Some one thousand Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and their families converged at the SM Megamall last June 18 to join this year’s Freedom Walk to push for greater inclusivity of PWDs in society, especially in the work force.
Dubbed “For Each Right-Full Step, Barriers We Break,” this year’s Freedom Walk led by AKAP Pinoy also marked the turnover of the event from Pasay City to Mandaluyong City with Mayor Benhur Abalos personally accepting this year’s task of being the host city of the PWDs event.
The participants, many in wheelchairs, traversed Julia Vargas and San Miguel Avenue in Mandaluyong carrying banners and streamers.
Also present were Annie Garcia, President of SM Supermalls, Steven Tan, Senior Vice President of SM Supermalls, a representative of Pasay City Mayor Calixto, and representatives from the different Metro Manila city governments and non-governmental organizations.
Retired Navy Captain Oscar Taleon, AKAP Pinoy President, said they are extremely delighted with the turnout as it reflects on the growing awareness of the public on their condition.
The Freedom Walk, which is on its 6th year, started in 2010 in Quezon City. Taleon said this is their way of pushing for full integration for them be productive members of society. “This is the participation of our group to the Philippine Independence Day celebration and it also an expression of our desire to have our freedom from our barriers. We would like to eliminate the barriers that hinder us from full participation in society that is on equal basis with others,” he said.
While the National Statistics Office places the number of PWDs in the Philippines at 1.5 million, Taleon said the number has now reached 9 million citing the World Health Organization. “That number of 1.5 million is too low because the WHO has given an estimate of 9 million PWDs in the Philippines,” he said.
Taleon also noted that while their group is happy with the legislations that have given them rights and privileges, implementation is still very much a concern.
Taleon lamented that not all PWDs are aware of the law giving rights and discounts to them which is the reason why many still have to avail of the full benefits of the law. “We have that discount legislation but not everybody is enjoying it mainly because of lack of awareness and the limitations to getting it because we have to get disability card first before we can have the discount so it is quite difficult for many of us,” he pointed out.
He added that while the last mandates the establishment of People with Disabilities Affairs Offices (PDAOs) in all local government units all over the country, many have to comply with the law.
“The problem really is the implementation and until we implement the law fully, a lot of things need to be done,” he said.
He then thanked SM and its corporate social responsibility arm, SM Cares, for hosting the event saying SM has always been their partner in upholding the rights of PWDs. “SM have shown the way for other establishments on how to treat people like us and we are very glad that it has always been there for us,” he said.
Taleon said they will continue to hold the Freedom Walk until their full inclusion is realized. “We will continue to do this until we would have achieved inclusion. And for as long as we have partners in government and in the private sector like SM, then I am confident that slowly we would get there,” Taleon concluded.