MANILA, Philippines – Legislators and cause-oriented groups scored Cebu Pacific for discriminating against special children on board a Manila-bound flight.
Two parents with special children publicly complained that the crew of the Gokongwei-led airline tried to bump them off before the flight departed from Hong Kong last December 23.
Marites Alcantara, mother of a 14-year old child with Global Development Delay, a development disorder, and Estella Santos, mother of a 4-year old child with Down Syndrome, individually recounted to ABS-CBN the trauma they experienced from the efforts of the flight crew to deplane them.
The crew members and the pilot misunderstood an aviation safety policy that disallows having two passengers with mental conditions on the same flight. The policy, however, was not intended for special children.
The airline has admitted the fault and apologized for it.
“The incident exemplifies how various forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities persist in our society and how much work needs to be done to rectify these,” Sen. Pia Cayetano, the principal author of Republic Act 7277, or the Magna Carta on Disabled Persons, said in a statement.
Sen. Cayetano, however, welcomed the airline’s apology and stressed the importance for “all airlines and transport facilities to review their respective policies on conveying people with disabilities.”
She cited section 34 of RA 7277, which states that “any franchisees, operators or personnel of sea, land and air transportation facilities” are considered to be discriminating against special children when these “refuse to convey a passenger by reason of his or her disability."
For his part, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. warned about the possibility of revoking the franchise of Cebu Pacific.
The airline industry in the Philippines remains a highly regulated business with air routes for privately held airlines, like Cebu Pacific, still limited by bilateral or multi-lateral air services.
In a statement, Sen. Revilla Jr., who chairs the Senate committee on public services, said Cebu Pacific could lose its franchise for disallowing more than one special child on board.
"Their policy might be a ground for the revocation of their franchise," Sen. Revilla said, citing the law on Special Protection of Children Against Abuse.
“What Cebu Pacific did was highly humiliating to the mother, much more to the child." Sen. Revilla added.
The incident highlights the need for more information and awareness campaigns on the rights of children and persons with special disabilities, according to Gwen Pimentel, president of the Association of Child-Caring Agencies of the Philippines.
In a statement on Friday, Pimentel said, “The airline crew should have been more considerate towards Mrs. Alcantara and her son. Special children should be treated with sensitivity and compassion by society because of their difficult condition.”
She specifically cited section 34 on public transportation of the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons (Republic Act 7277) which provides: "It shall be considered discrimination for the franchisees or operators and personnel of sea, land and air transportation to charge higher fare or to refuse to convey a passenger, his orthopedic devices, personal effects, and merchandise by reason of his disability."
She said, while the reported public apology of airline management is welcomed, the incident should prod the Cebu Pacific and other aviation firms to review their respective policies in accommodating persons with disabilities and ensure that their rights and dignity as human beings are not disregarded or undermined.