[UPDATED] PWD sector pushes for college special education, implementation of existing laws

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In this version, the number of PWD personnel in the PGB was updated. - Editor 

MALAYBALAY CITY (BukidnonNews.Net) Rhea M. is a 27-year old high school graduate with hearing disability. She always wanted to proceed to college and take a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management or Information Technology.

However, more than a decade after finishing her secondary education, she is still out of school. Local universities have no capability to enroll persons with her kind of disability, her parents said.  They have twice approached a local college but denied admission.

“She has remained in high school. Hopefully the government will set up the college level version of the Department of Education’s special education,” one of her parents said in an interview.

In March this year, the Philippines passed Republic Act 11650 or the Inclusive Education Act of 2022. But advocates said now that there is a law, the challenge is in the  implementation.

“It is high time for the government to pay sincere attention to the problems facing the persons with disability sector, '' participants from the persons with disability sector here told the “Aspirations for Good Governance” Focused-Group Discussions and Interviews.

Results of the FGDs held in the cities of Malaybalay and Valencia in March to April 2022 showed that the sector has been pushing for attention through time, including the provision of special education for the college level to cater to the specific needs of students with disabilities.

The issue of special education in tertiary education is among those raised among matters that officials of the 2022-2028 should address according to the responses of the PWD sector in the FGDs.

Marjorie Jimeno, Coordinator of the Parents Mobilization Action Group and the Malaybalay City United Persons with Disabilities Association said they have been pushing for tertiary level special education for a long time. DepEd offers only special education in the elementary and high school levels.

A Commission on Higher Education Memorandum Circular issued in 2000 provided general guidelines for quality education for learners with special needs.

“Public higher education institutions (HEIs) shall admit all learners with special needs whether in academic, vocation, or technical courses and other training programs, except those which have already been accepted but whose facilities do not warrant additional enrollees. Private HEIs were also encouraged to do the same as part of their education service to qualified tertiary level students with special needs,” the CHED Memorandum circular, issued in August 11, 2000, said.

But she said they were still turned down.

“(The students with disability) really needed to obtain a degree so they can work, so they can compete with other graduates in employment,” she told BukidnonNews.Net in July 2022.

Mr. Dominador D. Libayao, Chief of the Persons with Disability Affairs Division, of the Provincial Government of Bukidnon, identified the issue as one of the biggest confronting them in the PWD sector. He said they are still waiting for the implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 11650.

The problem of inclusive education, he said, has an impact on the realization of the PWD sector’s aspirations, even with existing laws.

He cited the implementation of RA 10524 or the Act Expanding the Positions Reserved for Persons with Disability. The law provides that 1% of personnel of government agencies/offices should be persons with disabilities.

Libayao said the PWDs have the disadvantage to pass eligibility requirements set by the Civil Service Commission.  Many of them can only be hired as contractual personnel.

Libayao said one of the major reasons for this is the inequality in opportunities because most of the PWDs have not attended college. The provincial government, Libayao said, is one of the first to employ PWDs among its human resources. As of July 2022, out of the 50 as required by RA 10524, he said there are only 29 PWDs in the provincial government, with two of them on job order basis. Of the 12 personnel in his office, six are PWDs.  

He said notably PWDs have less in educational achievement.

He said their main thrust is that there should be a higher education institution, which will accommodate special education in the province. He added that for those PWDs who opt for vocational technical education, there should also be a provincial tech-vocational resource center to rehabilitate, train, employ, and generate income for PWDs.

He said it boils down to funding for SPED tertiary education and even funding for Paragames.

“There are national and regional Paragames but none at provincial level,” he said.

Libayao said his office has already created a road map to address the tertiary education gap to start with a baseline study. He said hopefully, funds for tertiary education could be sourced from the Local School Board. He said most of the board’s funds so far go to infrastructure projects among schools, not for special education.  

Jimeno said their sector has also pushed for the implementation of Republic Act 10070 or the Persons with Disability Affairs Office not just in the provincial but also in the city and municipal level and the adoption at the city and municipal level of the Bukidnon Magna Carta for Persons with Disability, approved by the provincial government in 2021. She has also called for the implementation of RA 10524 or the act providing for the employment of 1% of the total workforce from the persons with disabilities (PWDs).

Jorry Dao-ayan, Vice President of the Valencia City PWD Federation said the PWDs also have the right to disability inclusive health programs. He said the local government units should also adopt community-based rehabilitation programs in delivering services to their constituents with disabilities and allocate funds to support the program. He cited that the funds could be sourced from the Gender and Development funds of the LGU.

He added that the LGU should also institutionalize a local vocational resource center to cater to PWDs who preferred technical and vocational education. He also pushed for scholarship programs and livelihood programs for PWDs as part of PWD empowerment.

Libayao said in Bukidnon only four municipalities, Maramag, Pangantucan, Manolo Fortich, and Libona have established their local Persons with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO). He said they are the only ones who have set up offices with their own operating expenses. The rest, the cities of Malaybalay and Valencia and 16 other towns are yet to be set up, he added. He cited that Valencia and Malaybalay cities have ordinances creating PDAO, but the ones from Malaybalay City are not yet compliant to RA 10070. Of the four with PDAO, only the Municipality of Pangantucan has fully complied with the eligibility standards set by CSC. 

Libayao said from the government side, there is a need to establish, at the least, a Person with Disability Affairs Office to ensure inclusive governance.

“(It also means) genuine empowerment of the PWD sector adopting social model approach,” he added.

He noted that private companies who have at least 100 workforce are also required to hire at least one PWD.

“It doesn’t mean, however, that those with less than 100 personnel cannot hire PWDs,” he clarified.

The province has also passed an ordinance institutionalizing the Local Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities.

However, he said it still has no funds.

As of now, his office, the PGO-PDAD has requested an estimated P24 million funds from the Gender and Development fund, which is 1% of IRA to be transferred from PSWDO to fund the programs, projects and activities of PWD sector of the province of Bukidnon aligned with Local Magna Carta for PWDs. Among items covered for this expense, include capability training, assistive devices course, and medical assistance. 

Libayao said based on sharing with PDAO officials in the country, one more challenge is the possibility of realignment of funds intended for PWDs to other projects.

“So we strongly needed local executive support. Our work plan is no match without the support of the chief executive,” he added. He said he looks forward to meeting with Gov. Rogelio Neil P. Roque about the plans of the PDAD, a division under the Provincial Governor’s Office.

The Piniyalan Reporting Governance Project is set to ask the FGD-generated questions on his PWD agenda, but this was not covered yet during the initial interview with the governor.

Ms. Jimeno, in her response to the focused group discussion question on what for her are the traits or indicators of good local governance, she said, when the one sitting in office “has a good policy and program for the PWD sector” and “if those in power fund also the laws and ordinances that they approve.”  

“Kinahanglan tanan nga proyekto mga inclusive programs. Dili nga pirmi lang left behind ang uban (There is a need for the government to make all programs inclusive and shun programs that leave others behind),” she added.  (BukidnonNews.Net)

IN PHOTO: Ms. Maria Luisa Beatriz F. Jover, an employee at the Persons with Disability Affairs Division of the Provincial Governor's Office of Bukidnon attends to a client. She works as a Licensed Sign Language Interpreter in the office. Courtesy of PGO-PDAD

This story was published with support from Internews Philippines 

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