MANILA -- On one of my rare visits to City Hall, I was offered a PWD (person with disabilities) card. The fixer’s elevator pitch was quite convincing. For a one-time fee of P4,500, the card would avail me of 20 percent discount on necessities and even some luxuries. I would be exempted from paying value added tax or VAT on most purchases. I could also skip queues almost anywhere, from MRT lines to bank tellers.
Believe me I was tempted. I like discounts as much as anyone (maybe more judging by how many times I have written about how to get one). I chickened out at that time for two reasons: one, I was not comfortable falsifying documents in broad daylight; and two, I wasn’t sure I could use it around family and friends who know I am still in full possession of all my faculties.
That was years ago and there’s a new mayor in town. The fixer may no longer be there or may have survived the changing of the political guards. But a few months ago, I remembered him as I was lining up for a hamburger.
Shake Shack had just opened in my neighborhood and my daughter and I decided to brave the crowds. The line was long, too long that we were even given free cheese fries so as not to leave the queue.
There were two lines: one for regular people like me and another for senior citizens and PWDs. It’s easy enough to spot the seniors but there were two teenagers in the special queue who looked perfectly normal to me, and giggling as they waited their turn.
It was a short wait for both of them and we approached the counter at the same time. Our cashiers were side by side so I saw both present PWD cards and both paid much less than I did for the same food order. I know it was rude but I could not help but stare at the two and wonder how they came to have the cards. Were they legitimate PWDs? Or did they also make the acquaintance of my fixer (or his colleagues) and they said yes where I said no?
With that history, I was not quick to sympathize with the six family members who attempted to use PWD cards at one time with a restaurant without being physically present. Their story first came to my attention through a Facebook post of their family friend defending them from cyber bullying and for the invasion of their PWD privacy.
Since then, many have jumped into the fray including a former senator, an incumbent senator, a cabinet secretary, a city legal officer, the list goes on. We can expect the restaurant to be called to the carpet for sharing the cards in social media even with the blurred photos and first names. There is said to be a planned investigation into the proliferation of fake cards. Meanwhile, the city government that issued the said cards have confirmed the six are not supported by application forms or other documents on record and it is possible that the IDs are fake.
After listening to everyone’s two cents’ worth, I fear that the victims here will not just be the restaurant, or the exposed family, but all the legitimate PWDs who will now have to face greater scrutiny to enjoy benefits due to them by law. PWDs like Roy Moral of Imus, Cavite, who had to use a stretcher to be wheeled to the local office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development so he can claim his emergency subsidy. That government aid will keep him and his family from going hungry during the COVID-19 lockdown so he gritted his teeth and left his house to brave the red tape.
Roy’s story also went viral through Facebook, but he did not get as big an audience as he deserved. His plight showcases how difficult it is to be a PWD, and how they live with disenfranchisement for most of their lives.
According to the Department of Health, at least 1.443 million Filipinos or 1.57 percent of our total population, have a disability. This is based on the results of the 2010 Census of Population and Housing.
PWDs are defined by law as those with long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments. Thanks to Republic Act 10754, they could now enjoy some incentives such as the ones peddled by my fixer.
To get a card, PWDs have to complete a form, attach their photos and a medical certificate that confirms their disability condition and present this to the concerned office in their barangay. Sounds pretty simple and easy enough with my fixer, but it can be very challenging for a PWD with limited mobility like Roy.
With all the heat around PWD cards, will Roy and many others like him be viewed with suspicion each time they attempt to use their benefits? Roy is not the only PWD hard hit by the ongoing health crisis. The Resources for the Blind sounded the alarm that their 100 blind scholars had to stop going to school and many of their parents and breadwinners lost their jobs and sources of income. “We come to you to appeal for these visually impaired children…who require food, daily provision and financial assistance to help them recover, stand up and start anew,” appealed the non-profit.
In the midst of this pandemic that does not look like it will go away anytime soon, and even as we all suffer with income loss or job loss or loss of a loved one, is it too much to look at PWDs with kindness instead of wariness? Looking back, I am ashamed at how I stared at the two teenagers in Shake Shack. I’ll have to trust that the cards are legitimate, and for all my sins, I am hardly in any position to judge or question.
The debate is still raging on who is right: the restaurant or the six family members who all claimed disabilities. People are still choosing sides. Why not choose to spend your time reaching out to PWDs instead? Put your Facebook network to better use. You will find many Roys and blind scholars that will welcome the social media chatter and the help they hopefully will bring.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.