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By VERA Files

Former and incumbent senators running for the May 2013 midterm elections said the country has enough laws to promote accessibility for persons with disabilities (PWDs), but that what is needed are more employment and scholarship opportunities for PWDs.

Senatorial candidate Richard Gordon vowed to bat for equal employment opportunities for PWDs, while incumbent senator Aquilino Pimentel III promised to push for more scholarships for the sector.

The two were among seven senatorial candidates who attended the first of three fora organized by the Philippine Daily Inquirer held at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City. The others were Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Francis Escudero, and Loren Legarda, and former Senators Ernesto Maceda and Ramon Magsaysay, Jr.

Pimentel stressed the need for “laser-light focus” on the problems of PWDs which, Cayetano said, were often crowded out by other issues.

“Sometimes the more controversial or the sexier issues make the front pages, but that doesn't mean that they are the more important issues,” said Cayetano, who is running for a second term.

Cayetano also said the problem lies not with the legislation of pro-PWD measures but with their implementation.

Each of the candidates spoke of their own contributions to the promotion of PWD rights and welfare.

Escudero, who is also running for reelection, said he was one of the senators who voted for the measure requiring establishments to build facilities accessible to PWDs.

Cayetano co-authored the 2009 amendment to the Magna Carta for PWDs.

Gordon, who served one term from 2004 to 2010, said he pushed for special provisions for PWDs in the automated elections. He added he had livelihood projects for PWDs, such as massage training for blind persons.

Legarda, who is running for a third term, said she re-filed bills concerning PWDs and, if reelected, will request to chair the Committee on Social Justice to work on the measures. She also mentioned possibly working with Valenzuela City Congressman Rex Gatchalian to play her counterpart in the Lower House.

She is also pushing for PWD-accessible facilities, such as the building of ramps and railings. Her campaign advertisements had subtitles for intended for members of the audience who are deaf.

Magsaysay, who previously served two terms from 1995 to 2007, said he initially set aside 10 million pesos a year from education funds to build factories manned by PWDs. The allocation for the factories, which make school chairs and desks, has since grown to 100 million pesos a year. He also pushed for the education of PWDs through orientations.

Maceda, who was first elected to the Senate 40 years ago and served for a total of 12 years, said he “thought all the laws that are needed to help them are already there.”

Some of the laws on PWDs include Republic Act 8189, or the Voters’ Registration Act of 1996, which states that any relative within the fourth civil degree may assist PWD voters and that in the absence of relatives, the board of election inspector may serve as assistor.

The law also mandates every polling precinct to have a special board of election inspector for PWDs.

Another PWD law is RA 7277 or the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons which indicates that PWDs should be prioritized and the polling places should be made accessible to them during national and local elections.

In the 15th Congress, the bill to amend the Magna Carta for PWDs proposed by Antonio Trillanes IV was turned into law in 2012. Meanwhile, pending bills include the Special Education Act, which aims to allocate funds for special education.

During the forum moderated by Inquirer columnist Cielito Habito and Radyo Inquirer host Arlyn dela Cruz, senators tackled mostly issues on infrastructure and livelihood.

Other senatorial candidates will be invited for the second and third legs of the fora scheduled on April 18 in Baguio and April 26 in Cebu.

World Health Organization estimates that about 15 percent of the population of developing countries are PWDs. The Philippines has an estimated population of 100 million, which puts the number of PWDs around 15 million.

The Philippines is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that aims to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” —Darlene Cay, Melissa Luz Lopez, Ace Ilagan and Vince Nonato

(The authors are journalism students of the University of the Philippines who are writing for VERA Files as part of their internship. (VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

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