By Antonio S. Lopez

Did you know that the Philippines has 12 million senior citizens (SCs) or Filipinos who are 60 and above? 

Did you know that there are at least 1.5 million disabled Filipinos?  What the law and proper usage call persons with disability (PWD)?  Disability could mean physical, such as being unable to walk, mental or psychological, or simply having a poor eyesight, once certified by a competent doctor.

And did you know that there are 15 million solo parents in the country?

Solo parents are either separated, divorced or whose marriage has been annulled.  They are also women (and men) with a child or children with partners whom they loved or liked or were forced into an act of procreation against their will.    They are the widows and widowers, their loved one having gone into the kingdom beyond, leaving them alone, lonely, desperate for love and/or means of livelihood.

Over 28 million disadvantaged Filipinos

In sum thus, the Philippines has 28.5 million who are old, disabled, and living alone but are guardians of a child, offspring, or dependent.  That’s 25% out of 115 million Filipinos. 

Society has erected barriers to one of every four Filipinos because of their age, physical handicap, or single parenthood.   Still, the 28 million represent a formidable constituency— demographically, politically, economically, and morally.

Most presidents are senior citizens

Incidentally, after 1986, all Philippine presidents were of senior age at the time of their election, except one.   Fidel V. Ramos was 64 in 1992; Joseph Estrada 61 in 1998; Rodrigo Duterte 71 in 2016; and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., 64, in 2022.   Post-war, 1946 to 1985, the two youngest on their election as president were Ramon Magsaysay, 46, and Ferdinand Marcos Sr., 48.  In the US, Joseph Biden, 81, and Donald Trump, 77, are among their oldest presidents.

Business and the economy are run by seniors: SM group matriarch Tessie Sy is 73, SMC CEO Ramon S. Ang, 70; PLDT and MPIC Chair Manuel V. Pangilinan, 77; Jollibee founder Tony Tan Caktiong, 71; Ayala Corp. CEO Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, 65; casino and ports king Enrique Razon Jr., 64; and Alliance Global’s Andrew Tan 72.

In politics, President Marcos Jr. is 65; House Speaker Martin Romualdez, 60, and First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos, 64. Majority of BBM’s cabinet are seniors, led by Finance Secretary Ralph Recto, 60, and Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, 74.

Joey Salceda’s advocacy

Albay 2nd District Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente Sarte Salceda, 62, has taken upon himself to advocate on behalf of this constituency.  Not simply because nearly all are of voting age. 

His motive power as an advocate is driven: firstly, by personal conviction as a public servant, having been provincial governor for nine years, cabinet member for a year, and congressman for six years; and secondly, the 1987 Constitution mandates the Philippines to be a caring society.

A social contract

Governance is a social contract.  People repose power in politicians so they can pursue the good of the people or the common good.

Section 1, Article III (Social Justice and Human Rights) of the 1987 Charter says: “The Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic, and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.”

Medicare to all at affordable cost

Section 11 of Article III also says: “The State shall adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health development which shall endeavor to make essential goods, health and other social services available to all the people at affordable cost. There shall be priority for the needs of the underprivileged, sick, elderly, disabled, women, and children. The State shall endeavor to provide free medical care to paupers.”

Taking up the cudgels for the disadvantaged is not new to Salceda, one of the most profound and visionary members of the 316-strong House of Representatives.

Before joining public service, Joey was a self-made billionaire having been Asia’s best economic and stock market analyst, thanks to DNA and a superlative education — management engineering, cum laude, at Ateneo, 1982, and MBM, with distinction, at AIM, 1990.

Intellectual heft and passion

A number of the most far-ranging economic and social reform measures ever passed by Congress bear Salceda’s analytical imprint and deep visioning.

Few, if any, in present and past Congresses, can match the intellectual heft and passion for the people Salceda brings to public service.

The Albay statesman is the principal author of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Law, and the Free College Education Law. 

CREATE reduced corporate income taxes to 20%, so private business can invest up to P7 trillion more in enterprises and create jobs, especially during the nearly three years of the COVID pandemic which reduced economic output by 9.5%, the worst in a century.

Crucially, Salceda has had the foresight to incorporate in the two milestone tax reform measures, TRAIN and CREATE, exemption from the value added tax of medicines for SCs, PWDs, and solo parents. 

Other landmark laws Salceda authored include: Free College Education, Sin Tax Law, ten-year validity for passports, Salary Standardization, Bayanihan Recovery Act, Comprehensive Tax Reform, Comprehensive Education Reform, TESDA, and Pag-IBIG tax exemption.

Over 2,000 medicines VAT-exempt

Today, as a result of Joey’s earmarking, over 2,000 medicines are VAT-exempt.  They include meds for the treatment of cancer, hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, high cholesterol, tuberculosis, mental health and other ailments. 

In 2022 alone, such discounts on medicines reached P136.75 billion—P113.17 billion for 2.3 million SCs, P18.86 billion for 670,000 PWDs, and P4.75 billion for 170,000 solo parents.

Minuscule discounts

Salceda is unhappy with the seemingly minuscule discounts and the fact that only a small percentage of the total universe of SCs, PWDs, and solo parents avail of the discounts.  Indeed, the average discount is P49,000 per SC, P28,200 per PWD, and P27,700 per solo parent.  VAT leakage is immense, because of fraud.

In January and February this year, Salceda led marathon hearings on gaps and loopholes in implementation of laws on the 20% discount and 12% VAT exemption of seniors.  He seeks to enhance the benefits currently being enjoyed by senior citizens, PWDs, and solo parents.

The hearings uncovered rampant instances of shortchanging seniors and PWDs of their discounts and VAT exemption.

Thanks to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) itself, groceries allowed only P65 discount or 5% of a fictional amount of P1,300 weekly  purchases by seniors and PWDs of basic necessities and prime commodities. 

Hotels must give senior discounts

Seniors were also denied the 20% discount and 12% VAT exemption for services such as airline tickets and hotel rooms.  Executives of a large hotel in Ortigas were sued and ordered arrested for the violation.

Starbucks was chastised for its policy of limiting discounts to “one food item and one beverage only per visit”. 

Jollibee and McDonald’s and other large fast food chains routinely limit a senior’s food discount to a minuscule P40 per visit, no matter the amount of food the SC ordered.

Cake shops and parking too       

Salceda himself complained a cake shop chain owned by a huge retailer refused to give him his discount at the airport.  Mall parking operators, he said, must give discounts because under the law, parking is a public service franchise.

The violators include the biggest retail compnies and fast food chains.

The hearings involved three House committees – Ways and Means, chaired by Salceda; Senior Citizens Affairs, headed by Rep. Rodolfo Ordanes; and PWD affairs committee led by Rep. Alfel Bascug. Invited to the hearings  were national leaders of senior citizens and PWD organizations and the executives and lawyers of the erring companies.

More gains for the disadvantaged

The lengthy hearings resulted in the following benefits for seniors, PWDs, and solo parents:

1) The expanded basic necessities discount for Senior Citizens from P260 per month to P500 per month;

2) Ease of access in online ride-hailing and delivery platforms like Grab, Angkas, and FoodPanda;

3) A dedicated SC and PWD discount application system with MERALCO; 

4) The 40% discount granted by Starbucks for seniors and PWDs;

5) The 20% additional top-up commitment on RFID load for senior citizen users of SMC Tollways;

Free parking for seniors

6) Free parking slots for senior citizens in major malls;

7) The applicability of the senior citizen discount on top of special price offers by establishments;

8) Amendments to the implementing guidelines of government programs like TUPAD and Government Internship Program to allow free participation of Senior Citizens; 

9) Expansion of Philhealth benefits packages especially in primary and rehabilitative care for PWDs; and

10) Allowing electronic alternatives to the booklet system used for availing of senior citizen and PWD discounts.

11) A Seniors’ Catastrophic Insurance 

The Joint Committees also approved substitute measures to House Bills 10061, 10062, and 10063, expanding benefits for senior citizens and PWDs during the joint hearing.  

During the hearings, Salceda insisted on retaining the additional deductions on labor expenses to encourage the hiring of seniors and PWDs which are designed to create employment opportunities for their sectors. 

Best job benefit package

“This is the best benefit package we got because it helps to maximize their contributions to society while also giving them the dignity of decent employment,” Salceda stressed, adding that their expanded privileges and improved compliance on them “by keeping the private sector on their toes with these benefits” will give more meaningful benefits to all players.

“Based on our calculations, as a result of increased compliance and the expansion of the discount on basic goods, the hearings alone will result in as much as P112.6 billion in more benefits for seniors and PWDs this year alone,” Salceda said.

“From the date the Speaker instructed us to hold hearings, to the approval of the substitute bills, we finished our job in 60 days,” Salceda pointed out. 


Leaders of various groups representing senior citizens (SCs) and persons with disabilities (PWDs) hailed House Ways and Means Committee chair, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda for championing their expanded benefits cause during the recently concluded 60-day marathon House joint panel hearings that netted significant gains for both sectors.

Speaker’s behest

The House Ways and Means Committee-led joint marathon hearings were conducted at the behest of House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, following reports of inconsistent implementation of senior citizens and PWD discounts from what the laws provide. 

Salceda presided over the hearings as chairman, with Ordanes and Bascug, both party-list representatives, as co-chairmen.

In a statement during the hearings,  Franklin Quijano of the National Commission on Senior Citizens (NCSC) thanked Salceda for what he described as the “most productive congressional hearings on senior citizens’ rights” their Commission participated in under his leadership. 

Liga ng OSCA [Office of Senior Citizens Affairs] ng Pilipinas Executive Secretary Nonita Red  also thanked Salceda for the comprehensive hearings on senior citizens issues and for strongly championing expanded benefits for their sector. 

“We thank our very own Congressman Joey Salceda for championing the rights of senior citizens all over the country,” said Red who also heads the OSCA in Oas town, Albay. 


“I congratulate my co-chairs, Rep. Rodolfo Ordanes, and Rep. Alfel Bascug, for their roles in our very productive discussions. We have approved three bills, clarifying that discounts apply even with promo prices, introducing the SC and PWD discount on parking, the 15% utilities discount for lifeline consumption items, the additional 25% deduction on labor expenses for PWDs and SCs, and access to free training programs by the government,” Salceda said. 

“I also thank DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian for his able leadership of the NCDA and for working with the NCSC to pursue more viable and livable benefit packages for seniors and PWDs, and for spearheading the necessary inter-agency cooperation on their welfare,” Salceda added. 

(See related story on pages 28 and 29).