Of inclusivity and fair treatment
By Ghio Angelo Ong
In a society where normal people have claimed their rightful positions in whatever calling they take, the physically-challenged are often isolated, if not excluded. Their disability is enough of a hindrance from performing activities that any decent human being can do. Their access to basic necessities and their rights often become limited due to lack of facilities designed for them. What hurts the most is that they tend to lose the hope of improving their lives and even effecting positive change for the society even in the smallest means.
Yet, none of these can stop some people of their kind from claiming what the persons-with-disability (PWD) sector truly deserves: inclusivity and fair, not special, treatment from the society. This includes their right to muster their collective voices in choosing the country’s future leaders and casting their votes.
When she learned that she was the only PWD voter in Marikina City where she lived, Chato Manglapuz, president of the Cerebral Palsied Association of the Philippines (CPAP), saw the need to mobilize their sector and the government to assure people like her that they must exercise their right to vote. She said that through this action, when done collectively, they learn to become responsible citizens, and the government can work on their needs and grievances immediately.
Eunice Factor, secretary of CPAP, asked the PWD community to be more vigorous in acting upon the problems concerning them. “Simulan na nating baguhin ang notion sa atin na charity-based na lang tayo. Dapat na tayong maging assertive at aktibo sa pagtukoy at paglutas sa mga problemang related sa atin. Tayo-tayo rin ang kikilos para rito,” she shared. “Sa pamamagitan nito, nagiging inklusibo tayo hindi lang sa sektor natin, maging sa lipunang kinabibilangan natin, at nagiging mga produktubong mamamayan tayo.”
Being the pride of CPAP, its treasurer, Robert Lee, studied at the University of the Philippines in all levels and finished with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering, became assistant vice president of a rural bank, is now working as finance officer of the Vice Mayors’ League of the Philippines (VMLP), and even drives his own car. He noted that it was important for him, and for other disabled people, to adjust in everything he does for him to cope up with his work and the mainstream society. This joke often thrown to him by his co-workers somehow reflected the dignity of his person and his work: “hindi niya maitatakbo ‘yung pera.”
He himself saw and experienced the hassles during election time when he had to climb his way to the 3rd floor where his polling precinct was located, and when some of his fellows with their wheelchairs on had to be brought upstairs by their relatives. He stressed that it is important for the PWD communities in the country to gather, go out and register as voters, and eventually cast their votes so that the government can prioritize their grievances.
Isabelo Bucad, Jr., president of the San Mateo PWD Federation, initiated the program together with the CPAP, the first in Rizal province and in the country to be conducted ahead of the nationwide voters’ registration for PWD this July. He said that this program would be the first step for them to also inform their fellows to practice their right to suffrage which is mandated by law.
Indeed, these people never thought of their disability as impediment for them to contribute to the improvement of their lives, of other people, and of the society. They proved that it takes direct participation and urgent action to gather their voices and work together for whatever challenge coming their way, thus ensuring them the much-wanted inclusivity and fair treatment, and also making them productive citizens.
CPAP, together with the PWD Federation of San Mateo, Rizal, organized the seminar/dry-run of the voters’ registration for PWD at the town hall last March 24. As part of The Asia Foundation’s (TAF) PWD-Inclusive Elections Program and the PWD empowerment advocacy brand ‘Fully Abled Nation’, in partnership with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and the local government, and through the generous support of the Australian Agency for International Development. (AUSAID), the program seeks to increase the active participation of the said sector in the 2013 midterm elections.