REFLECTIONS:  Struggles of a senior citizen in the time of COVID-19

BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews / 17 April)  — Senior Citizens were up high, close to the skies in government attention during the last 30 years until just recently, when COVID-19 triggered the fall from grace.

First there was RA 7432 in 1992 heralding the contributions of senior citizens to nation building; then RA 9257 in 2003 expanding the benefits; and RA 9994 in 2010 further expanding what has been expanded with more and more benefits.  Then, just last year, PRRD signed RA 11350 elevating senior citizens from mere objects of social welfare to something with a higher political status.   The  senior citizens’ care function of the DSWD was removed from the agency and elevated to the policy function of a National Commission of Senior Citizens.

It took time for people to accept the new reality of express lanes and restaurants to shed off 20 percent of posted prices.  It also took time for senior citizens to realize and enjoy the power, sometimes with unnecessary use.  Indeed some benefits were not so necessary like movie passes for seniors whose eyes are failing or 20 percent discounts on fast food that adds on to bad cholesterol.

All the affirmative laws cited Article III of the Constitution which states that it is State policy to adopt a comprehensive approach to health development. Unfortunately, these laws have caved in to a new normal of comprehensiveness.  Presidential proclamation and local executive orders are confining citizens to their homes in the name of protection. Groceries are quick to the draw, instructing security guards to deny entry to senior citizens.

Staying at home is a small price to pay if it is for the good of all. But, not only for senior citizens,  this is logical only if you know that the enemy is somewhere outside ready to attack. It is badder when you don’t know that the enemy is in your own home and an infected member of the family should be in a proper quarantine somewhere else.

Protection is not just hiding and hiding could be fatal as trench warfare in World War I would tell us.  Comprehensive health development is also about one’s mental health – or unhealth due to involuntary confinement. What’s wrong with building up one’s defenses, going on the offensive, to strengthen one’s physical and mental health? What’s wrong with a walk in the park, touch of sunshine in the morning or a bit of thalassotherapy on a beach nearby?

It is grossly incorrect to think that by being above 60, a person can no longer stand upright, walk, read, drive or do push ups. Worse, if rules assume that being above 60 is equal to being  a lameduck for COVID-19 or being in the departure hall for the afterlife.

Researches on COVID-19 and Diamond Princess tells us something about being old. Over 50% of the 3,711 passengers and crew were above 60. Seven hundred of those on board were infected and  eight died (or a mortality rate of 0.2 percent).  Yes, the old are vulnerable, as global statistics show.  But these are based on tests made on serious cases that produced the deaths. Statistics have not yet shown the bright side of untested case, that would show how COVID-19 can fall flat on the ground.  Even in the case of the Diamond Princess, researches show that the vulnerability is not just about being old. Otherwise, there would have been more than one thousand deaths on that ship.

I have no fetishism about special care especially with the daily thought that I can still contribute something to society (not to mention that I don’t really look and feel like my age based on birthdate J). My struggle is about building up my physical and mental strength and rage against the thought of getting dependent on others even for simple chores such as going to the grocery or pharmacy.  I am missing the unique and triumphal grins of senior citizens who benefited from the affirmative laws.  I miss the re-affirmation of the same laws especially under conditions of emergency.  The worst that can happen to a senior citizen is going to the oven within 12 hours of death without having tasted the freedom and the joy of being in the park and walking under the early morning sun. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Ed Quitoriano is an independent consultant who specializes in conflict and risks)