Have you forgotten about us?
This is a repost from the Philippine Daily Inquirer written by Roberto S. Salva. He is the executive director of the Catholic Ministry to Deaf People Inc. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may view the entire article here.
By Roberto S. Salva
LAST MONTH, in a forum on human rights organized by the Australian Embassy and the Commission on Human Rights, one of the deaf invitees posed this question to panel presenters: “Have you forgotten about us?”
By “us” the deaf meant Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).
The forum moderator shot the question down. She suggested that further questions should be confined to the topic of that particular panel discussion. The topic, the last of two, was on the challenges of prosecuting human rights cases. There were only eight minutes provided for this topic’s open forum. The earlier panel topic was on press freedom and the killing of journalists.
The deaf person who asked the question may have wondered why she was there at all since neither disability nor minority rights were part of the agenda. Among the presenters, only Catherine Branson, president of Australia’s Human Rights Commission, mentioned disability rights. She gave it equal importance with the human rights issues that were in discussion.
There is no doubt that the deaf person shared the nation’s concern over the relentless culture of impunity in the country. Disability, though, has never been a disturbing issue in the country. There are PWDs among us but we have for the meantime managed to put their concerns on hold and rendered their citizenship token attention. They are only a small group—merely 10 percent of our country’s population—of politically unorganized people. And we do not have the resources yet.
But the concerns of PWDs, some of which they brought to the forum, need to be genuine concerns of the country’s majority. The lack of resources does not diminish the rights of around 9 million Filipinos.
Indeed, development and human rights go hand in hand. Now, the lack of development is our excuse for our disregard of the rights of some groups like the PWDs. But, it is precisely this disregard of those rights that perpetuates our state of underdevelopment and further escalates poverty in the country.
We cannot expect, for example, that the almost 4 million children with disabilities not in school would eventually contribute positively to our nation’s growth. According to the Special Education Division of the Department of Education, barely 80,000 children with disabilities were enrolled during the school year 2004-2005. This is only 2 percent of the estimated total number of children with disabilities.
PWDs find it harder to share in the task of nation-building because the nation is still shut down to them. Government institutions, even hospitals, are still not accessible to wheelchair users. Television programs—even news programs—are still not accessible to the deaf.
The Commission on Elections during the recent elections denied the Filipino PWDs’ desire to be represented in Congress. They supposedly do not have a nationwide presence. The party-list law was created for groups like the PWDs. Ironically, before the enactment of the party-list law, PWDs as a sector were represented in Congress.
PWDs do not only find it hard to participate in the nation’s life, they are also not safe. Our police stations still cannot handle deaf persons who want to report a crime. Early this year, a 17-year-old deaf girl was abducted and raped by 10 men. She could not report directly to the police. She also could not file the case directly in court as the language of the court is not her language. True, these institutions can be approached, but not without considerable expense.
There are more PWD human rights concerns. That is why the United Nations came up with a special instrument in the form of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Philippines is a signatory to this. It has obligations. It should be obliged to keep these.