Text and photos By Karlos Manlupig, VERA Files
DAVAO CITY—The passing jeepneys barely notice the man standing under the shade of a tree along Magallanes Street here, even if he uses his crutch to grab their attention.
But he is not trying to get a ride. He is merely offering jeepney drivers some stickers to remind them and other passengers of the rights of commuters who are persons with disability (PWDs).
Meet 23-year-old Vichard Aliño, a person with orthopedic impairment, who prowls the streets of Davao during the day on a mission to empower PWDs.
Aliño, whose disability was the result of poliomyelitis, is a member of Davao City's Association of Differently Abled Persons (ADAP), which is tasked to offer PWD rights stickers to jeepney drivers. The stickers remind drivers of the 20 percent fare discount PWD passengers are entitled to under Republic Act 7442, otherwise known as the Magna Carta for Persons with Disability.
The stickers also aim to inform other passengers to vacate the front seat for PWD commuters as required by Batas Pambansa 344, also known as the Accessibility Law.
Jeepneys' sticker culture
ADAP thought of using stickers for its advocacy, given how these have been part of the history of the public jeepneys in the country.
From sexist images and quotes, religious sayings and wittily crafted reminders, these colorful stickers adorn every possible section inside the jeepney.
But for ADAP, these stickers are not just decorative items but weapons of mass education as well as a source of funds.
Section 2 of BP 344 states that the "prominent display of posters or stickers shall be used to generate public awareness of the rights of PWDs and foster understanding of their special needs" in public conveyances and devices.
The law penalizes discrimination against PWDs "in the carriage or transportation of passengers." The law's implementing rules and regulations require jeepneys to designate at least two seats for PWDs, preferably in front.
Other commuters may use the front seats but have to yield them to incoming PWD passengers.
The fare discount also applies to public railways such as the Light Rail Transit, Metro Rail Transit, Philippine National Railways and other similar infrastructure that will be built, established and operated by public or private entities.
These laws contribute to helping the PWD sector gain access to transportation, said Aliño.
"The fare discount, even though it is just 20 percent, is already significant for us, most especially during long distance travels," he said.
Aliño said the PWD sector in Davao feels glad whenever passengers offer help and vacate the front seats for them.
"We have already experienced the changes in the attitude of the people toward PWDs. It is now relatively easier to take a ride in a public jeepney here in the city," he said.
With BP 344 mandating public transportation drivers and operators to display posters and stickers promoting the rights of PWDs, ADAP has realized an opportunity by selling the stickers, which it produced through funding from the City Social Services and Development Office and donations from allies, for P30 each.
"It's like hitting two birds with one stone. We get to educate the public about their role in empowering our sector and at the same time gain financial resources for the operation of our organization," ADAP President Redondo Martinez said.
His group needs to generate funds because of the meager financial support it is receiving from the local government and other donors, Martinez said
For every P30 sticker, P20 goes to the organization's coffers while the remaining P10 goes to the seller, Martinez said.
From Monday to Friday, Aliño is stationed on Magallanes Street at the back of the City Council Building to sell stickers. He usually sells more than five a day, but there are slow days.
"But I am really happy that many drivers are very interested to also make efforts to post stickers in the jeepneys considering that the P30 charge for the sticker is already substantial in comparison to the meager earnings of the drivers," said Aliño.
Violations and penalties
However, despite the gradual changes in the attitude of the drivers and other commuters toward PWDs, there are still those who ignore PWDs' accessibility rights, Aliño said.
"There are still some, most especially the passengers who are seated at the front seat, who are too arrogant to yield the seat to us," he said.
He said that before they were educated about their rights, PWDs would just choose to be submissive. "But after the trainings, we can now tell them with confidence that the seat is reserved for PWDs as declared by law," Aliño said.
There are occasional cases where drivers refuse to give fare discounts, he added.
When that happens, the group takes note of the jeepney's plate number and, if possible, the driver's name, and reports him to the Land Transportation Office.
Persons caught violating BP 344 and RA 7442 face a fine of P50,000 to P100,000, imprisonment of up to two years, or both for a first offense.
Fines on subsequent violations may reach up to P200,000 and imprisonment for up to six years, or both. A foreigner who violates the law faces deportation.
For Aliño, enduring the glaring heat and fumes on the streets is a small price to pay for the changes in society's attitude toward PWDs and the improvement of the quality of life of the PWD sector.
As a new batch of public jeepneys plying Magallanes Street headed his way, he animatedly waved the stickers at the drivers.
A jampacked jeepney pulled up."How much?" asked the driver.
It is, indeed, a campaign to change the world one sticker at a time.
(This story is part of Reporting on Persons With Disability, a project of VERA Files in partnership with The Asia Foundation and AusAid. VERA Files is put out by senior journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for true.)