THE 2010 Census of the Philippine Statistics Authority would tell us that out of the 92.1 million household population in the country, some 1,443,000 or 1.57 percent have a disability. In Davao Region, around 71,000 persons or 1.60 percent are persons with disability (PWD).
However, the Department of Health (DOH), the lead agency tasked to do the data banking, has not yet updated the list for nearly a decade now.
For years, people in this sector have seemed to be left out throughout the years by society and the government.
Society may have neglected to realize their worth, but for advocates like Allan Rasman, Mindanao Association of Muslims with Disabilities (Mamdi) president, PWDs could stand on their own despite their impairments.
For 41 years, the country continues to celebrate the National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week (NDPRW).
The celebration falls on the birthday of Philippine hero, Apolinario Mabini, a sublime paralytic who is one of the brilliant minds behind the Philippine Revolution. He became an outstanding PWD icon who influenced the observance of NDPRW.
Up until today, PWDs continue to struggle in looking for opportunities to use their talents.
“People in the employment sector won’t seem to accept us because of our present condition,” Rasman said.
Instead of doing nothing or waiting for help to arrive, he and his fellow PWDs found a new way to look for opportunities to survive daily – by becoming entrepreneurs, themselves.
Last July 15, Mamdi, in partnership with the Ateneo de Davao University (Addu) and other partner government agencies set up a five-day exhibit at the lobby area of the Sangguniang Panlungsod.
The exhibit, which is now on its 10th year, showcased items from some 20 exhibitors highlighting their personally made items such as shoes, sandals, bags, slippers, and even paintings.
Rasman said the exhibitors wanted to prove they could be competitive like normal people do.
“We decided to have it in the Sanggunian because it is open to the public. People would see the different works of our PWD brothers and sisters. Same goes with our clear stand that we exist, and we can be as productive, and creative just like everybody else,” he said.
Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Addu, one of Mamdi’s partners in the exhibit, recently launched its shared service facility (SSF) project, the Ateneo Shoe Academy (ASA), intends to provide opportunities to its cooperators, including the PWDs.
ASA will teach them income-generating activities, and help them uplift their respective lives and the community they belong to. The academy compound has two structures: a workshop building where the lectures are conducted and a shoe laboratory where the manufacturing of shoes take place.
DTI project development officer Janefe Gucila said the project is one of their efforts to encourage PWDs to put up their own business.
Gucila said since most of them are being deprived of being employed, she said DTI has entrepreneurship training through the Negosyo Centers to hone their skills through coaching and mentoring interventions.
While she said having more PWDs in the business sector would be a game-changer, she admits that they need continuous assistance after being trained.
Gucila said DTI is planning to help them even in getting business permits.
“Maybe we’ll look into suggesting waiving their business permit fees, and lessening the transaction papers, as part of the Ease of Doing Business,” she said.
Davao City, the home of the landmark legislates, the Anti-Discrimination Ordinance, had been an affirmation on its continuous commitment for their protection and support.
Despite existing laws and ordinances, the lack of equal opportunities for them makes their situation more challenging.
Naprey Almario, former Association of Differently Abled Persons Inc. (Adap) president, said they are grateful for the government’s help in assisting them to get employment opportunities, but these efforts seem to be futile.
Almario said celebrating the NDPRW is useless due to the non-existence of the Persons with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO).
The creation of PDAO was signed by then Davao City Mayor, now President Rodrigo Duterte in 2014 Executive Order No. 34, pursuant to Republic Act 10070 that every province, city, and municipality must organize and established PDAO.
Almario said PDAO will unite all PWD organization groups in the city as the office would give them access to various services, such as health, employment, rehabilitation, assistive devices, education, social welfare, and disaster management.
“The current state of the PWD here in the city in terms of employment and livelihood is not sustainable. They did not provide what was mandated by law,” he said.
“They treat us like charity. They would only provide the necessary help when it is being asked. But as to be the initiators, we didn’t see that,” he added.
With the President now pushing for a separate department for the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW), both Almario and Rasman also said it is high time for a separate office for PWDs.
Currently, the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is tasked to address disability issues and concerns.
“We wanted to have a separate department so that there will be a separate budget intended for PWDs because the financial assistance is reaching down to the grassroots. There seems to be no development with our PWD brothers and sisters, that is why we are the ones who will just initiate programs to help one another,” Rasman said.
DSWD focal person on persons-with-disabilities Melecio Fernandez said the government is doing its best to cater to all their needs.
He admitted that the local DSWD is having a hard time because of the slow disbursement of the budget which is downloaded from the national government.
He also said the agency is struggling to do the data banking due to the lack of personnel. The data banking would be helpful to gather in the intended allocation of funds to be used in certain programs and assistance such as free wheelchairs, and medical assistance.
“We will try to cater to all their needs because they are being treated as a minority in society. Our government is striving to reach out to everyone, including the PWDs,” Fernandez said.
In spite of the problems, Almario says there are private sectors and non-government organizations (NGOs) who have exerted effort for social inclusion.
Department stores, hotels and some business process outsourcing (BPO) are now considering PWDs as an asset to their business. But the stigma to their seemingly social incompetence remains.
For Almario and other PWDs, society has not given them enough opportunities to utilize their talents and maximize their passion in their desired fields.
But despite the discriminations, their desire for social inclusion is still alive, and they are hoping as they celebrate the next National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week, they will no longer be rallying the same call, but now will be celebrating it with at a higher note.