Candelaria P. Damala, a frail disabled 92-year-old woman lives in a hollow dark house fenced with assorted flowers and trees in Purok Bumanaag, Barangay Zone III, Koronadal City.

At a glance, one would not consider that behind this thick garden lives a sweet old lady who is in dire need of assistance to fund her basic needs such as medicines and food. Despite her ill-fated situation, she is left with no choice but to wait alone in a corner every day for her daughter’s return from doing the neighbours’ laundry.

Sure enough, when I entered her humble home for an interview, I caught her sitting on that spot where she seemed to be staring blankly into space. And, in my hesitation to go forward, I caught myself stuck in my position

Surprisingly, not a word was said. I continued inching towards her. My presence, as a stranger, didn’t seem to bother her at all as she continued humming. I was perplexed by her indifference but then I realized that it was not because she was unconcerned about me being there inside her house but because she wasn’t even aware of my presence. She simply couldn’t see me. I learned that she has an impaired vision.

Despite this, Candelaria P. Damala, fondly called Lola Candy, is still fortunate, for though a non-Listahanan identified poor senior citizen in region 12, has received monthly stipends from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) through the Social Pension (SOCPEN) program.

For six straight months, Lola Candy somehow experienced enjoying the monthly cold cash amounting to Php 500 granted to her by DSWD. She said the stipend in a way brought the security she has long waited for.

“Wala gid kami magdahom nga makadawat ako sang suporta halin sa gobyerno amuna nga sadya sadya gid ako tong premiro nakon nga dawat sang Php 1500” (I didn’t expect that I would receive support from the government that’s why I was overjoyed when I first received the Php 1500), Lola Candy expressed her joy as she recalled that moment.

She further confessed that the amount, though not as significant, has quite aided her health expenses and basic needs for after all it was the only financial assistance she would expect every three months.

In her soft voice which slightly went a notch higher every time she got excited while telling-all, Lola Candy continued to narrate her recollection of the time she was cradled by SOCPEN.

“Basta ara na ang kwarta, ginabakal ko gid na sang akon bulong kag gatas kis-a kon may sobra gabakal man ko sang sud an parehas sinang isda. Nami gid daad ang pension eh” (Whenever I received the money, I would buy medicines and milk sometimes if there was enough extra I would buy viands such as fish. The pension would have been so good.)

Unfortunately for non-Listahanan indigent senior citizens like her, the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2014 carried sad news. It necessitated DSWD to temporarily stop the release of monthly stipend to non-Listahanan identified poor senior citizens nationwide. Primarily, GAA provision necessitated DSWD through National Household Targeting Office (NHTO) to validate senior citizens who have been receiving SOCPEN benefits in previous year but are apparently not in the Listahanan databank. The special validation is aimed at verifying the indigence of the senior citizens for if they are identified as truly poor, they will continue receiving the SOCPEN benefits.

In a memorandum signed by DSWD Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, the special validation of indigent senior citizens which will be employed will legitimize the resumption of the payment of monthly stipend to social pensioners as required by the GAA provision.

Consequently, it will uphold the objective of Listahanan in ensuring that all potential poor households are assessed and included in the database which serves as the basis for selecting recipients of SOCPEN.

Meanwhile, learning about this temporary discontinuation of the monthly stipend brought desperation on Lola Candy and her daughter who apparently is her only aid and also a senior citizen herself.

“Wala gid kami mabuhat sina kung amo na ang patakaran. Anuhon ko kay waay gid ako masali sa ila nga Listahan”, (There is really nothing we can do if that is the instruction. We can’t do anything as I am just not included in the list (Listahanan database)), Lola Candy stated in her gloomy tone with long pauses in between.

Even though Lola Candy qualifies as SOCPEN beneficiary for she is more than 77 years old, frail, sickly and disabled too and without a regular source of income and support from any member of the family, and not receiving other pension benefits from government and private agencies, there is, however, a significant qualification she needs to meet as a requisite to continue receiving the stipend. Being a Listahanan-identified poor is a must in the GAA provision.

Lola Candy is certain that she is poor. True enough, from the looks of her house made predominantly of makeshift and light materials, you would immediately guess she belongs to a poor household.

“Tani makadawat ko liwat sang pension kay imol lang man kami”, (I hope I can continue receiving the pension because we truly are poor) Lola Candy pleaded in a quivering voice.

Thus, a special validation is necessary to check if she is indeed poor as she seems to be.

In the meantime, Lola Candy is patiently waiting behind the thick garden for the resumption of her benefits from SOCPEN. She is, nevertheless, positive that this time, she will be identified as a poor senior citizen and will regain the lost security she once felt.

“Hambal sa amon ginapatigayon man nga masulod gid kami kon mabal an nga imol gid man kami. Mahulat dulang kami eh.” (We were told that if found truly poor, we will continue receiving the monthly pension), Lola Candy said with a hopeful smile.

Meanwhile, DSWD 12 is currently conducting the house to house visit and interview in region 12 covering forty five municipalities and five cities.

Listahanan, also known as the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR), is an information management system that identifies who and where the poor are.

The system makes available to national government agencies (NGAs) and other social protection stakeholders a database of poor families as basis in identifying potential beneficiaries of social protection programs and services. So far, DSWD 12 has a total of seventeen (17) local government units, six (6) NGAs and five (5) DSWD programs that have utilized Listahanan data in identifying beneficiaries. (End) ###