MANILA, Philippines - Low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific made it clear that it does not discriminate against persons with special needs, reacting to reports that its cabin crew attempted to offload a passenger with a developmental disability to comply with company policy.
In a statement released Thursday, the Gokongwei-led airline said the incident was "a result of the cabin crew's misinterpretation of government regulations designed to assure the safety of passengers."
"Cebu Pacific has no policy that discriminates against persons with special needs," Cebu Pacific said.
Earlier, Marites Alcantara told ABS-CBN News that Cebu Pacific's purser and cabin crew pressured her and her son, John Arvin, to get off the plane bound for Manila from Hong Kong last December 23. (Read: Cebu Pacific hit for refusing 'special child' passenger)
Alcantara said the crew members flatly told her that John Arvin is a special child and is banned from boarding Cebu Pacific planes based on company rules.
As a result, she said they may file civil and criminal charges against the airline and its crew. (Read: Mom of special child mulls discrimination charges vs Cebu Pacific)
Cebu Pacific, for its part, said it has apologized to Alcantara and her son regarding the incident.
"It has also taken all the necessary measures to make sure similar incidents do not happen again and that passengers with special needs are properly attended to," the airline said.
Reacting to reports, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Leila de Lima scored the cabin crew of Cebu Pacific over its alleged discrimination against John Arvin, who had Global Developmental Delay.
Global Developmental Delay is a condition that impedes the normal development of a child's faculties.
"Special children require special attention and protection. And by special attention, we do not mean attention that discriminates unfavorably against the child. If the attention does not serve to accommodate and facilitate equal enjoyment of the same rights and privileges that other persons enjoy, then it is clearly prohibited," de Lima said in a statement.
Citing the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons or Republic Act 7277, de Lima said the refusal to convey a passenger by reason of disability is considered discrimination.
"Whether or not there is a Cebu Pacific policy against freely accommodating the disabled has yet to be seen. All things told, however, I cannot imagine how such policy can be worded without violating the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons," she said.
"I am particularly concerned over this alleged policy because I am a mother of a special child...there are no words to describe how important it is to parents, such as Ms. Alcantara, that their children be treated with the same regard as other children despite their disability," she added.
Review policies, train employees
Given this incident, de Lima urged airlines and other public utilities to review their policies and make necessary changes to make sure that they comply with RA 7277.
She also called for a mandatory human rights training for employees of common carriers like Cebu Pacific to make sure that its frontline personnel are sensitive to the concerns of special children, the disabled, and their companions.
"As far as the damages caused to Ms. Alcantara are concerned, let us allow the judicial process to decide. But beyond that, I think this incident is an eye-opener for airlines and other public utilities, because in their line of work, which is a public service, they must be fully accommodating of every segment of the public, disabled or not," de Lima said.