The children and the youth, considered key factors in building a stronger nation, deserve sufficient protection and greater attention.
As provided in the 1987 Constitution, the state values the dignity of every human and guarantees full respect for human rights, including children.
That’s why there are two bills in the lower chamber extending the privileges of senior citizens to the so-called junior citizens aged 0 to 12.
Rep. Robert Ace S. Barbers of the Second District of Surigao del Norte and Rep. Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte Jr. of the Second District of Camarines Sur, authors of two measures seeking to grant benefits and privileges to junior citizens, said it is unfortunate that legislation and policies provide minimal consideration to the basic and fundamental needs of children.
The lawmakers said their proposal would play a crucial role in addressing the needs of the country’s underprivileged junior citizens.
“Our children are our nation’s most valuable asset. They represent the bright future of our country and hold our hopes for a better nation. Every effort should be exerted by the state to promote their welfare and enhance their opportunities to a useful and happy life,” Barbers said.
While the government has sworn to protect, fulfill and respect our children’s fundamental rights, Barbers added many Filipino children still have limited access to basic services and are left behind, compared to other countries, in terms of obtaining their economic, social and health rights.
“Compared to other countries, Filipino children have limited access to basic services and are definitely left behind in terms of obtaining their economic, social and health rights. How we take care of our children is a reflection of our character as a nation,” he noted.
Barbers said his proposal aims to alleviate every parent’s financial woes by providing their children with benefits and privileges that they can enjoy, stressing that “if the government can give these privileges to our senior citizens, there is no reason we cannot also grant these benefits to our underprivileged junior citizens.”
Under Barbers’s House Bill (HB) 2881, a junior citizen whose annual family income does not exceed P250,000 shall be entitled to the grant of a 20-percent discount and exemption from the value-added tax (VAT).
It mandates a comprehensive program of benefits and privileges for children aged 0 to 12.
Barbers said his proposal seeks to alleviate the financial woes of families with meager income by giving benefits and discounts that children can enjoy.
As provided in his bill, junior citizens whose annual family income does not exceed P250,000 shall be entitled to a 20-percent discount and exemption from VAT on purchases of medical services, goods and other privileges. The said amount for the annual family income is the estimated poverty threshold for a family of four.
The proposed Junior Citizens Act also aims to make all junior citizens, regardless of income status, automatic Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) members, until they reach the age of 12.
“The ideal is that Filipino families should not be hounded by the amount they spend on their children’s basic food and nonnfood needs. Enrolling all junior citizens to PhilHealth must be automatic, not optional,” Barbers said.
The health secretary will be responsible for formulating the implementing rules and regulations to carry out the objectives of the act, including the creation of the Office of the Junior Citizens Affairs, in consultation with other governing agencies.
Villafuerte, a vice chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, filed his own version of a measure providing 20-percent discounts on select goods and services and VAT-free privileges for children up to 12 years old.
According to Villafuerte, the Philippines has made “great leaps” in fulfilling its commitment to the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality and improving maternal health by establishing the National Coordinating Council for the Welfare of Children, and implementing pertinent laws, such as the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) law in 2000 and the Barangay-Level Total Protection of Children Act in 1992, which require all local government units to establish day-care centers in all barangays.
Also, he said, the Department of Health has, in turn, been implementing programs, such as the Safe Motherhood Program, which provides maternal and newborn health services, and the Women’s Health and Safe Motherhood Project, which improves the delivery of health services to disadvantaged women.
However, Villafuerte added, these initiatives mostly focus only on the first 1,000 days of a child, or from the womb up to two years of age.
In his HB 6041, or the proposed Junior Citizens Act, Villafuerte said his proposal also provides for the mandatory PhilHealth coverage.
“[This proposal will] to complement the personal income-tax exemptions under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act,” Villafuerte said.
The bill aims to ease the financial burden of the parents whose annual income is below P250,000.
“Government support for its young citizens is imperative, especially during their formative years, in order for them to grow up into fully equipped adult citizens,” he added.
According to Villafuerte, this is especially important for children from disadvantaged areas, where access to health-care services is low or limited to private institutions.
HB 6041 is the counterpart version of Sen. Grace Poe’s Junior Citizen bill in the Senate.
“All junior citizens shall be covered by the national health insurance program of PhilHealth and shall therefore be automatic PhilHealth members until they reach the age of 12, regardless of the family income,” Villafuerte said.
Under the measure, the benefits accorded to junior citizens extend to professional fees of physicians and dentists in private hospitals and health-care service providers, as well as funeral and burial services in case of death.
The bill said the 20-percent discount covers the purchase of medicines, vaccines and other essential medical supplies; milk supplements for children aged 4 to 12; and medical and dental services, such as x-rays, diagnostics and laboratory fees.
Admission charges to leisure and amusement sites, such as movie houses and concert halls, are also taken into consideration in the bill.
The bill said qualified children are required to obtain a Junior Citizen ID and booklet to avail themselves of the privileges.
These two bills have already been consolidated and approved by the House Committee on the Welfare of Children.
Image credits: AP/Aaron Favila