This is the first of a series of features that focuses on famous or notable Filipino Deaf. It’s my way of recognizing their feats and showcase their successes all over the world.
Emilie M. Padullon now celebrates her eleventh year working with the Philippine government under the Office of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
It all started like this. After being one of the first batch of MCCID graduates in 1996, Emilie wanted to work immediately. But after more than a year of fruitless effort, we decided to ask for government’s help. So in early 1997, we emailed all the Philippine Senators during that time seeking for employment. We prayed that at least one would respond. God answered us because out of 24 senators, only the most popular one, Sen. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo replied through her daughter Ma’am Luli Arroyo. She asked if Emilie can go to her office in Port Area, Manila for an interview schedule.
We were so thrilled and terrified at the same time because this will be our first meeting with one of the highest government official in the country. When we arrived at Sen. Arroyo’s office, we met with Ma’am Luli and had a short but promising interview. “She was very beautiful, cordial, sweet and charming. We immediately had a good rapport with her.“, as Emilie remembered.
After a computer examination, Emilie was asked to come back on the 17th of the month to start working. We were very excited and thankful to God that she was accepted. She started doing clerical work and computer encoding. Later, they became close with Ma’am Luli. There were many occasions where Ma’am Luli joined her during lunch breaks. She even learned manual alphabet and a few sign language. She will never forget all her fond memories with the Senator’s only daughter.
Working with then Sen. Arroyo was also exciting yet frightening. She described Mrs. Arroyo as a perfectionist and businesslike yet motherly in most of her actions. Everybody was constantly on their toes. She warned all her staff to always do things the right way and with negligible errors. But she also reminded them that they are doing it for the people in need and not only for themselves.
She had many anecdotes about having a senator as her boss. One time, Sen. Arroyo was angry that Emilie had many typing errors. She immediately called her attention and started speaking to her about her mistakes. Emilie was petrified. However, the senator forgot that Emilie was deaf. So Ma’am Luli went to her rescue. She reminded her mother that Emilie cannot hear her voice. Sen. Arroyo replied, “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot.”, then she asked her daughter to explain to her the errors Emilie made and told her to be careful next time.
When Senator Arroyo ran for Vice President in 1998 and won overwhelmingly, she brought Emilie with her. She transferred to the new office in Roxas Blvd. There she met with Atty. Jose Miguel (Mike) Arroyo who was very appreciative with her performance as an employee. He observed that Emilie is a good role model for other workers. Because of her, VP Arroyo hired four more deaf graduates from MCCID. They are Antonina Patricio, Christine Rivero, Arvin Castuciano and Pilipino De Luna. Arvin is very close and became basketball buddies of Presidential Sons and now Congressmen Dato and Mikey Arroyo. He was often called to do sports activities and charity work especially in their home province of Pampanga. When Antonina and Pilipino got married, they chose VP Arroyo as their godmother. I interpreted in their civil wedding and also became one of their godfathers. So President Arroyo and I are technically related (mag-balae). hehehe
In 2001, when the then President Joseph Estrada was ousted by a People Power II Revolution, VP Arroyo was installed in the highest position of the land. Emilie was then transferred to Malacanang Palace and continues to work there. She is under the Correspondence Office. The other deaf staff were placed in various government offices within the palace.
Emilie, now 30, was not born with hearing impairment. She comes from a poor born-again Christian family from Batangas. At age 12, she suffered from high fever due to meningitis. In the hospital, she was bombarded with strong antibiotics to make her fever go down. The doctors were successful in restoring her health but at the expense of her hearing ability. Slowly she lost her sense of hearing until it became none. This devastated her and made her depressed for many years. However, she slowly recovered when the whole family transferred to Manila and enrolled at Philippine School for the Deaf. There she learned how to sign and soon afterwards, she regained her courage to live.
President Arroyo’s field of expertise is the economy. In 1987, she was appointed undersecretary of Department of Trade and Industry during President Corazon Aquino’s term. But probably due to Emilie, Mrs. Arroyo started to develop a soft spot for marginalized sectors especially women and the disabled. When she was asked to join then President Estrada’s cabinet in 1998, she chose to be the Secretary of Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) instead of a more high profile position. During her term as president, she pushed for the amendment of the 1994 Magna Carta for the Disabled Persons which added privileges to the sector similar to senior citizens. Republic Act 9442 was signed into law last 2007. She extended the observance of Philippine Decade of Disabled Persons from 1991-2002 to 2003- 2012. She also fast tracked the Philippine ratification of United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Through her executive order, she renamed the National Council for the Welfare of Disabled Persons (NCWDP) to National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) and transferred it from under DSWD to the Office of the President in order to personally supervise it.
Persons with disabilities became close to the President’s heart. She often mentions the deaf in her many speeches. The recent one was during her speech celebrating the 35th founding anniversary of Tahanang Walang Hagdanan, Inc. (House With No Steps) last February held at Presidential Palace. The president proudly said,
We have been encouraging businesses to hire disabled but qualified workers. I myself when I was vice-president, I took in a number of PWDs in my staff and when I became president, they moved with me to Malacanang. And we’re very happy of the good work that they do.
I’m not sure if Emilie is the first deaf person who ever worked with a Philippine President because we don’t have any previous records. But, I believe she is the only deaf person in history who made a lasting impact to any Philippine President. 🙂