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    Different, Not Disabled

    18 July 2016

    Message at the “See What I Can Do” On Children With Disabilities Exhibit Opening of UNICEF and Camera Club of the Philippines, SM MOA

    What do Tom Cruise, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, and George Washington have in common? They all had learning disabilities. Einstein did not speak until age 3, George Washington could barely write, and Tom Cruise is severely dyslexic.

    What do Helen Keller, Beethoven, and Stephen Hawking have in common? The answer is that they all have physical difficulties.

    And yet all of them are known around the world for the great things that they have done for humanity.

    Imagine what would have happened if somebody failed to notice their brilliance as a child. Or they were excluded in their communities. Can we even imagine the loss we as a specie would have suffered?

    If I could go back in time, I want to know how these giants of humanity overcame their difficulties and how they were empowered enough to let their talents shine. The people who develop the will and the discipline to thrive in tight and dark corners are the ones who redefine reality and make the world a better place.

    But the environment that refuses to exclude anyone — most of all those who by birth or by circumstance find themselves different from the rest of the world — does not happen by accident.

    We all have to create that environment. We all have to go beyond our normal schedules, see beyond our usual concerns, feel beyond our usual frustrations and aspirations.

    Unless we do, we would be no better than those who fail to respect the rights of children and especially the rights of persons and children with disabilities. Ignoring them is almost the same as hurting them.

    This event does more than recognize the rights of children and especially of children with disabilities. It celebrates their ability to rise beyond the unique circumstances that make them different. It makes us all see their triumphs as a testament that anyone in this world can rise above any difficulty.

    After all, aren’t we all disabled in a way? Don’t we all have some sort of difficulty, sometimes visible and sometimes invisible? Doesn’t all these images inspire each one of us to be audacious enough to face our fears?

    So, congratulations to the UNICEF and the Camera Club of the Philippines, SM Supermalls family, Tanghalang Pilipino, and Physicians for Peace for this thoughtful exhibit. We hope that it allows each one who are blessed to see these pictures to treat a differently abled child better, to hold their hand longer, and to teach them of their own unique power.

    UNICEF has done much in this arena, and for all your work, the Filipino people are truly grateful. Likewise, Philhealth benefits for children with disabilities including wheelchairs, prostheses and orthoses, hearing aids, rehabilitation services for developmental delays like autism, ADHD and cerebral palsy, white can and special eyeglasses and electronic aids for the vision-impaired have been instrumental in changing the future of many of our citizens.

    Thank you once again UNICEF.

    Expressing this advocacy through images is a powerful way of furthering our cause so thank you Camera Club of UNICEF. But if you can’t take a decent photo, that’s ok. There are many other ways we can create that inclusive environment.

    Congress tried to do its part. In 1992, Congress enacted the Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child saw this as proof of our country’s commitment to fulfill its obligations under the Convention ratified by our country in 1990.

    Since then, Congress enacted the Anti-Child Labor, Anti-Violence against Women and their Children, Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, Anti-Child Pornography, Foster Care, Anti-Bullying.

    There are still pending bills on child protection that must be legislated such as: Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict, Raising the Age of Consent to Determine Statutory Rape, Civil Registration and the Positive Discipline and Anti-Corporal Punishment bill, and an act establishing special education or SPED centers for children with special needs in all public schools.

    The last one is particularly powerful. As you all know, it is prohibitively expensive for poor families to give a good education to children with special needs. The ability to get a good education early on in life will mean the difference between exclusion and inclusion. If this bill is passed, we would have given inclusivity a big boost.

    In our work in housing, which we have already begun as soon as the President gave us the position of Housing Secretary, we will design communities—not just houses—and make them friendly to those who are differently abled.

    If we design communities with those who have special needs in mind, I am positive that everyone will benefit, and we would be literally reshaping our world to become a better one. Such was the case when somebody thought of text messaging. Did you know it was originally designed for the deaf? See how everyone uses it now.

    The Office of the Vice President has also chosen five areas as its priority in our mission for inclusivity. These five are hunger and food security, universal healthcare, rural development, education, and people empowerment.

    In each of these priority areas, there are spaces for policy on protecting the rights of children with special needs. Children who are different may have difficulty getting the nutrition they need, the healthcare they need, the education they need, and the empowerment they need.

    Children in our society are not often allowed to speak, so much more those who have disabilities. That is why WE must be on their side. Please be assured that we will include those who are differently abled in our plans.

    Maybe not many of you know, Jess’ family has a rare genetic disease that causes blindness in the family. Despite this difficulty, there was much commitment to excellence and learning in their family.

    Even when his dad was afflicted with the loss of eyesight, he continued to study books and in fact built a boat with his children as his eyes and hands. Jess would come home immediately after school to read for his father. He shunned alcohol and even the usual teenage social life—always focused on his family.

    Thus, this desire to create inclusive communities is something that is very personal to me. Maybe the same is true for many of you. But as we elevate the discussion and give more people space to engage and be part of this movement, we hope that everybody can make this their own personal issue.

    Thank you all so much for listening and allowing me to share this afternoon with you. I am looking forward to enjoying the exhibit.

    Posted in Speeches on Jul 18, 2016