Pinoy Methuselahs’ resilience in the time of Covid-19


By  Virgilio C. Ventura


Caring for the elderly in their twilight years is still a pervasive practice among many Filipinos.  Traditionally, the Filipino elderlies are the most respected members of the household and their opinion on crucial family issues draws much weight in the resolution.  The care, respect and importance afforded by the family to the elderly become the elderly’s well-spring of self-esteem that helps them to weather any fear and anxiety which are usually attached to the process of ageing.  Culturally, living with and caring for the Filipino elderlies are but manifestations of the Filipino’s social value of strong family ties where the family is the rock of the individual.

But while we celebrate the full recovery from Covid-19 of the 83-year-old woman code Patient 3 from Sta. Rosa, Laguna last March 31, 2020, ageing in the Philippines is a scary experience when you are poor and without a family.  Even more scary is the prospect of dying alone without no one to hold your hand except perhaps a nurse donned in a personal protective suit to avoid infection of the now dreaded virus.  The value of your material wealth, the affectionate touch of loved ones and their sonorous voices of endearment end at the door of your Covid-19 confinement room.  In the end, you are alone and your religion is the only thing that you can hold on to till your last breath . . . or your second chance at life in the coming of days.  The present circumstance of the global Covid-19 crisis becomes a heart wrenching episode both for the dying elderly and the whole family.

Background

In a descriptive study conducted by Carmencita P. Del Villar among 801 elderlies (60 and older) purposive sample entitled:  Correlations among attitudes about aging, willingness to communicate, communication satisfaction, and self-esteem of Filipino elders, respondents confirmed that “self-esteem plays a crucial role in determining a person’s well-being”, [where] “a high self-esteem is associated with feelings of well-being and overall satisfaction” [and] “a healthy attitude about being older adults”.  Likewise, Del Villar asserts that much like the chicken and egg situation, “self-esteem could be the cause or the effect [as] the elders circumstances in life could likewise be the cause of their healthy self-worth.”1/

As an ageing society, the Filipino elderlies (age 65 and up) is on a steady rise and will reach 25.6 percent by 2100 according to Statista, a business data platform.2/

Share of population older than 65 in the Philippines from 2015 to 2100

Moreover, this rise will tapper at seven percent of our total population by 2032 according to a 2018 study conducted by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).3/  Paraphrasing what Michael Abrigo (one of the study’s proponents) said, the rising  percentage can be seen as a societal accomplishment of protecting our senior citizens from the crippling limitations of income, health and education.  Inversely though, Abrigo also said that: “More elderly people means more subsidies for healthcare expenses. Moreover, the elderly tend to have medical conditions that are more expensive on the average.”

In 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO) pegs the life expectancy of Filipino male age 60 and over gains an additional 10.6 years while females life expectancy gains 12.1 more years.4/  Last March 26, 2020, the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) released a research brief that says that “5.5 million Filipinos aged 60 and above are most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.” 5/

As of April 1, 2020, WHO Philippine Situation 13 reports that we have a total of 2,311 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infections with 96 deaths from the confirmed cases.  Among the 2,311 confirmed cases, 1,410 are male (62%) and 901 are female (38%). The most affected age groups are 60-69 (23.9%) followed by 50-59 years (21.5%).     Out of the 96 confirmed deaths, 73% are male, and the most affected age group 70-79 (29.5%), with the highest fatality among people over 80. Increase in the number of cases result of increased testing capacity, with currently 6 laboratories testing approximately 1,000 tests per day. 6/ 

Case Testimonies

For this article, I am featuring three aliased elderly personalities whose true identities I prefer not to disclose but whose life profiles and narratives qualify them to illuminate the results of Del Villar’s study outcome analysis and my overall framing of this article on the particular experience of the elderlies at this time of the Covid-19 crisis.

Teacher S. – is a 73-year old male from Cebu City who retired from secondary school teaching in 2011.  During his younger years he initially planned to take up an engineering course but was limited by financial means.  His second option was teaching which later grew on him for the self-satisfaction he derives from the profession.

“Much like in the case of my own children, the sense of fulfillment I derive from teaching is incomparable most especially when you see your former students become professionals themselves.   I’d like to think that somehow, I have contributed something in their success as a professional and as a human being.

As a parent, I have not much to offer to my four children since my whole family is also dependent on the meager income me and my wife get from our small eatery, purchase order business and the monthly Php 1,000 we get from the city government.  Thank God we were able to struggle to support our children’s education except for the youngest who got married early. 

“We have just passed our 14 days in quarantine since March 28, 2020 and I have no complains about my health. I take my maintenance medicine and vitamins religiously.  My loving wife and I were able to raise very responsible children who never fail to support us in anything that we want.  I have lived a full life and I am ready to face my Maker anytime soon,” concludes Teacher S.

Nanay N. – is an 88-year old retired Department of Education division supervisor in Davao City and has served the education sector for 43 years.  Her husband died in 1986 of myocardial infarction/angina. Last year she accidentally broke her hip bone from a fall which required a hip replacement operation.  Thank God she’s doing okay these days though.

“I actually didn’t plan to become a school teacher for 17 years.  I would have wanted to become a nurse but my family’s finances will not allow it.  In 1949, there was a need for teachers.  After my High School graduation I took the qualifying  exam for teachers and passed it.  I was employed as a teacher while studying for my Bachelor of Science in Education degree.  I’m just so lucky to have married myself to a very supportive husband. 

“As a division supervisor I only receive a meager Php 6,100 per month take-home pay.  When my dear husband was still alive, we have a trucking business and two commercial jeepneys plying the streets of Kidapawan, Cotabato City. But those businesses came to a stop upon his death.  In spite of our financial difficulties, my nine children were able to finish their college degrees courtesy of different national and international scholarship grants.  I have, in fact, two sons who are now doctors, a mechanical engineer, a nurse, an MBA, an industrial engineer (deceased), an accountancy graduate, a PhD in business information systems and a law graduate but now finishing a PhD in Development Studies.  I am indeed lucky to have raised children who are not demanding and who also understand our impoverished situation.

“I am simply blessed that I have outlived most of my relatives beyond 86 years old.  I guess my ancestry is made of tougher materials because my grandparents even lived beyond their 90s.  I also thank God that I have very caring children who look after my needs. 

“My children and grandchildren take very good care of my diet such that I am always in the best of my days.  I can communicate to them through my Facebook Messenger account and I have my morning yoga sessions with one grandchild,” concludes Nanay N.

Pareng D. – is a retired senior manager of a government agency.  Married to a 56-year old life insurance financial advisor with whom he has two sons, the amiable Pareng D. is fond of singing and taking a particular interest in throwback audio equipment where he plays classical and jazz music to reduce stress in daily life and work.  He is also a part-time lecturer in one of the old academic institutions in Manila.  Pareng D. shared with me his thoughts about retirement and getting old in this article.

“I was thinking then that my retirement pay from SSS would not be enough to tide me over the years to come. Fortunately, I was looking forward to relatively higher retirement benefits from this government agency owing to my position. Other than that, me and my other siblings have our share of a modest property inheritance from our parents.  This vegetable farm and rice field in Pampanga are being tilled by our relatives who once in a while share with us the harvest. But then I still have to pay for the education of my youngest son who has yet to enter college. That’s why I have to continue teaching in the academe.

 

“Honestly, I am not happy with what is going on in our society today.  There is so much poverty, injustice and disorder around us. For the sake of my children I cannot help but worry about their future when I’m gone.  I worry about the quality of our education, the incompetence of some of our leaders which can be traced to the immaturity of our electorate.  It is no coincidence that there was a time when we were considered to be one of richest country in Asia or second only to Japan when we have the likes of senators Lorenzo Tanada, Jovito Salonga, Arturo Tolentino, Benigno Aquino Jr. and Jose Diokno.  What happened to us?  Answer: bad politics that pulled down our erstwhile thriving economy.  I would also like to see an expanded coverage of healthcare including expenses in medical consultations without the need for confinement.

 

“Health-wise, I consider myself healthy enough nowadays as I try to avoid dairy, meat, eggs, crustaceans and sweets like ice-cream, pastries and cakes.  To keep myself fit, I do a daily 10-minute calisthenics and observe Power Plate diet which is all about eating plant-based food.  Topping it all is my focus on my spiritual wellness where I offer everything that I have to God who should be our first and last course of hope and salvation,” concludes Pareng D.

 

Conclusion

Using the study of Del Villar on the Filipino elderly’s attitudes about aging, willingness to communicate, communication satisfaction, and self-esteem, I draw concretization of Del Villar’s findings from the narratives of my three respondents who narrated to me through the social media technology of Facebook Messenger their life circumstance and thought about ageing during this time of the Covid-19 global crisis.

In explaining those circumstances in life to that help influence the Filipino elderly’s self-worth, Del Villar said that:

“The circumstances could range from comfortable living condition to being occupied with consequential activities, or simply receiving adequate attention.  These circumstances may be simple and within the range of the family’s resources. But the important thing is that elders should feel that they are given some attention and care.”

Indeed, we can see that the positive attitude shown by the respondents towards their life is very much reflective of the conducive circumstance that they have been endowed like a stable source of income from retirement, social security pension, academic job and real property in the case of Pareng D, or the supportive husband and the caring and scholarship resourceful children of Nanay N, or the enterprising ventures of Teacher S and his wife.  Without these specific life circumstances, it would be most unthinkable for these three elderlies to exude a positive disposition and confident communicative facility discussing about ageing in the time of a pandemic like Covid-19.  Indeed, not too many Filipino elderlies are fortunate enough in life like Teacher S., Nanay N. and Pareng D., fortunate enough not to experience the anxiety induced by uncertainty and the possibility of solitary confinement which presupposes a gamble between life and death in the time of corona virus pandemia.

The biblical Methuselah steadily rises in Philippine society but could be cut-short by the dark clouds of the Covid-19 pandemia.  END

 

References

1/    https://academicjournals.org/journal/JMCS/article-full-text-pdf/74BA59D47028

2/    https://www.statista.com/statistics/713550/philippines-forecast-aging-population/

3/    https://www.rappler.com/nation/234723-philippines-ageing-population-pids-study

4/    https://academicjournals.org/journal/JMCS/article-full-text-pdf/74BA59D47028

5/    https://www.rappler.com/nation/256150-study-older-filipinos-most-vulnerable-coronavirus

6/    https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/wpro—documents/countries/philippines/emergencies/covid-19/who-phl-sitrep-13-covid-19-1apr2020.pdf?sfvrsn=766304ba_2

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