Magna Carta for Disabled Persons: A Reaction on the Provisions of the Act
I wrote this essay as a requirement for my Special Education class in UP Manila this summer. We were asked to choose three provisions from the Philippine Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities and react to them. I got my paper back and was really surprised by the good—well, maybe a bit more than good—grade I received for it. Special thanks to Professor Myra Timtiman-Tantengco, M.A. from UP College of Educ.!
Philippine Republic Act No. 7277, also known as the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons, is one of the laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities, especially here in the Philippines. Of the provisions stated in the Magna Carta, there are three which, in my opinion, are worthy of attention.
The provision on Accessibility stated in Chapter VI, covering sections 25 to 28, states that PWDs must be provided with the best possible environment for them to function efficiently in the society. A Barrier-Free environment must be made possible by the state, including opportunities for mobility and transportation.
As much as I am relieved to know that such a provision exists to protect the rights of our PWDs, I am frustrated as well. Despite the implementation of the Magna Carta in today’s society, many of our buildings are not accessible to PWDs, most especially those who are wheelchair-bound. There are buildings and establishments that do not have ramps to allow for passage of PWDs, the reason being lack of finances. Of course, even if the government demands the owners to give access to PWDs, it is not always that easy to produce funds for renovation, or even to allow renovation for very old infrastructures.
One of the most obvious violations of this provision is the construction of overpasses in our streets and highways. For a normal person, this would be advantageous because aside from safety, it also provides them accessibility. However, the government failed to take into account the PWDs who also need to cross the streets. Where there are overpasses, there are also fences and barricades between the streets so that there will be no jaywalkers. But how would the PWDs cross the streets, if this is the case? They’d have to ride a vehicle and spend more money just so they can reach their destinations. Isn’t this, in and of itself, already an infraction of the Magna Carta?
Also, the simple matter of how wide doorways must be for wheelchairs to pass through has not been addressed. There are a lot of doorways too narrow for the wheelchair-bound, so they end up waiting outside the door, or asking someone to fold their wheelchairs and carry them in. With the Magna Carta at hand, this issue should have been solved long ago. Clearly, our society is oblivious to the fact that PWDs had these rights, and that these rights must be protected at all costs.
The section on Mobility is not too loud of an issue for me. I have seen many PWDs riding motorcycles and driving cars and tricycles. The issue in this, however, lies on the discriminatory nature of the people around them. Some people do not ride tricycles or jeeps being driven by PWDs, because they think they are not as capable as normal people. What they do not consider is that these PWDs who drive for a living have licenses, and more importantly, have the right to what they are doing.
The section I am most frustrated about is the Access to Public Transport Facilities. It clearly states how PWDs must be treated, especially when they are availing of public transportation. Many times, I’ve seen people in wheelchairs motioning for taxis or jeeps to pull over, but are being ignored because of the effort they impose on the operators or drivers. I find this both rude and insulting. Do they have to be turned down just because they have a disability? How hard it must be for PWDs to travel, especially when they need to ride jeeps or buses.
The second provision worthy of attention is stated in Chapter VII, Political and Civil Rights. It states the rights of people with disabilities to vote, to assemble and to organize.
I am very much glad that such a provision is included in the Magna Carta, though I feel bad that not many people know or recognize this provision. I know many people with disabilities who do not vote during local and national elections. I do not blame the parents or guardians, even if some of them do not allow PWDs to vote, nor do I blame the government, even if the implementation of this provision is not as strict as it should be. There is no one to blame here but everyone in our society.
A plant is a plant no matter what family, class, order or species it belongs to. The same way goes with people. PWDs are still people, still citizens capable of being productive and functional in a society. Thus, they have every right to choose the leader they think is worthy to be their guide. This right must not be taken away from them just because they have lost their sight, or they have learning disabilities. Every person must know, support and respect this right.
Personally, I think the right to assemble and organize is one of the most important and sensible rights of PWDs. It is not questionable that they find solace and belonging with people who experience the same things they do. Of course, they tend to be close to people who understand what they are going through. The groups, organizations, clubs or any other assemblage of PWDs give these people something to hold on to, because they can work better together in overcoming their handicaps in out society. With each other, they can find their place and fill their roles so that they can give their best in building our country.
Finally, the most important part in the Magna Carta, in my opinion, is the provision on Education.
Every person has the right to be educated, and PWDs are no exceptions to this. In fact, in the Magna Carta, it is stated that they are supposed to be given access to quality education and equal—not necessarily identical—opportunities for learning. They might not meet this in regular schools for normal children, but they get this equal chance in schools meant for students like them.
I do hope that the government does its best to educate people with and implement these provisions in the strictest and most efficient way possible, because only then can PWDs become efficient and self-sufficient. They might not be the greatest contributors in our society, but they are still contributors nonetheless, and the education they can and should receive is the most important stepping stone to meeting this.
Right now, the subsidies and financial assistances from the government might be bleak, but hopefully this will improve. In the meantime, there are a lot of ways the government can address the problem of special education in the Philippines. They must think and rethink the inclusion program they are planning on, consider the welfare not only of the special students, but also of the regular students and the teachers who will directly provide the education.
In today’s world, our country is struggling to fight the manacles of poverty, corruption, illiteracy and discrimination. As students, we might seem like a practical joke to the people in the big picture, but we must never underestimate the power of a million voices shouting the same thing. Moreover, beyond the shouting, we must act together in a common purpose. There is no point in knowing and studying about the rights of citizens, especially PWDs, if we do not do anything to defend and protect them against people who will take advantage of them.