The Philippines does not lack laws that give emphasis to the importance of empowering persons with disabilities (PWDs) but they are poorly followed, said the New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP), an organization of mostly laryngeal cancer survivors.

The National Statistics Office estimated that 1.57 percent or about 1.44 million Filipinos have some form of disability as of its latest census on PWDs in 2010. Of those with disability, 60 percent or 850,000 are of the working age group of 15-64 years old.

“Despite an unprecedented economic growth of 7.2%, the second highest in Asia next to China, unemployment in the Philippines rose to 25.2% in the last quarter of 2013. This means there are now more than 12 million Filipinos without jobs and experiencing poverty. If these able-bodied labor stock are having difficulty finding employment, imagine how harder it is for PWDs to enter the workforce?,” asked NVAP president Emer Rojas.

Rojas said PWDs face a number of barriers to find employment such as accessibility to transportation and the workplace, discrimination, and a wrong perception that they are less productive that able-bodied workers.

“PWDs are usually deprived to the point of being discriminated of our right to work on equal basis with others. As a result, the PWD sector is seen as a burden to society because of their constant need to rely on welfare and donations from government and private individuals,” said Rojas.

He noted that the county has enough laws that protect the interests of marginalized sectors such as PWDs including measures to help them become economically productive.

“Unfortunately many of these measures are poorly implemented or are taken action at all. A boost to help the PWD sector help themselves would surely make some improvement to poverty alleviation and make their condition better,” Rojas added.

Rojas is the PWD sector representative at the National Anti-Poverty Commission. He is also a recognized health advocate who spearheaded the passage of the Graphic Health Warning Law in June 2014 which also aims to save lives through health initiatives.

He said PWDs see hope after the government approved the implementing rules and regulations of Executive Order 417 which mandates all national government agencies and state-run corporations to allot at least one percent of their annual budget for programs that will benefit the sector. Signed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2005, it was only in March this year when the IRR was signed by the heads of the Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

EO417 addresses the need for government to provide capitalization for PWD livelihood activities including support for technical skills through the labor department, local government units and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). It also mandates government agencies to procure 10% of their required goods and services from PWD organizations.

“The major reason why many PWD enterprises fail is because of the lack of market for their products. The PWDs are usually taught enough skills to engage into business but we are left to compete in the regular market. EO417 assures the sustainability of the PWD livelihood activity by assuring the continuous demand for their products since the main market is the government,” explains Rojas.

Rojas said NVAP is hopeful that government agencies and financial institutions will comply with EO417’s provisions and see the potential of this measure in terms of poverty alleviation.

Rojas said the British Embassy is supporting NVAP on an awareness campaign anchored on EO417.

“The British Embassy is happy to partner with NVAP on this project that sees the full potential of persons with disabilities. PWDs, like the rest of us, should be given equal opportunities to use their talents and skills so they can be productive members of society and feel that they are part of nation building,” said British Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad. “The British government believes that empowering the marginalized sector is a major key to the achievement of the millennium development goals and to the quest for sustainable development of the county,” the Ambassador added.