The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons with autism spectrum disorder. The ASP has been in the forefront of providing services and training to families living with autism.

23 July 2012

Strike Two: Reflections on Senator Santiago's Actions

By Mona Magno-Veluz, ASP National Secretary.

JR Tan
The actions of Senator Mirian Defensor Santiago resonated strongly with JR Tan, a graduating college student, taking up BS Accountancy, with minor in Biblical Studies. As an individual on the autism spectrum, he is passionate about autism rights and is one of the first self-advocate members of ASP. JR sent the Autism Society Philippines two open letters in reaction to the senator's angered statement to her detractors, calling them "mongoloids", last week.
His first letter:
Dear ASP,

I was shocked to read today’s Manila Bulletin article on “PWD advocates score solon for use of word ‘mongoloid’". This offends families of loved ones with Down Syndrome and Persons with DS.

In 2008, I remember Senator Santiago misusing the word autistic to refer a general who had no response or reaction to her statements. After my comments were published in Anak TV’s column (November 9, 2008) and ASP sent her a letter, I was glad the Senator sent her apology.

Now, with this issue on the offensive use of the term mongoloid, here is my advice for ASP.

First things first, Senator Santiago should be careful with the choice of her words. She should check the internet for the right words to use when speaking in public.

Secondly, if possible, NCDA or the National Council on Disability Affairs should sponsor a one-one-one seminar for her regarding disability rights. ASP can also send her a copy of RA 9442.

Thirdly, in future if she violates RA 9442 again or vilifies any Person with Autism or Down Syndrome or any other disability, she must be fined P200,000 and serve jail time, at the discretion of the Secretary of Justice.

In baseball, they say, “three strikes, you’re out.” Let’s give her another chance and wait for her apology.

Sincerely,
JR Tan
Self-advocate
Later in the week, the senator issued a statement, explaining her side -- which our friends from the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines recognized as a reconciliation effort. JR followed up with another letter.
Dear ASP,

After reading her official statement, I would still give Sen. Santiago another chance, although she is not sorry.

If she has the wisdom to create bills that will benefit People with DS, just like what she did for People with Autism and fight for their rights [frag].

Although she is offering her hand in friendship, it may take time to rebuilt trust.

Next time, I hope if the Senator will use words, she will be more sensitive, not use derogatory words or misuse or label incompetent people by comparing them to PWDs.

I want to wish her all the best in pursuing her new career in the International Court of Justice and may she do the best that she can.

Sincerely,
JR Tan
Self-Advocate

JR's astute opinions are his; but are echoed by many in the PWD community.  

For the record, the good senator who has been so vigilant in introducing and supporting laws that benefit the autism community, did NOT violate Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities, as she did not actually ridicule any PWD.

But just like 50Cent, who called one particularly unpleasant Twitter troll "autistic" earlier this month, Senator Santiago felt it was clever to use a disability to put down an aggressor.

My thoughts:  As individuals, we should strive to look at people (disabled or not) with compassion and empathy -- not with labels that are meant to make us feel superior.

For our public officials, the bar is set higher.  Your actions should represent what our society aspires to be. We expect you to be human and to commit mistakes. But we also expect you rise from even your smallest mistakes with humility, a firm resolve NOT to repeat the same mistake and a genuine effort to make amends.

It is my earnest hope that Senator Miriam, whose fighting spirit mirrors that of many passionate autism parents, does not -- using JR’s baseball analogy -- “strike out”.

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