MANILA - Two women survivors who lost their legs in the Bar exam blast in 2010 now champion the cause for persons with disabilities (PWDs), among other advocacies, as public servants of their respective communities.
Raissa Laurel and Jokat Ledda made sure to turn their painful ordeal into something inspiring that would not only help them heal in the process, but reach out to more people in need.
Both won as reelectionist councilors in the May 13 midterm polls with Laurel winning in San Juan City, and Ledda, in her hometown in Balaoan, La Union.
"Mahirap po, very challenging. May time na nagsugat po yung stumps ko but syempre hindi pwedeng tumigil lalo po't mahirap laban namin sa San Juan," Laurel said of the campaign season where she had to climb up stairs to meet her constituents.
The uneven terrain in her town also made it hard for Ledda to campaign.
"Nagsusugat, nagbi-blister...yun ang kalaban mo. I make it a point na kung hindi malakad, nagmomotor ako papunta doon sa area," said Ledda.
Ledda said she joined politics shortly after deciding to return to her hometown to serve there for good.
"Eksakto there was a vacant spot doon sa binubuong line up. Mas malaki ang magiging reach ko if I enter politics and at the same time, I practice my profession," Ledda said.
But it was different for Laurel. She said she was given that opportunity in 2015 after getting a call from Sen. JV Ejercito to join their ticket.
"I prayed about it, nag yes ako, alam kong mahirap," Laurel said.
The two were batchmates and were standing side by side during the festive Bar exam salubong in September 26, 2010.
"We were waiting for our friends who took the exam. Magkatabi po kami. After the blast, nagkatalsik na kami," recalled Laurel who lost both her legs.
Ledda said she felt something hitting her leg and the next thing she knew, she was on the floor. She lost her left leg in the incident.
"Yung mga tao nagtatakbuhan. Oh my goodness, kaya pala hindi ako makatayo kasi mangled na siya," she said.
The first thing that came to mind and continued to play repeatedly, was the thought that she shouldn't die or cannot die for the sake of her parents.
Laurel remembered it like a movie playing in slow motion.
"Pagkatalsik for me parang nag slow-mo lahat and then I saw my right leg mangled talaga so I knew hindi na talagang kayang i-save," she said.
She also shared a near-death vision wherein she saw herself entering a courtroom in a wheelchair.
"Naniniwala po ako na 'yun po yung way ni God of telling me na I cannot walk again using my own feet. Badly injured po ako, mangled and sobrang sakit and muntik na po akong mag white light moment because I had a 2-percent chance of survival," she said.
While they are thankful to be alive today, both expressed their gratitude to their families and friends who became their support group throughout the entire process.
"Normal lang to feel sad about it. My support group, my family and friends, they were always there. Lagi nila akong pinapatawa and my faith po, naniniwala akong everything happens for a purpose," Laurel said.
Ledda admits that some people still treat them differently because of their physical incapacities, but this did not hinder them from pressing on with their dreams.
Laurel said she used her experience to come up with her campaign message: RAIS UP.
"My name is Raissa, so RAIS UP, meaning po nung tumayo tayo despite obstacles, challenges in life," she said.
She said the free parking for senior citizens, benefits for indigent PWDs, and the creation of the City Anti-Drug Abuse Council office are just some of her achievements as a public servant in San Juan.
For her part, Ledda said she is most proud of three ordinances she was able to pass as town councilor. These are: organizing the PWD association and the creation of the PWD Affairs Office; co-sponsoring the ordinance prohibiting the use of plastics; and, prohibiting the burning of agricultural waste.
Given their fresh mandate to serve, both look forward to crafting more legislation that would benefit their constituents.