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Social net expected to widen for PWDs in PHL from 2013 onwards
By Miss Mae, Forum member

Until 2019, people with disabilities (PWDs) in the Philippines can look forward to having some lawmakers in the Upper Congress clearly on their side.

At least 10% to 15% of any country’s population are PWDs, so this means that there are 10 million to 15 million of them in the Philippines today. The National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) has featured in its website some of the country’s prominent PWDs: Apolinario Mabini, Arturo Borjal, and Estelita Juco, all three deceased; Fatima Soriano, Maria Guilda-Quintua-Nakahara, and Philip Emmanuel Penaflor. 

Of course, there are many other notable PWDS who are still very much with us. Ma. Gracia “Grace” Padaca, for one, is an orthopedically impaired public official. Formerly governor of Isabela, she is now one of the commissioners of the Commission of Elections. During her term as Isabela governor, she strengthened the programs for the deaf community in her province and continually supported the operations of the Isabela School for the Deaf (ISD).

The late Ramon D. Bagatsing was another PWD who had held a major government post. Although his right leg was amputated after he was wounded in the bombing of a political rally on August 21, 1971, he still continued to serve Manila as its mayor until 1986. He had previously served as as congressman of Manila’s third district from 1957 until 1969, and was dubbed by the Philippines Free Press as “The Incorruptible” when he was the head of the Presidential Agency on Reforms and Government Operations (PARGO). 

There are notable PWDs even in the field of sports. Arnel Navales Aba is just one fine example. He is a one-legged triathlete, having lost his right leg in a vehicular accident in 2004. But that tragic incident did not stop him from later notching two South East Asian Para-Swim Records in the 400m freestyle and in the 200m Individual medley. He runs with his crutches around the PhilsSport Arena before and after his swimming classes there and does the same routine at the Akiko Swimming School of the Colegio de San Agustin (CSA).

Even so, there is no current information that can tell how many PWDs are benefiting from the regulations favoring PWDs in the Philippines (or if they are indeed benefiting at all). There is still lack of awareness of the social problems encountered by the physical disabled, as was clearly demonstrated when a budget airline recently disallowed a “special” child to board its aircraft.

A first-class city in the Philippines also shut down a school for deaf children last year. And then, most of the textbooks that could enable blind and partially sighted people to read and write through touch cannot be produced locally and have not been translated into Filipino. The government official who had mandated that there should be a Person with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO) in every city, and who had also encouraged PWDs to register in the then forthcoming midterm elections, had unfortunately died.

Only P33.3 billion was allocated to the Department of Health in the Philippines in the year 2011. The government had “scrimped on allocations for public tertiary education and hospitals, as well as for agriculture and vital public infrastructure,” according to Senator Pilar Cayetano, the chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography.

It could only be a good thing then that the senators who had intended to help PWDs are still in their posts today. It was Senator Loren Legarda who filed Senate Bill 23231 and Senate Bill 14272 to establish PDAOs and special education centers, respectively.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano had also sought additional government funding for the education of children with special needs in public schools3. Senator Aquilino Pimentel III had submitted Senate Bill 32874 that eventually mandated the creation of special precincts for persons with disabilities (PWDs) and senior citizens.

And then Senator Antonio Trillanes IV had filed Senate Bill 33135 to give athletes with disabilities the same benefits as other athletes who win in international competitions. He wanted them (a) to be  exempted from paying income tax all throughout their lives, and (b) to have a monthly pension of P10,000 five years after winning in the Olympics until they turn 60.

When they were still in the Lower House of Congress, Senators-elect Juan Edgardo Angara and Cynthia Villar also had done something to alleviate the plight of PWDs. Senator Angara had introduced House Bill 6496, while Senator Villar had pushed for House Bill 12147. Before the 2013 election, Senator Villar had also made a commitment to provide livelihood training programs for PWDs.

Even the senators whose term will end in 2016 are still working on legislation for the benefit of PWDs. Senators Pia Cayetano and Jinggoy Estrada were among those who had worked for the passage of the Senate Bill 30028. Senator Manuel Lapid’s Senate Bill 9359 has been consolidated with Senate Bill 328710 under Committee Report No. 410, and Senator Ralph Recto had called for giving priority to disabled persons in the distribution of the government’s P30B cash transfer program11

The Other Side

People with disabilities (PWDs) in the Philippines can also rely on some lawmakers in the Lower Congress for the next three years or so, too.

Members of the House of Representatives are either district representatives or party-list representatives. Currently, there are 229 legislative districts in the country, and party lists do not comprise more than 20% of the congressional seats.

Spearheaded by a Speaker, the House of Representatives in the Philippines had existed only after an amendment to the 1935 Constitution. It was abolished during the Martial Law, but was restored in 1987. Whatever is the party of the ruling president, it would be the one who would control the chamber. The House of Representatives is headquartered at the Batasan Hills in Quezon City supervised currently by Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. of the Fourth District of the Quezon City.

Only if The House of Representatives agree with the bills the Senate had passed can there be a law. And among of the rules of conduct that it has worked on is the “Magna Carta for Disabled Persons,”12 a consolidation of Senate Bill 258013 and House Bill 121414 during the third regular session of the 13th Congress. 

It has also called on for a legislative investigation why that said law was poorly implemented. According to the Citizen’s Battle Against Corruption, there is still a need to "manifest the solidarity of the House of Representatives with the nation in celebrating the National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week from July 17 to 23." Republic Act 7277, amended recently by Republic Act 9442, is supposed to protect PWDs and their families. It should allow the latter to have 20% discounts on transportation, goods and services, as well as tax incentives for PWDs15.

The Kabataan Party List had also pursued House Bill 383816, requiring operators of television shows, home video programs, and motion pictures to broadcast with closed captions17. The Alliance of Volunteer Educators proposed House Bill 531218 to appropriate funds for the education of PWDs, particularly the children, which was also about the same measure19 the Bagong Henerasyon Party List intended to establish.

The Senate didn’t pass, however, the House Bill 654720, which is a consolidation of at least 16 different House proposals. Unfortunate, for everything has to go through both chambers for the sitting president to sign it, or become a law by default. (July 23, 2013)

The Philippines has a legal obligation to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. ~ Handicap International


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