Converting ex-critics into supporters

Leyte Representative and senatorial candidate Martin Romualdez may not know it yet, but he is in for a pleasant surprise—victory in the senatorial derby on Monday.

In the outgoing Congress, Romualdez was the principal exponent of legislation for more extensive rights for persons with disabilities (PWDs), far more encompassing than those currently enjoyed by handicapped individuals. His message to his colleagues in Congress was crystal clear—the existing laws governing PWDs treat disabled persons as if they belong to a burdensome sector of society, and these must be changed.

For Romualdez, existing laws made it seem as if the number of PWDs in the country was negligible, almost minimal. He was particularly alarmed at the marked increase in the number of very young children in the depressed areas who are afflicted with disabling diseases which are curable, but are often overlooked for reasons of poverty.

Romualdez wanted a law that not only codified the rights of PWDs and the legal obligations of government agencies and private establishments in the treatment of the afflicted. He wanted a law that elevated PWDs, the children in particular, to a status equal to any other Filipino, instead of being treated as sidelined taxpayers who are exploited but ignored.

Early this year, Romualdez got what he had worked for zealously. Congress finally approved a draft law embodying everything that Romualdez envisioned and aspired for—a magna carta for PWDs.

There was a slight problem, though. Romualdez had wanted the draft law approved as early as 2015 to keep it away from the dividing flames that engulf the government each time the election season draws near. Sufficient distance from the election season, Romualdez theorized, will somehow insulate the draft law from the adversarial character of Philippine partisan politics and increase the chances of its approval by President Benigno Aquino III, a known political opponent of Romualdez. Truth to tell, a veto from the president was all that was needed to derail the draft law effectively. Should that happen, there will be too little time left for Congress to convene and muster an extraordinary majority to override the president’s veto.

Eventually, the draft law was on the president’s desk, and both time and the timing were not on Romualdez’ side.

Call it Divine Intervention, luck, or something else, but in the end, Romualdez’ efforts were rewarded when President Aquino crossed party lines and approved the draft law. The magna carta for PWDs was now a law of the land, and it gave every disabled person in the Philippines new hope in an uncaring, often hostile, political and social landscape.

Prompt in acknowledging the role of President Aquino in this legislation, Romualdez likewise crossed party lines to thank the president for his help in the speedy enactment of this much-needed piece of legislation, even during these highly polarized times.

As expected, however, Romualdez’ critics quickly denounced the new law as a campaign measure designed to court the votes of the PWDs in the country. The cynics even went to the extent of saying that there was hardly anything new about the Romualdez pro-PWD statute, a statement which obviously indicates that these critics never read the law and its extensive provisions.

Romualdez believes that the opinion which counts the most is that from the PWDs themselves. Ever since the law was realized, many Filipino PWDs have expressed their thanks and appreciation to Romualdez through the social media, letters to newspapers of general circulation, and even by way of handwritten letters addressed to Romualdez himself.

Just recently, a number of netizens found out in the social media that far from being a political gimmick to gain votes, Romualdez’ magna carta for PWDs was the product of his decades-long interest and concern in the plight of disabled persons. At the early age of 15, Romualdez had already immersed himself in the company of younger, disabled kids, many of whom were hardly above 10 years old, to learn what ails them and, more importantly, what fortunate persons like him could do to help them live their lives like regular individuals.

The young Romualdez’ observations and aspirations for the juvenile PWDs are memorialized in the book TO BE THEMSELVES: A TEENAGER’S INSPIRING LOOK AT THE WORLD OF MULTI-HANDICAPPED CHILDREN written by Romualdez himself when he was 15, and published by Prentice-Hall. At 15, this book makes Romualdez one of the youngest book authors of the 20th century. Sadly, the book is out of print, but it is described in some detail in a number of websites operated by international booksellers.

It must be emphasized that the information found in the social media did not come directly from Romualdez. Surprisingly, it was provided by people who learned about his book and who accessed a number of its photographs showing Romualdez in the company of the youthful PWDs. One of those photographs show Romualdez actually mingling with the disabled children. Another one made a browser say that the young Romualdez was a convincing look-alike of the late 1970s screen actor Alfie Anido.

Particularly heartwarming was a letter written by a young businessman who, by the way he wrote, was one who took his right of suffrage very seriously, almost to the point of considering suffrage a sacred right. The businessman revealed that when he first heard of Romualdez’ PWD law, he was skeptical about the sincerity of the law’s principal author and dismissed it as a campaign gimmick. He further disclosed that when he learned through the social media that Romualdez’ advocacy went as far back as when he was 15, and that there was proof of it, he changed his mind about Romualdez and resolved to include him in his ballot. Earlier, the businessman said hell will freeze over first before he supports Romualdez. That has changed.

If enough voters come across the on-line account of Romualdez’ noble advocacy for disabled persons, then Romualdez will win additional supporters in his senatorial bid when the ballots are cast this Monday.

Topics: Victor Avecilla , Converting ex-critics into supporters , Rep. Martin Romualdez , persons with disabilities , PWDs
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