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Plra:  Waiting for ‘tomodachis’

(Article published in the Jul 14,2003 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

THIS column’s piece about the Special Visitor’s Visa and the Special Retiree Visitor’s Visa (June 30 issue of TODAY) was not meant to be the start of a series; but when reader Dodit Reyes wrote in to say she would spread the word around, it seemed the subject of retirees deserves a reprise.

Coincidentally, Jun Marcelo, officer in charge and deputy general manager of Philippine Leisure and Retirement Authority (PLRA) sent in a packet of documents relating to the agency’s new products.  Responding to this corner’s remark that all the work that went into facilitating the entry of foreign retirees would go to waste if the visitors were to be left to fend off for themselves upon arrival, Jun Marcelo had his staff provide documentation on the focus of their current efforts to bring in retirees from nearby Japan and demonstrate to the country and to the world how the system works.  Looks like the PLRA is one government office that is neither going about its business leisurely nor looking forward to its own retirement.

Japan, with its over 30 million retirees in need of cost-efficient supportive community and facilities for quality health care, active leisure lifestyle and well-planned and secure housing and complementary infrastructure, is a logical market for our retirement industry.  Ours can rightfully boast of its big reservoir of trained and particularly gracious, caregivers and health-care workers.  While tapping into the Japanese market could be attempted separately by the existing retirement facilities in the Philippines, going about it in a coordinated and systematic way is more cost-efficient.

Hence, the logic of the wholesale marketing of retirement homes and villages through linkages and working arrangements with institutions in Japan that are dedicated to addressing the retirement concerns of its citizens.

The PLRA took a major step towards such wholesale marketing of Philippine retirement facilities to Japanese retirees when it entered into two memoranda of agreement with the Long Stay Foundation of Japan (LSFJ) on November 18, 2002.

LSFJ is a government-sponsored organization with 80 private companies as the members of the Conference on Extended Leisure Stays Abroad.  Its objective is to promote wholesome leisure and travel programs for Japanese elderly, as well as their proper care.  It is thus a perfect fit to serve as the entry point, if not the major link, of the PLRA into the Japanese market.

The first memorandum of the agreement articulated the areas of their common endeavors.  Both the PLRA and the LDFJ will try to secure grants and development assistance from bilateral and multilateral plans collaborative undertakings and incentives to promote the Philippine as the area of choice; and establish teaming arrangements to make room for mutual consultations, easy coordination and quick completion of projects. A one-stop processing center in both places could be one such teaming arrangements.  The parties agreed to extend full support to each other and gave themselves a deadline of 60 days within which to execute the appropriate contracts to give effect to the spirit and intent of their agreement.

The second memorandum of agreement spelled out what was expected from each party.  LSFJ was to provide the market study, e.g., study on the requirements of the Japanese elderly, volumes, costs, income profiles, etc.; solicit project funding from various institutions, such as the Official Development Assistance; identify support for the project from its Japanese corporation members, and seek Japanese developers and investors for the project.  The PLRA committed to promote the project with Philippine investors and give the necessary support in terms of legal, systems and other coordination work with appropriate government agencies.

To help entrepreneurs set up training institutions that would equip the retirement homes with skills to address the needs of the Japanese retirees under the program, the PLRA, on April 23 of this year entered into memorandum of agreement with the Small Business Guarantee and Finance Corporation (SBGFC), the agency mandated to provide credit supplementation and assist in implementing programs for the development of small and medium-enterprises.

Under this agreement, the PLRA will evaluate the training institutions which require financial assistance, either as additional working capital or expansion of present facilities, and endorse to the SBGFC those with confirmed and ready market for their trainees.  The SBGFC will help fund institutions endorsed by the PLRA in accordance with its own existing loan guidelines.

Only PLRA-accredited facilities and services will be offered to retirees, whether part of the Japanese project or not.  Accreditation is handled by the PLRA’s Division of the Resident Retirees Servicing Center.  This unit ensures that the facilities and services conform with internationally accepted standards of quality in comfort, medical care, sanitation, safety, security and aesthetics.  The accredited establishments must also incorporate the United Nations Principles for Older Persons, i.e., independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment and dignity.  An interesting requirement is that at least 20 percent of the work force employed by accredited facilities should be senior citizens.

A facility, in order to be accredited, must obtain a passing mark under the PLRA’s Rating Point System.  In addition to meeting the usual local and national requirements for operation, such as the local licenses and permits, a facility must be owned and governed by people of known probity and integrity

The physical structure engineer as safe and sound; location must be accessible to transportation; 24-hour security guard services and water must be provided.

Since the retirees are expected to have special health needs, every facility must have a clinic.  There should be a complete line of medical specializations in such fields as family medicine, neurology, nephrology, pulmonology, gastroentorology, gerontology, orthopedic medicine, anesthesiology, and surgery and it must also have nursing and training aides.  Most important, the facility must have formal arrangements with tertiary hospitals for the services of specialists, the conduct of diagnostic procedures and, when required, confinement. 

The standards may sound daunting but, in fact, a number of facilities have already received PLRA accreditation.  According to Orlando Habitan, OIC of the servicing division, the following, among others, have been granted accreditation:  The Rose Principles Homes, Filipinas Paradise Complex, Subic Homes, Subic Heights and Sunrise Holiday Mansion, Matabungkay Beach Club, Pacific Retirement Agency (Cebu Kiener Hills) Elysium in Parañaque.

It seems that everything has been done to help make the Philippines a retirement haven.  All that is now needed is one significant development that would tip the balance and bring to a happy fruition the efforts that have been spent in laying down the required legal  and physical infrastructure.

Jun Marcelo hopes that the much awaited coming of the first batch of Japanese retirees, under PLRA’s tie-up with LSFJ, would start the buildup to, if not itself act, as the tipping point.  We, for the sake of our country presently so starved for good news, hope so, too.