MANILA, Philippines – The world is a harsh place for persons with disabilities (PWDs). Getting around is a nightmare, landing a job can be arduous, and budgeting for medical expenses on top of other costs is demoralizing.
As in past polls, PWDs are hoping that candidates in the 2016 elections can walk the talk by addressing their biggest concerns – income and mobility.
Tahanang Walang Hagdanan(TWH) public relations officer Ramon Apilado identified key policies PWDs want to see: job creation, mobility reforms, and the expansion of the value added tax (VAT) exemption.
Foremost among these concerns are jobs. Although there are livelihood programs like those provided by TWH and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Apilado wondered whether this would be enough to deal with PWD unemployment.
“Ang tanong: anong klaseng trabaho ang ibibigay? May livelihood program, yes. Pero ang tanong, hindi nasusustena ang mga proyektong ito para sa may kapansanan (The question is: what kind of jobs they given? Yes, there are livelihood programs, but the problem is these are not sustainable for PWDs).”
A 2012 paper from the Office of the United High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) suggested a 3-pronged approach to tackle PWD unemployment.
- Additional source of income for low-income PWD families
- Rehabilitation and livelihood assistance for those with a high degree of disability
- Scholarship grants and/or alternative learning sessions
Listening to the deaf community
Meanwhile, for the Philippines’ deaf community, passing the Filipino Sign Language (FSL) Act is on their list of priorities, according to Raymond Manding, the Deaf Advocacy Coordinator for the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s (DLS-CSB) School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS).
The FSL Act, or House Bill No 6428, was filed by Alliance of Concerned Teachers party list Representative Antonio Tinio. Once passed, FSL will be the national sign language of the Philippines.
As the country’s national sign language, schools, public transportation, public offices and transactions, and the media will have to incorporate FSL.
Although there is yet to be a law on FSL, Cebu took a stand by releasing a position paper recognizing FSL as the Filipino deaf community’s national sign language in July 2015.
For Manding, a nationwide FSL law is part of the bigger picture of greater “participation in political and public life for PWD and Deaf.” (READ: Can PH become a ‘deaf-inclusive’ country?)
Poor facilities, poorer lives
Explaining the current plight of PWDs in the Philippines, Apilado painted a picture of the opportunities – or lack thereof. Despite plenty of laws on equal employment and social welfare, there are factors outside these laws’ control. (READ: FAST FACTS: What persons with disability are entitled to)
If a PWD living in Cainta, for example, got a job in Makati, getting there would be hellish and expensive.
Two options present themselves: riding a jeep or taking a cab. Either way, there is a chance the driver may overcharge them.
One of the stories relayed to Apilado was a cab driver asking for an extra P50 instead of running the meter. He adds that despite noticing some slight improvement, cheating drivers are still an issue.
They are the lucky ones – they have work to go to; others have none.
Almost 50% of PWDs living in urban areas are unemployed, and the number is higher for the rural areas. Jobs also do not ensure a living wage: around half of working PWDs are underemployed and looking for additional sources of income, according to a 2013 Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS) report.
This means poverty is also rampant in the sector. The PIDS report noted that 45.9% of urban PWDs and 61.9% of rural PWDs lived below the poverty line. (READ: Aquino signs law on VAT exemption for PWDs)
Equally concerning, however, is that these numbers give only a rough view because not much data actually exists about the state of the Philippines’ PWDs.
The OHCHR paper reported that near-accurate data is still unavailable in the country, which “prevents (or) hinders the Philippine Government from developing the right programs for the disabled sector.”
Making their voices count
On May 9, more than 54 million voters will troop to polling places, all excited to make their voices heard, PWDs included. But since they only make up less than 1% of the voting population, will they succeed in 2016? (READ: #PHVote: How accessible are the 2016 elections to PWDs?)
So far, some candidates appear to be interested in including PWDs in their platforms. For Apilado, however, the proof can only be seen once the new leaders are elected.
Although candidates like senatorial bet Martin Romualdez, Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas, and his running mate, Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo, have approached the PWD community and expressed their interest to help them, the community itself is skeptical.
Apilado directed this sentiment to candidates, saying, “Ang tanong: ‘pag nakaupo ka na, magagawa mo ba lahat ng ito (The question is: once you’re seated, will you get all of this done)?
The lack of results of past elections have been disheartening for PWDs, but it has also fueled their desire for change. Apilado explained: “Ang tagal na namin nakikipaglaban sa karapatan namin bilang taong may kapansanan, na sinasabi namin na kami ay parte ng ating bansa sa kanyang pag-unlad. Hindi kami second class citizen.”
(We have been fighting for our rights as PWDs for so long, that we are saying we are part of our country’s progress. We are not second class citizens.)
Despite the disheartening situation, Apilado said he still had high hopes that the country’s next leader will be “more understanding most especially sa mga kapatid nating may kapansanan (to our brothers and sisters with disabilities).”
He later mused, “Dapat na isulong na rin ang may mga kapansan bilang mga important members na rin sa ating society sa pagbibigay ng pag-asa din sa ating bansa at pagtulong din sa pamamagitan ng trabaho na maibibigay sa amin.”
(We should push forward PWDs as important members of our society in giving our country hope and help them by giving jobs.) – Rappler.com