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BLIND SPOT: Naga City and the Apolinario Mabini Award

It’s on Facebook. It’s over the radio. It’s on TV. Naga City wins Apolinario Mabini Award. The “Philippine Foundation for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled, (PFRD) Inc through the Mabini Awards Committee” “has deemed fit to confer upon the City Government of Naga, the 2017 Apolinario Mabini Award for the local government.” Naga City “has qualified with the standards of a local government unit that has rendered exceptional services to the mass of citizens with disabilities within its jurisdiction in the last two years”; (2015 to 2017). Congratulations are in order to Mayor John G. Bongat and PDAO Officer-in-Charge Christopher Molin. Naga City local government prides itself of instituting the PDAO (Persons with Disabilities Affairs Office) manned by persons with disabilities, themselves even before the release of the national memorandum for local governments to do so; making the Naga City PDAO, in actuality, a local initiative, and not a compliance to national government directive. Thus, it would be justifiable to claim that Naga has a remarkable movement towards the promotion of welfare of persons with disability, independent from external mandates. Naga City PDAO was instituted by virtue of City ordinance 2010-039, a few months shy from the release of DILG Memorandum Circular 2010-103 Establishment of Persons with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO) in Every Province, City and Municipality Pursuant to RA 10070. (Take note of the ordinance and memorandum circular numbers.) Indeed, the city government has been an active advocate of PWD rights and privileges; opening opportunities for a resource center and massage therapy center for persons with visual impairment, availability of sign language interpreters and sign language trainings for persons with hearing impairment, accessibility features in major establishment in downtown, for persons with orthopedic handicap, the education and employment opportunities for PWDs; and of course, we appreciate the free pass on the first showing in a designated SM Cinema every Monday and Tuesday. Lest we forget, even if PFRD confers the recognition for the services rendered in the last two years, the advocacy has come to this point because of the groundwork laid by the city’s forerunners. “As a former mayor of Naga, we have given PWDs a voice by giving them a seat at the table. We made sure that PWDs are represented in the Naga City People’s Council so that we can listen and respond to their needs. Before I left as mayor, we have already set up a resource center for the blind in the city, where we have books in Braille and a computer program which allows them to use the Internet.”, an excerpt from the speech of former DILG Secretary Jesse M. Robredo, as keynote speaker in the launch of the “Fully Abled Nation” in 2012. Before this part, he shared, “I have always rallied behind this cause because I am no stranger to PWDs. My father is blind. He had been stricken with a rare eye ailment and has been blind ever since I was four years old. Since the ailment is hereditary, three of my siblings are also bl ind. Visual impairment runs in the family. That’s why when I say I know how you feel, I really mean it.” ( Another important key figure in the laying the foundation of PWD programs was former Councilor PWD Committee Chairman, Nathan Sergio, under whose helm, Naga City PDAO was instituted. With his insistence (even before the national directive), persons with disability were appointed to administration of services for their own sector, and that relevant programs be implemented for the sector. Sir Nathan activated animation to the previously melancholic and monotonous movement for persons with handicap. However, despite their best efforts, the revitalized programs would have been a circus with empty seats, without audience participation. The local government would not be able to render exceptional services to the mass of citizens with disabilities, if these citizens had not gone out, organized themselves and moved for their rights and privileges. Parents gathered together to seek educational support for children with special needs. Persons with disabilities sought better employment opportunities. Students with disabilities struggled for inclusion in the regular educational system. Just to clear things out, Iloilo provincial government also received the same qualification for the same award for LGU category (; and so far, they’re the only one to make early publication. Other categories include Mabini Presidential Award, PWD Filipino of the Year, Disabled Group of the Year, among others. I see the Apolinario Mabini Award for Naga City as a challenge to further its role in rendering services to citizens with disability. Downtown streets cry for accessibility. Persons with autism, and with intellectual disability ache for equitable employment opportunities. Discrimination in education is hiding its ugly head in the school corners. Moreover, I see the Apolinario Mabini Award as a whopping wake-up call for Bicol municipalities to give some bit of attention on the PWD sector; so that an applicant for ID card should not wait for the social worker scratching their filing cabinets for old PWD ID cards. “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor…” Romans 12:11

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