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MANILA, Philippines – Are private establishments in the Philippines friendly and considerate to the needs of people with disability?
Viral photos of a disabled person and a dog who were denied access to a mall seem to prove otherwise.
In a Facebook post dated August 27, Michael Magtajas posted photos of a foreigner and his pet being led outside of the mall premises by cops.
“May nakita kaming foreigner. Gusto niyang pumasok sa mall. Hindi siya pinapasok kasi may pet siyang dala (We saw a foreigner who wanted to get inside the mall. He wasn’t allowed inside the mall because he has a pet with him),” Magtajas shared.
On Wednesday, August 27, Mark Cohen and Happy, his dog, went to Robinsons’ Mall Dumaguete for some business transactions.
However, the guards intercepted Cohen and Happy’s entry to the mall supposedly in observance of a mall rule that disallows pets inside the establishment.
Certified assistance dog
But Happy is more than a pet for Cohen.
A medically-certified person with disability, Cohen is struggling with a “neurological disorder with variant symptoms similar to epilepsy, Parkinsosnism, and sensitivity to changes in the environment such as temperature and intensity of light.” Happy, a certified assistance dog, helps mitigate the effects of his disability.
“I have [learned] to live with my disability, do take medication in a compliant manner, and would be unable to function if I did not have my certified Assistance Dog ‘Happy’ as my companion,” Cohen shared.
Cohen showed all his papers to the guard certifying that Happy is a service dog and that he is a medically-certified person with disability.
However, the security guards claimed that they cannot decide on the matter. According to the them, the decision on whether to allow Cohen and Happy inside the mall lies with the mall officials in Manila.
According to Cohen, he waited for over an hour outside the mall for a representative or official to respond to his case but nobody accommodated him. In the absence of feedback from the mall’s management, Cohen lay beside the mall’s door in quiet protest, for his rights.
“I’m not seeking any financial, disciplinary or public apology from Robinsons. I am simply doing this to raise public awareness,” Cohen explained.
Cohen and Happy were then guided by policemen away from the mall on the grounds of “disturbing the peace”
“It’s very unusual for anyone here to see a Guide Dog or an Assistance Dog. People are only starting to realize that there [are] PWDs who need wheelchairs, walkers, white canes, or specially trained and certified assistance dogs,” Cohen added.
This isn’t the first time Cohen and Happy were not allowed inside the mall. They were also denied entry to the establishment on Sunday, August 17.
Despite what happened, the mall’s management insisted they do not discriminate against PWDs.
“When he claimed to have medical condition that required an ‘assistance’ dog, the mall management offered all kinds of help including 1) arranging for the free use of WiFi facilities of a coffee shop; 2) providing a nurse that would assist him while he is inside the mall. But he refused all of these,” Robinsons’ Place Dumaguete said in a statement posted on Facebook.
The statement added that the mall “stands firm in its commitment to uphold the safety of all its customers and the public it serves.”
According to Ronel del Rio, a “promoter” of the “3rd Decade of Persons with Disabilities 2013-2023” chosen by the United Nations-Economic and Social Commission in the Asia Pacific (UN-ESCAP), the Philippines, unlike the United States, does not have any legal provisions acknowledging assistance or guide dogs for PWDs.
The country observes Republic Act No. 7277, the Magna Carta for Persons With a Disability, to protect the rights of access to all public places and any form of public transportation. However, the law does not recognize certified assistance dogs that are specifically trained to help PWDs.
While the mall did not violate the law, Del Rio argued that this does not make the mall’s actions toward Cohen and Happy right.
“Kung batas ang paguusapan, walang maling ginawa ang mall. Pero mali pa rin ‘yung ginawa nung mall kasi walang consideration doon sa PWD. May papel naman na pinakita ‘yung tao,” Del Rio explained.
(Legally, the mall did not commit a violation. However, they could have considered his situation after he showed them papers certifiying that he is a disabled person and that his pet is a certified guide dog.)
According to Del Rio, what happened to Cohen and Happy highlighted the importance of updating the law protecting the rights of PWDs.
“We are asking for the amendment of the law (because) it is crafted only from the medical point of view,” Del Rio stressed. – Rappler.com