would provide social protection to the elderly and reduce their socio-economic and political disparities.

My HannahGirl (repost from 2009)

I just lost a very dear friend last week. We were together for 11 years and she helped me through a lot of ups and downs. She came into my life in 1999 just when I was dealing with the loss of another loved one, Spencer. He left in the prime of his youth, quite abruptly, and it was hard to get over. That’s when Hannah entered our lives and we immediately fell in love with her. She was the last to be sold; probably the runt of the litter. She had a widow’s peak on her rust-brown head and the most soulful eyes. And Angie and I ended up paying more than what she would have actually sold for.
When Angie and I broke up, Hannah got to go with me while Flygirl stayed with Anj. That was another heartbreak she had to pull me out of. Living with my family in Kamias again, she slept in the room wherever I was. When I got my own room, she slept by the foot of my bed too. Hannah knew the land of tears very well. She instinctively knew when one was crying. She would rise up on her short hind legs, reach for your face and lick off your tears. Hannah was a quiet dog. A real house-pet who stayed out of your way most of the time. She never pressured you to play with her after a tough day at work, and would patiently wait to be fed. She loved her walks though and her favorite word was “walk”. Say it out loud and she would immediately lunge for the door, happily jumping up and down. She was an English-speaking dog too, and responded to such instructions as “stay” and “behave”. She can even understand “eat your vegetables” and obediently went back to her potatoes one time to the utter shock and amazement of my sister.
Speaking of my sister, one time I asked her to babysit Hannah at her home and her stupid maids left the gates open so Hannah got out. Here’s something Hannah and I had in common, we’re both poor in navigation. For a hound-dog like her, she gets lost and confused very easily and she wouldn’t know how to get back home. I cried like hell at the thought of losing her..until tricycle drivers near Claret School took pity on us and pointed to a corner store where a brown dog was last seen. The store-owners were full of bad faith since they initially denied having Hannah, and deliberately tried to confuse our maid. They eventually let Hannah out of the bathroom where they were hiding her, but these people clearly wanted to dognap her.
Hannah hated baths, but nevertheless endured the cold water and stood still until the whole dousing was all over for her. Even with her short fur, she stank up quite easily, so baths became a regular torture chamber for her. Another thing she hated were car rides. She gets car-sick you see, even for very short distances. We had to give her Bonamine for the travel from QC to Malate last year for the 2008 Pride March. Yup, she had motion-sickness. She also had clear preferences – she absolutely loved chicken and daing na bangus. Hijo Mio aka “destructo” and I loved our meat, on the other hand. She didn’t care for dogfood much, and had a penchant for table-scraps. She never begged from the dinner table though, and was trained enough to wait for her own share.
She was actually house-trained and had a routine – she needed to be let out every morning for her weewee and poopoo. At Tandang Sora, newspapers were readily available to her even with evening walks. At Kamias, she would asked to be let out to the garage. She clearly communicated this requirement to people by looking at you and heading for the door. if you were too stupid, she’d bark at you so you’d get it. But that was the limited barking you’d get from her. She rarely barked or howled but when she did, it was quite a racket.
When she moved to Sta. Mesa with me, she hated being left alone the whole day. She scratched the door and spooked the neighbors with her howling. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before Hijo Mio came to live with us too. For a while, she didn’t mind the 3 floors of stairs to go walking. But I noticed that those regular walks took its toll on both of us, so we eventually stopped. Her exercise became limited to going up and down the stairs in our small apartment and running away from super-frenetic “destructo”.
So it was to her last days, she would greet us at the door when we get home from work, wait to be fed after we’ve eaten, quietly lie on her mat in her favorite corner while we watch DVD; even head up to the bedroom with us as soon as it was sleeping time.”Be a good girl” translates to goodbyes to Hannah since that is what we always tell her when we leave to go to work everyday.

I hope she is being good wherever she is now..

Cinnamon Spice and Sea Breeze

She, of cinnamon spice and sea breeze,

fiery hot like sambal on tempe or penyet,

her kiss soothes my burning mouth.

She blows clouds from her cigarette,

the faintness of alcohol in her breath,

she leaves me with a lingering taste

for more…

Her bodyheat warms my bed,

cloaking my sheets with her essence;

tongues and fingers in secret crevices,

entangled limbs damp with exertion..

She, of cinnamon spice and sea breeze..

-GPL 2007