The Pinoy with disabilities during disasters

What are the protocols for the evacuation of Pinoys with disabilities during disasters?

In cases of disasters, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council has it all figured out. We duck, cover and hold and await rescue in the event of disastrous events such as super typhoons and earthquakes. We have drills that practice our readiness, but there seems to be no such readiness for evacuating persons with disabilities. So this writer asked the NDRRMC on such protocols aimed specifically for PWDs. What I received was a nicely worded reply, one that would have reassured anyone. In essence, the NDRRMC has “empowered” the local communities in formulating their own protocols for the evacuation and post-disaster care of persons with disabilities in their area.

To me, this sounded something like ‘bahala na kayo sa buhay nyo’ though no such meaning was overtly conveyed.

PWDs are not usually in any government agency’s Christmas list mainly because there isn’t much of the PWDs to go around. According to the 2010 Census of population and housing, it has been said that only 1.7% of the Filipino population are disabled. There will be no new and updated statistics of the PWDs in the Philippines until 2018. Back in 2010, the Philippine population was at 92.3 million. With 1.7% of this number being disabled, there would have been only approximately 156,900 or so members of the PWD community in the entire country.

This lack of correct and verified data impedes the development of more timely initiatives, measures and even amendments to existing laws governing the welfare management of PWDs.

This true number of PWDs has grown exponentially in the years after 2010. The seven categories (mental disability, learning, visual, hearing, orthopedic disabilities from chronic illnesses and psychosocial disability) that qualify anyone for PWD benefits have resulted in a higher number of PWDs than expected as the implementing rules and regulations of R.A. 10754 spells out in definite terms who is disabled and who is not. Many PWDs and PWD advocates believe that the stats on the disabled may have more than quadrupled, considering that many senior citizens later become disabled because of old age or some complication of a pre-existing condition. If numbers are a consideration for any form of warranted attention, it is very likely that the slice of the population that are disabled warrants that kind of attention and that attention is needed immediately.

As in the case of natural disasters.

It has been documented that in the farthest provinces, some people would go back for their pets and livestock to rescue them but would leave their disabled relatives citing immobility as the primary excuse. Sadly there are some PWDs are left by their own relatives to chance for their survival during natural disasters. One example is a child with disabilities living with his family in Samar who was later diagnosed to be schizophrenic. Because of the family’s ignorance and unwillingness to bring him to a qualified professional for treatment, he was placed in a cage no taller than 4 feet where he could only squat and do a fetal pose. When a typhoon hit the town, the PWD was abandoned and left to die. Luckily, the cage protected him from falling debris and rescuers found him the next day. Social workers got him the care he needed and because of the right meds that cost only P75 a day, the PWD is now able to become a functional member of society, working for a living and being able to care for himself.

The care of PWDs does not end with evacuation. Post-disaster, the PWD needs to be cared for continuously until he/she is reunited with the family. A child with autism who might have gotten separated from the family during evacuation will have a traumatic experience adjusting to the life in the evacuation centers. This is why it is also important that all evacuation centers have qualified professionals who can provide a more nurturing and caring environment for PWDs with various kinds of disabilities.

Disaster risk reduction measures for PWDs must be handled as a national issue, not just like a passing inconvenience to be remedied by the local government or a small band of community managers.

The rescue of the PWD is part of our commitment to the international community when we signed into the United Nations program called No One Left Behind. The program is contained in a set of goals directed at the member countries achieving sustainable development by the year 2030. This includes the Philippines and how we treat our PWDs will have a serious impact on our nation’s pace in achieving sustainable development. We can no longer allow the institutionalization of the maltreatment of Pinoys with disabilities and justify this by saying that it’s no one’s fault. Culpability for this injustice will always fall on the shoulders of the generation who did nothing to educate and create awareness for the rights of the and privileges of the PWDs so that all citizens are given fair treatment and are contributories to the country’s long term goals. Without regard for our PWDs, we are creating a chunk of the population that will become burdens to society, a situation that the PWDs do not want to be in.

Thus the need for the Philippines to have laws that define the protocols for the conduct and management of our PWDs. We are people too and we are no different from the non-disabled citizens. We also want to work and live independently, get good health care and not be a burden to our families. We must push for a national policy on disaster risk reduction management protocols for the PWDs, and may this national policy become the guide for all succeeding policies and initiatives that will reintegrate the PWD with the labor force, schools and nation-building activities.

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