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  • Dan Albert S. de Padua

How Old Are You?

Are you a Feelennial ? Are you over thirty-five years old yet driven by a sense of entitlement to the verge of insubordination? In other words, “feeling millennial”.

Or maybe you have a mild case of Peter Pan Syndrome. You’re an adult based on the number of birthdays you’ve celebrated, but you want to remain a boy forever with no worries, no stress, no responsibilities, no commitments. You keep going to the Palace Pool Club even if everyone there calls you “Tito”.

Perhaps you think you’re having your mid-life crisis. Trouble is, you’re in your fifties, which means that if this is the middle of your life, you expect to live to over a hundred.

Certainly you know precocious kids who play the piano like pros, who read above their grades or who are mature beyond their years.

Then there’s the guy who retired early. Despite not having a senior citizen’s card, he shuffles around the mall and feels he should get into the movie theaters for free. Oh, and that other guy who refuses to be called “Lolo” by his grandchildren, preferring something neutral like Abuelito or Popsie, thereby successfully deceiving only himself.

My point is this: there are many examples of people who do not act their age. The completely unscientific conclusion, therefore, is that age alone is a crappy measure of qualification. Yet we use it all the time.

Under Republic Act No. 9344 passed in 2006, children fifteen years old and below are exempt from criminal liability. Until the so-called Pangilinan Law is repealed or amended, we need to stay far away from any young hooligans. They can hurt you, dupe you, or steal from you with absolute impunity because the law creates an artificial boundary line that says a 14-year-old can commit any crime, even rape or murder, and effectively get off scot-free. It matters not one bit that the kid knew that what he was doing was wrong. He will not be punished or held responsible in any way by the State.

By the way, back in 1930, the Revised Penal Code set the boundary at 9 years of age. Are we saying that children in the 21st century are less smart, less aware of the world around them, and less able to determine right and wrong? Shouldn’t the test for criminal responsibility be discernment regardless of age? In April this year, two 14-year-olds were charged with the murder of a 49-year-old woman and her 13-year-old daughter in the United Kingdom. Had the alleged killers done these foul deeds in the Philippines, they would have gotten away with it completely. We need to recognize that underage people can do very adult things.

Turning to a slightly less horrible example, marriage is another area where age is arbitrarily used as a stand-in for maturity. Eighteen-year-olds can legally contract marriage with the consent of their parents. With the new K12 educational system, these 18-year-olds could still be in senior high school.

The Muslim Code, however, follows a different rule. It says a Muslim female who has hit puberty, even if she is less than 15 years old, may contract marriage. To be very clear here, I’m not saying that the marrying age should be reduced. I bring up the Muslim Code because it uses primarily a physical standard for determining whether a female is ready for marriage. By the same logic, we could use a psychological, EQ or IQ test instead of an age requirement—an age requirement that, incidentally, has actually changed a couple of times. We require people to pass a tough exam before they can practice medicine or be master plumbers. Aren’t marriage and raising a family important enough to require that people pass a test that ensures that they are prepared?

The framers of our Constitution also saw fit to put in a good number of seemingly random age requirements. To be a member of the House of Representatives, you need to be at least 25 years old; a Senator, 35 years old; and President, 40. Why not 30, 40 and 50? Why can’t a 24-year old be a Congressman until he magically becomes qualified one year later?

More important, to vote in an election, one must be 18 years old. The idea is to put the right of suffrage only in the hands of those with the maturity to vote wisely; but instead of measuring maturity by looking at, say, educational attainment or ability to post coherent comments online, the law fixes a minimum age. Look at who we have elected over the years.

Allowing or, conversely, prohibiting something solely on the basis of age is a form of discrimination. It is ageism, plain and simple. I realize that radical change in our laws to do away with ageism is probably not forthcoming, but there is rampant ageism in the corporate world that may be easier to address. How many times have we declined to hire or promote someone simply because he is too young or too old? This has to stop.

A charming 18-year-old can be just as good a sales representative, possibly even better, than a 24-year-old. Yet, I still see classified ads that say applicants must be 24 to 35 years old. One well-known company (not in the media industry) was recently looking for a country manager. One past-forty candidate (not me) was not chosen because the company was looking for someone in his thirties.

It reminds of that fateful day in 1973 when I was barred from little league baseball. I was twelve at the time, but the commissioner saw on my birth certificate that I was turning thirteen in December. I was devastated, but by then I had already faced ageism once before. I had lost the lead role in Oliver! when I was ten years old because, the audition master said, Oliver Twist was only nine. I wish he had said I couldn’t sing. It would have made more sense.


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