BLIND SPOT: Palarong Pambansa and the Irony of Inclusion

If you have been watching the regular early evening newscast during the course of the Palarong Pambansa 2017 from April 23 to 29, there was considerable attention on features on athletes with disability, alongside record breaking performances, and the drama behind bantam athletic achievements. Heck, I don’t even remember a slight emphasis on a report on medal tallies or which region is leading at a point in time, or which region held the overall championship slot. (Which team was champion, anyway?) I guess, if I were a common TV news audience, I would be awestruck with the initiatives of including children and youth with special needs in the biggest national sports event. One would probably wow with wide eye and open mouth in pupils and students with sensory or cognitive impairments running the tracks or hurdling distances in the presumption and impression that they are playing alongside children and youth without disability, and their achievements are similarly counted and given credit for. Palarong Pambansa games are categorized as elementary, secondary and special events. (Yes, you guessed it right. The SPED athletes whom you saw on TV, compete under special events.) In this year’s palaro, games under the special events included athletics which in turn included: shotput (visual impairment), shotput (intellectual disability), shotput (orthopedic handicap) long jump (visual impairment), 100m run (visual impairment), 100 m run (hearing impairment), 200 m run (intellectual disability), 400 m run (intellectual disability), 4× 100 relay, long jump (intellectual disability), swimming events, bocce, (a lawn bowling played on a dirt court that is shorter and narrower than the rink of a bowling green,, and goal ball (a team ball sport designed specifically for athletes with visual impairment, played with a ball with a bell inside). Now, you’re probably thinking, I wouldn’t want to get in the way of a blind kid tossing some heavy ball in the air. “We have been promoting the concept of inclusion in Palarong Pambansa and that means mainstreaming our special education students in our regular sports event,” said then Education Secretary Mona Valisno in a 2010 article, three years on the inclusion of SPED pupils and students in the Palarong Pambansa. She is quoted to have further said, “It is unfair for us to say that sports is for all if we don’t include special education learners who are also capable of excelling in the event they choose,” “On the first year of the special games, only Calabarzon, Northern Mindanao region, and Region 7 (Central Vizayas) participated.” In the most recent Palaro, all 18 regions made representations in special events in varying numbers of athletes. (Now, that’s SPED power for you.) Now, here’s something interesting, an actual quote from a Philippine Information Agency article, “The special games are held with the regular Palarong Pambansa games in order to maximize the use of resources, athletic facilities and competition officials. While winners also receive medals, their scores are not included in the overall counting for the national winners.” ( And here am I, basking in the fulfillment of the ideal of equal opportunity, only for my naiveté to be rudely awakened by the truth of cost efficiency. (Para lang makatipid?) And as if that wasn’t enough to shatter disillusionment, come a more whopping shockwave – SPED athletes receive medals but their scores are NOT included in the overall counting. (The same policy is implemented in the provincial meets.) And I thought, all this was in the spirit of mainstreaming and “inclusion”. This is like playing, winning, but not actually winning. What sort of logic after all is there behind not including medals of SPED athlete s in the overall tally? This bears some resemblance to the abolition of slavery in the United States, yet racial segregation is imposed in public utilities; equal but not really equal. I know of an DepEd education program specialist who has been strongly lobbying against this policy and has been moving towards the “inclusion” of medals won by SPED athletes to the overall tally; and as of this moment, to no avail. Autism advocate Lisa Rotin Wilson says, “Inclusion is not a program. Inclusion is a mindset. It is the way we treat others and the way they treat us. Inclusion is the opportunity to learn together and from one another. and we do it because it is the right thing to do.” ( Well, in any case, the Palarong Pambansa 2017 Special Events overall champion was Calabarzon, Southern Tagalog (STCAA) (Region IV-A) with 24 golds, 5 silvers and 9 bronzes, respective runners-up are: Western Visayas (WVRAA) with 19 golds, 10 silvers and 12 bronzes, and Davao Region (DavRAA) with 7 golds, 6 silvers and 11 bronzes. Bicol Region ranked 8th with 2 golds, 5 silvers and 2 bronzes. That is based on the medal tally “exclusively” for the special events para games. ( “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, ,” Galatians 3:28