By Melissa Luz Lopez, VERA Files
Caloocan City-A sea of yellow bathed the Caloocan High School Auditorium. No, it was not a campaign rally for administration candidates. Rather, it was the signing of a manifesto of support for a 10-point agenda asserting the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs).
With the theme “Action! To Make the Right Real for Persons with Disabilities,” the PWD Convergence aims to promote awareness among citizens and key political leaders of Caloocan City.
“Nais naming maiangat ang antas ng mga PWD (We want to uplift the condition of PWDs),” said Arnulfo Vicentina, president of the Lakas ng mga May Kapansanan organization and a member of the Caloocan City Federation of Persons with Disability (CCFED), which organized the event on April 26.
No doubt the covenant is a worthy cause but its timing and the circumstances surrounding its signing were not lost on some of the PWDs present at the event in Caloocan.
It had the feel and look of a campaign rally for the city’s mayoral candidate Ricojudge Janvier “RJ” Echiverri, and his father Enrico, the outgoing mayor who is seeking a seat in Congress. Both are running under the Liberal Party.
The yellow pamphlets given at the registration booth and the brochures of Ramon Magsaysay Jr. dotting the rows of seats, also served to underline the concerns of the PWDs present that their activity had turned into a political event.
While he welcomed the candidates’ support, Jose Mari Vicentina, former auditor of the CCFED and a wheelchair user like his brother Arnulfo, was wary that PWDs might be used for political ends.
“(Bakit) kailangan ang mga may kapansanan, magamit sa pulitika? Bakit kami pumasok sa isang covenant sa isang mayor na paalis na? Kung sa gobyerno kami aasa, magagamit lang kami (Why must) we PWDs be used as political machinery? Why did we enter into a covenant with an outgoing mayor? If we solely depend on the government, we’re just going to be abused),” he said.
Vicentina was referring to the elder Echiverri, the three-term mayor who was at the event with his family. He batted for more benefits and bigger discounts for PWDs.
But clearly the focus of the event was the covenant which was signed by 10 members of the Federation, which include the families, volunteers, and non-government organizations supporting PWDs.
The 10-Point Agenda tackles concerns surrounding PWDs, such as access to education, financial aid, healthcare and housing. It calls for the strict implementation of the Accessibility Law for all establishments to make all offices PWD-friendly.
The covenant also mandates the establishment of a local Council on Disability Affairs to consolidate various city government programs involving PWDs.
According to Richard Arceño, founder and president of the CCFED, there are 7,000 PWDs in the city who have signed up for special IDs but he expects to the number to increase.
Federation Vice President Nilo De Los Reyes estimates that some 4,000 PWDs in Caloocan are not yet members of the CCFED. The city has a total population of 1,489,040 and is one top 10 cities in the Philippines in terms of number of PWD residents.
Representatives from the Pilipinos With Disabilities party-list who were also present at the event listed among their priorities providing education, and livelihood and producing a national registry for the estimated 10 million PWDs around the country.
In addition to advancing the advocacy for PWDs, promoting self-reliance among them should also be part of the agenda, said Jose Mari Vicentina. He added that the full implementation of the law would allow PWDs to exercise their rights and enjoy the benefits given them.
Among these rights, Arceño said, is the establishment of a Persons with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO) in every barangay.
Under the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons the creation of a PDAO is required only at the provincial, city and municipal levels.
At present, only two barangays in Caloocan have their own PDAO in their area, each allocating a P500,000- budget each year, officials said. The city has a total of 188 barangays.
Incumbent Liga ng mga Barangay President RJ Echiverri said that he would push for a one percent budget allocation for PWDs at the barangay and city level.
He said he would urge all barangays and local companies to hire one or two PWDs who are capable of working, along with the promise to equip the two city halls with ramps and elevators for easier access.
Herself a mother to a PWD, Mila Magsaysay also threw her support for the advocacy on behalf of her brother, former senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr, who is on Team PNoy’s senatorial slate.
“Ang PWDs ay merong fighting spirit – yan ang kailangan (PWDs have strong fighting spirits – that’s what we need),” she said.
Among those who signed the 10-Point Agenda tarpaulin were incumbent Vice Mayor Edgar Erice, PWD Party-list representatives Michael Barredo, Manuel Agcaoili and Luis Jose Arellano, Enrico Echiverri’s wife Purificacion, and officers from the CCFED.
Federation President Arceño, hopes concrete actions that will stem from the Agenda. I want to see kung talagang mangyayari… I’m hoping they walk their talk,” he said.
The Caloocan PWD Convergence offered free haircuts, manicures, and eye check-ups for its members, which is composed of around 20 PWD-related organizations in the city. Echiverri and Magsaysay campaign shirts were also distributed.
The event closed with a motorcade around Grace Park, where the PWDs, volunteers and supporters were loaded on rented jeeps and Echiverri-sponsored trucks that displayed their posters.
PWD 10-POINT AGENDA
- Magkaroon ng sapat na oportunidad ang mga batang may kapansanan na makapag-aral sa pampubliko at pribadong paaralan kasama ng mga batang walang kapansanan.
- Magsagawa ng mga konkretong programa upang magkaroon ng sapat na oportunidad sa paghahanap-buhay ang mga may kapansanan na kabilang sa lakas ng paggawa.
- Ipatupad ang Republic Act 10070 o ang pagtayo ng Tanggapan ng May Kapansanan sa Lungsod ng Caloocan at maglaan ng sapat na pondo upang maisakatuparan ang mga programa at serbisyo ng tanggapan.
- Magbalangkas ng ordinansa para sa pagbuo ng Caloocan City Council on Disability Affairs. Pangunahing layunin ng ordinansa na magkaroon ng malinaw, aktibong ugnayan at pakikiisa ang lahat ng tanggapan sa Lungsod ng Caloocan para sa pagsasagawa ng plano at programa na may kinalaman sa taong may kapansanan.
- Magtayo ng Disability Resource Center (DRC) sa bawat Sona. Layunin ng DRC na maibaba ang mga programa at serbisyo sa bawat komunidad upang higit na mabigyang pansin at kagyat na tugon ang mga suliranin at pangangailangan ng mga may kapansanan.
- Mahigpit na ipatupad ang implementasyon ng Batasang Pambansa Bilang 344 o Accessibility Law sa pampubliko at pribadong tanggapan o establishment.
- Ibilang ang mga may kapansanan sa mga programang may kinalaman sa sining, kultura at pampalakasan.
- Ibilang ang mga may kapansanan sa mga programang palupa at pabahay.
- Higit bigyan ng katiyakan na ang lahat ng may kapansanan ay mabibilang sa Universal PhilHEALTH Coverage at Conditional Cash Transfer.
10. Patuloy na isagawa ang pagpaparehistro sa lahat ng mga may kapansanan sa bawat barangay.
(Melissa Luz Lopez is a University of the Philippines journalism student who is writing for VERA Files as part of her internship. VERA Files is put out by senior journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)