The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) on a fine day of January 22, 2013, convened its attached agencies, private and non-private sectors, from all over the Philippines for this worthy cause – a forum on Understanding Passengers with Autism in Ortigas Avenue, Mandaluyong City. It was astounding to see agents from the Government really taking time to tackle the issues that PWAs have to battle on a daily basis. Eighty representatives from the different DOTC’s attached agencies all over the Philippines -- the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), Philippine National Railways (PNR), 15 representatives from different airports of the Philippines, SeaAir, Cebu Pacific, among many others -- were present at the event. The forum started with a cheerful tagline from the host, Mr. Mike Limon: “Dito nagsanib ang langit at lupa”. Indeed!
As the program opened with a welcome note from Engr. Ildefonso T. Patdu, Jr., Assistant Secretary for Project Management Service and the Head of the DOTC Task Force on Accessibility which was read by Mr. Rizal C. Morales, Sr. TDO and Asst. Head DOTC Task Force on Accessibility, it was noticeable how passionate DOTC is about their advocacy. It emphasized the Batas Pambansa Blg. 344 known as Accessibility Law for our PWDs and PWAs. DOTC has actively participated for this worthy cause as they took their jobs by heart by educating the private and public sector on ensuring accessibility for and welfare of persons with disability.
Mr. Ranil S. Sorongon, Executive Director of ASP, gave a presentation on the UN-Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities or commonly known as UNCRPD and the R.A. 9442, an Act Amending Republic Act No. 7277, otherwise known as the Magna Carta for Persons with Disability. He mentioned the new terms given to PWA will be “Rights Holder” while the Government agents will be called “Duty Bearer”. A new name – a new hope for a better society.
After the presentation of Mr. Sorongon, the enthusiastic Ms. Mona Magno-Veluz, ASP Secretary, launched the 1Pangako campaign. Ms. Veluz said, the word “Autistic” is not a bad or hurtful word per se but it is in how the word is used where the slur happens. The Duty Bearers reacted in a positive way by making a promise as a group to end the slur and by signing the 1Pangako pledge wall - a signal that change is on the way!
Ms. Gina L. Bermudo, Trustee of ASP, then gave an orientation on “Understanding Passengers with Autism”. She was once a Flight Attendant and so she gave her presentation a taste of it! With her talk, she made the audience understand what Autism is and is not – the misconception and its truth. She gave insights on what to expect if a PWA will board a plane. She also shared personal experiences which made the talk a heartfelt one. It was a full packed of information on the do’s and don’ts of how a certain PWA might feel and be like during the flight. The very core of the talk was a call for everyone in the transportation group an understanding to PWAs. As she said, “they do not need pity or help in some ways but more on understanding their situation”.
It was a working lunch for everyone but not for ArchitectRizal Morales, an awardee of Apolinario Mabini 2011. Architect Morales spoke of the many DOTC initiatives benefiting our country men with disabilities. He was bold enough to tap other agencies who have not complied to DOTC requirements. He challenged all agencies to better their service and be compliant. He even encouraged the individuals and their agencies to be awardees themselves for this cause –make programs that a lot of PWDs/PWAs will benefit from.
A short open-forum followed Architect Morales' talk. One of the questions that made an impact to ASP was on how to handle a child with autism if preferred not to use seatbelt or so. That question was a good indication that people wanted to know how to understand them in such instances. It only showed that social awareness was and will be a vital weapon to combat unkindness and judgmental nature of men.
The event was closed with a personal speech from Undersecretary Jose Perpetuo Lotilla who reiterated DOTC's commitment to the cause of Filipinos with disabilities. He proudly announced the latest development of joint DOTC-DTI Administrative Order No. 01 which is The Air Passenger Bill of Rights which was approved on December 10, 2012.
We look forward to the day when caring for persons with disabilities is not just be mandated by the law; but a commonplace kindness exercised by individuals, companies and governments.
This article is a contribution from Cora Hugo-Mina, ASP Angel Corps Volunteer.