Circumventing the law

FORMER Senator and former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim used to say: “The law applies to all or to nothing at all!” He had it emblazoned in every visible wall of the city, in big bold letters. Obviously, however, these words were meant to warn criminals, particularly the lowlife and street kind, like snatchers, hold up men and small-time criminal gangs, and all other criminals taking advantage of the weak as well as those unawares in the streets of Manila. Lim was then on his first term as Mayor of the City of Manila, the city he served for a long time as a cop, rising from an street assignment to the air-conditioned room of the chief of Manila’s Finest.

This slogan of Lim finds meaning in how a lot of establishments now try to circumvent the Senior Citizens’ Law as amended by Republic Act 9994 or the Amended Senior Citizens’ Law – they employ a lot of tricks on old and aging senior citizens to deprive them of the privileges they are entitled to under the law. They literally poke a knife at the throat of aging citizens to discourage them from benefitting from the law.

Some of these are:

1. INTERNAL POLICIES – One mall-based drugstore chain would tell a senior   citizen, who is buying maintenance medicine that he/she cannot buy the entire one-month supply of a daily medication, because “we have our policy of only giving a week’s supply of medicine.” So, that means a senior citizen will have to go to the drugstores each and every week to buy his/her medication, even if the prescription – for the maintenance medication – is for a month. Clearly, this strategy is to try out the patience of senior citizens because, when you buy the same medication without the senior citizen privilege of deducting 20 percent and the 12 percent value-added tax, that same drugstore will give you even a box of 100 tablets without any questions. Imagine the cost of (fare in) going to the drugstore each week and the time (spent) for doing so. Try Watson’s, the big drugstore chain inside most SM Malls.

2. PROGRAM FAILURE – Most supermarkets now use a computer-based cash register. When a senior citizen checks in with his/her carefully selected and accounted purchases, to comply with the Php 1,300 per week purchase and, more importantly, to match his/her budget, the cashier suddenly informs the senior citizen that their senior citizen discount program “is out of order” or “not working,” Thus, they won’t be able to properly record the transaction. The cashier would even add: “We can make the five percent discount, but we’ll be on the losing end as we won’t be able to reclaim whatever discounts we give you, kawawa naman kami!” Then, the cashier would retort: “Kayo ho, kung gusto n’yo ibalik n’yo na lang!” This, knowing that you’ve spent hours picking and listing, even adding the cost of every item, the goods. That tiring effort, especially on senior citizens, against the paltry Php 65 the supermarket will give you, what do you think will happen?

3. ITEM/S NOT INCLUDED – This is the most prevalent trick being employed by supermarkets, even drugstores, to evade giving the discounts provided by the Senior Citizen’s Law as amended by RA 9994. Most drugstores DO NOT DISCOUNT on-over-the-counter medications and other medicinal supplies, saying only prescription drugs or those properly listed in a doctor’s prescription will be given deductions. Section 4(a)(1), which states, “… (a) the grant of twenty percent (20%) discount and exemption from the value-added tax (VAT), if applicable, on the sale of the following goods and services from all establishments, for the exclusive use and enjoyment or availment of the senior citizen… on the purchase of medicines, including… other essential medical supplies, accessories and equipment…”

4. SELECTIVE APPLICATION – Some drugstores are good at sizing up their buyers, particularly senior citizens. When a senior citizen shows his/her senior citizen’s ID card and medical purchase book, the drugstore attendant will try to test the literacy level of the senior citizen. Once, the drugstore attendant ascertains the literacy level of the senior citizen as “LOW,” drugstore attendant checks the prescription being presented and “FINDS SOME DISCREPANCIES,” mostly in medical lingo, which the citizen will naturally not understand. The “ what’s this and that that your doctor has prescribed to you” will send the poor senior citizen into a situation where he will either go back to his/her doctor (which is tiring, costly in terms of fare and time-consuming) or just buy the medication without enjoying his/her senior citizen’s privileges, as the drugstore attendant usually will tell the senior citizen, who is already in a great dilemma, that he/she could get his medication if he would buy it without the discount privileges. And ruse does not end there, the drugstore attendant will even say, “Istrikto ho kasi ang senior citizen’s law, kailangan malinaw ang prescription n’yo!”

The above are just some of the things my good friend, a newbie at being a senior citizen, has experienced in the few months he is trying to experience the privileges and hassles of trying to enjoy the privileges of a senior citizen in the Philippines.

What happened to famous election lawyer Romulo Makalintal is also a good example of how establishments try to evade the Senior Citizen’s Law. In two instances, he was denied the privilege and he sued. The establishments apologized and he accepted.

So, all senior citizens of the Philippines should try to know their privileges and assert their rights under the law.