Krusada: Persons with Disabilities as productive citizens

Posted at 08/08/2012 2:58 PM | Updated as of 08/09/2012 10:40 AM

In commemoration of the conclusion of the Philippine Decade of Persons with Disabilities this year, Karen Davila evaluated the present condition of Filipino persons with disabilities (PWD) in terms of social acceptance, well-being, and economic opportunities in this episode of Krusada.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms regardless of age, race, sex, and disability.” - Universal Declaration on Human Rights, United Nations

Together with Vera Files, Krusada evaluated if PWD-related ordinances have been successfully implemented to foster over 500,000 Filipino PWDs as productive citizens of the country.

Karen Davila interviewing Josephine Caratibo, mother of five year-old

“Many laws have been passed to nurture PWDs but have we kept our promise to protect their rights and enrich their skills?” asked Karen.

It was only in 2006 when a strict definition of persons with disabilities was specified in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which also echoed every state’s obligation to accept, care for, and promote and enhance the rights of PWDs. A total of 82 countries signed the Convention, including the Philippines.

The Convention defines disability as including “those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

Carmen Zubiaga, Acting Executive Director of the National Council for Disability Affairs (NCDA), affirmed that there have been improvements in terms of encouraging PWDs to exercise their rights, including their political rights.

“We are encouraged to have a representation in Congress. We are now part of the decision making; we are part of the policy development. We are now being encouraged to vote. It’s a right, but it was not pushed to be fully realized in the past,” she said.

Nevertheless, Zubiaga believes that the society still has to change how it regards PWDs in general—from the insufficiency of government services to the lack of support and understanding of some households, to their family members with disabilities. She claims that some parents would still hide their disabled children because of "shame".

"You cannot cure your disability but you can only adapt society to your disability, and not have your disability adapt to society”, Zubiaga reminds.

Victim of ambush launches PWD-serving group

Shirlyn Macasarte-Villanueva, current board member of the first district of North Cotabato and a PWD herself, started Saklay Inc., a non-government organization that empowers people with disabilities.

Saklay is not limited to providing mobility devices; it also provides livelihood programs, health services and organizes people with disabilities in different communities.

In the past two years, the group has sponsored 35 prosthetic legs and 80 mobility devices like wheelchairs and canes, including rehabilitation to PWDs who received new mobility devices.

They have also assisted in finding funding for special education. But when asked what Saklay’s biggest accomplishment so far, Macasarte said, "An executive order forming the technical working group to create a PWD welfare and development code for the province of Cotabato and the promotion of the PWD summit for all municipalities, not just in the first district.”

Case Study: Marikina City

Josephine Caratibo and her son Hans have been going to the Center for Special Children in the City Health Office of Marikina every Tuesday and Thursday for the past three and a half years.

Behind the scenes of the interview with Josephine Caratibo at the Center for Special Children in the City Health Office of Marikina

With the help of non-government organizations, Marikina was able to provide rehabilitation programs to PWD residents since 2004. The Center gives each patient, such as Hans, two appointments per week.

At five years old, Hans should have already learned how to control the movements of his arms and legs, to walk and speak, but he still cannot do all these.

He was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP), which affects his coordination and muscle movement. Its complications include sight, hearing and speaking impairments. It may also affect the cognitive development of a child. There is said to be no cure for CP.

Josephine stopped working as a market researcher to focus on her son. Her husband, a liaison officer of a private company, is now the sole provider for the family.

Josephine says they spend P7,000 per month for Hans’ medicine, vitamins and check-ups. Previously, they would also spend an additional P2,400 per month for therapy until they discovered the Center for Special Children.

Hans has shown remarkable improvement since his continuous therapy at the Center.

Case Study: Mabini, Bohol

At least 200 among the 28,000 residents of Mabini, Bohol are PWDs but the local government unit has yet to institute programs to aid them, much to the suffering of PWDs.

In the mountainous barangay of San Isidro, Apolonia Vallentos and her son, five year-old Cris, could barely support themselves. Both mother and son could not walk.

Apolonia claimed that she was no longer able to walk after she caught fever years ago. She was not hospitalized because her parents could not afford it; leaving her clueless as to what actually happened to her.

Six years ago, Apolonia was raped and got pregnant with Cris. Other than not being able to walk, the child is also yet to speak. Cris’ body is also too small for his age, like that of a two-year-old.

Apolonia’s brother, Rufino, lives next door. But Rufino cannot help his sister, as he also cannot walk.

Meanwhile, just thirty minutes away from Apolonia’s home, one can find Lucing Bayron, 68 years old, looking after her daughters.

Krusada found Lolita (26 years old) and Josephine (37 years old) tied to wooden posts inside their respective nipa huts because they have become violent towards their parents. Both sisters cannot properly communicate anymore, showing signs of mental illness. They are bathed and fed inside the huts.

Despite being ill, Lolita almost immediately resumed work after giving birth five years ago. Lucing speculates that Lolita might have ‘relapsed’ because they suddenly found her trying to harm her father Cresencio and her child, who was just a two month-old child at the time. Consequently, Lolita’s husband left her and the child.

Lucing and Cresencio have no idea what happened to Josephine after she returned from working at the city. She was able to find her way back but could no longer speak.

Lolita and Josephine have not been brought to a hospital because Lucing and Cresencio, both senior citizens, are incapable physically and financially.

Budget allocation for PWDs

In accordance with the amended Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities in 2010, local governments in the country are required to provide permanent services for education, livelihood and health of the PWDs in their area.

Municipalities should allot 5% of their internal revenues to PWDs, especially in the establishment of ng Persons with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO).

In 2010, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) issued a memorandum to all cities and municipalities in the country about the provisions of this act.

“There is no excuse. Ignorance is not an excuse. They are also entitled to give, entitled to appropriate to PWDs. They should share to the PWDs what they have”, asserts Zubiaga.

PWDs’ Right to Suffrage

There are more than three million PWDs qualified to vote in the country (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting data) but only 742,000 PWDs are registered voters according to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).

Correspondingly, in a survey commissioned by the Australian Aid and the Asia Foundation, it shows that despite the increase in registrations, fewer PWDs voted in the 2010 elections compared to the 2007 elections.

The survey indicates that the main reason why PWDs did not vote is because they were ashamed of their disabilities, followed by the difficulties that arise in voting precincts. COMELEC is targeting to alleviate the embarrassment and distress for PWD voters in the upcoming election.

Meanwhile, the “Polling Center Accessibility Act of 2011” would help such cause for it mandates the use of ground-floor polling places for PWDs and senior citizens once enacted into law. House Bill 4048 is “in response to physical limitations of senior citizens and PWDs, the government shall design procedures to make polling centers accessible.”

Secretary Jesse Robredo believes that it is the society’s responsibility to help PWDs exercise their right to vote.

“What we need is provide them the access. We need more accessible registration sites and voting precincts so that persons with disabilities will be encouraged to go out and vote.”

Aired on: July 26, 2012