MANILA, Philippines — Almost 40 percent of elderly Filipinos do not have a secure income or pension at a time when life expectancy has risen by five years (from 2000 to 2015), according to the International Labour Organization.
In its recent World Social Protection Report 2017/19, ILO observed that the Philippines’ social protection system continues to have “serious gaps,” which can be seen in the lack of a pension for a great number of senior citizens, “despite a significant increase in allocation”.
Based on the latest available Philippine data, ILO reported that public social protection expenditure on pensions and other benefits, excluding health, for persons above the statutory pensionable age is only 0.6 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
Nevertheless, it pointed out that this year, the government “made efforts to increase benefit levels of senior citizens receiving contributory pension, and to increase the social pension coverage of indigent senior citizens.”
It also said that health protection measures were announced in 2014 in the Philippines, making health insurance coverage automatic to citizens 60 and above, and expanding the package of health services for them.
But the low pension coverage is still “particularly troubling”, as it creates an additional financial burden to the family, “as the ratio between elderly parents and adult children rise.”
“ILO’s new report shows many countries, regionally and across the world, are prioritizing their social protection systems,” said ILO Manila Country Office director Khalid Hassan in a press release. “We think this is a good time for Philippines to follow the same path and extend protection to its elderly through the launch of a universal pension.”
The Philippines was named one of the countries that have “more than doubled their public expenditure in social protection in the last 20 years,” even though public social protection expenditure, excluding health, based on the latest available Philippine data is only 0.8 percent of the GDP.
As for social protection for children, ILO mentioned the creation of conditional cash transfer programs in the Philippines, as well as neighbors Indonesia and Timor Leste. However, “coverage levels are relatively low: in the Philippines, coverage is a mere 14 percent.”
“Social protection for maternity remains a challenge,” ILO said, referring to Asia Pacific as a whole. “On average, countries in the region cover only one-third of women giving birth for cash maternity benefits.”
In the Philippines, with its high fertility rate given that women give birth two to three times during their lives, only nine percent of women giving birth receive maternity cash benefits as of the latest available data.
“Low levels of coverage are found in countries where maternity protection is limited to workers in the formal economy,” ILO added.
It also painted a grim picture of coverage for disability benefits. “In Cambodia, India, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Vietnam, fewer than one in ten persons with severe disabilities are covered,” ILO said.
In particular, 3.1 percent of Filipinos with severe disabilities receive cash benefits as of the latest available data.
As for public social protection expenditure, excluding health, on people of working age as of the latest available data, the Philippines allocates 0.3 percent of its GDP.
In terms of unemployment, ILO said “the introduction of unemployment insurance schemes is gaining momentum, with several countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, and the Philippines, currently involved in national dialogue on the design of such schemes.”
Related to this, ILO said, “Some countries in Eastern and Southeastern Asia, including Japan, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Philippines, and Thailand, have a long history of implementing and gradually expanding coverage in case of employment injury.”
Climate-responsive social protection
ILO also touched on the design and implementation of programs “to provide climate-responsive social protection for households at risk.”
It cited the Philippines post-Yolanda as an example. “The Government used a pre-existing employment guarantee scheme to provide income-earning opportunities for poorer households. With support from the ILO and local governments, program participants were affiliated to state-run social protection schemes for health and employment injury.”
ILO pointed out that the bright spot in Philippines is that social protection is part of its major agenda based on the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, where strategies are laid out, such as “establishing an unemployment insurance system; enhancing social protection for the informal sector; improving the social pension system; expanding health insurance packages: and strengthening mechanisms to ensure enrollment in the social security system”.