Aging in Japan and Across Asia

Filipino Hospitality and Respect for the Aged


In the Philippines, like other Southeast Asian countries, caring for older people falls mostly to family members, but private organizations step in to help older people who live alone or are in difficult financial situations. This warm and human response to genuine need also reflects the Filipino tradition of respect for one’s elders.

A Thriving Tradition of Respect for the Aged

In the Philippines, the first week of October is Elderly Filipino Week. Events are held all over the country to deepen people’s understanding of the role older people play in society. In 2016, a 1-kilometer walk called the Walk for Life was held on October 3 at 16 different locations around the country.

Respect for one’s elders is traditional in the Philippines. When a Filipino child meets an older family member, the youth customarily greets them with a gesture called mano po, taking the older relative’s hand and placing it on his or her own forehead to express profound respect for the elder.

The idea that caring for older people is the responsibility of their children is rooted as firmly in Filipino society as it is elsewhere in Southeast Asia. For that reason, older people usually live with their families. However, Metropolitan Manila and neighboring regions are home to many older residents who came to the city for work but now remain there alone, lacking the funds to return to their hometowns or coming from families that are too poor to provide them with adequate care.

Local communities, private organizations, and nongovernmental organizations are banding together to develop a range of ways of supporting older people in such situations. This article examines two examples revolving around medical care and group homes for older people.

Private Groups Unite for Health Initiatives

On October 29, 2016, a group of doctors offered free medical consultations in Graceville, San Jose del Monte, in the province of Bulacan. The event was sponsored by Manila Doctors Hospital, a private medical organization, and cosponsored by the Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE), a Philippine NGO supporting older people, and COSE’s partner organization, the Confederation of Older Persons’ Associations of the Philippines (COPAP). A team of nurses and pharmacists accompanied the consulting doctors from the Manila Doctors Hospital. The event was not restricted to older patients, but it played a particularly important role in keeping older residents in good health because no consultation fee was charged.

Medical activities in Graceville, San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.

Graceville also boasts a group home for older people with no families to turn to. The home was founded in 2002 with the help of a donation from the German Catholic NGO MISEREOR and is managed by COSE and COPAP. Eleven women currently live there, all able to receive care from doctors from the Manila Doctors Hospital.

This group home is maintained by donations and support from NGOs. No occupancy fees are charged. Due to limited operating costs, there is room for improvement in the care it provides, but the warmth and respect the people of the Philippines feel for their elders is tangible in the way the home’s attendants care for the residents as if they were their own parents.

Group home residents, a visiting doctor, and COPAP/COSE members.

Medical consultations at the group home.

What Japan Can Learn from the Philippines

Japan receives worldwide attention as a developed country with a rapidly aging population. In Japan, though, technology and techniques for caring for older people are making progress, even while feelings of respect and appreciation for older people seem to be waning. Many nurses and carers from the Philippines have come to Japan in accordance with the economic partnership agreement between the two countries. One hopes that this cultural exchange will help revitalize among younger Japanese the feelings of respect for the elderly and appreciation of their contributions to society that are in danger of being lost in Japan.

The Issues and Implications of Aging Asian Population Project (Global Frontier Fund, Sasakawa Peace Foundation)

(Originally written in Japanese. Banner photo: Mana po as practiced in the Philippines. Photos taken by Jasebell Bañares De Jesus, R.N and General, Jojana Christine P and provided courtesy of Kashiwagi Shiho.)

Asia Philippines aging SPF