COMMENTARY: Raising a 5-year old PWD is no joke

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 April) — My five year old son Pablo says that when he grows up, he’d like to be a Katipunero and fight for freedom and fight the bad people. I tell him oh you don’t have to wait till you’re older for that. When you fight for your rights, even if you are only 5, you are like a Katipunero. When people laugh at you, jokes and makes fun of your autism stripes and you tell them that is bad because it’s discriminating and it’s not inclusive (yes I introduce and explain big words to him), you are already like a Katipunero. I reminded him that his teachers always remind him and his classmates not to laugh at others when they are different or talk or do things differently because it’s bad.

Pablo has been diagnosed as Autistic before his 4th his birthday. Everyone who knows us and our family knows how happy and smart Pablo is and how we, as parents together with our family and friends, are trying our best to raise him into a gender-sensitive, culturally sensitive, caring for the environment, inclusive, peace and freedom loving, just, and God-loving person as we dream every Mindanawon and human being should be.

When the developmental pediatrician explained to me the diagnosis it deeply hurt that everything we knew about our son was a symptom of autism. Trained as an anthropologist, I am oriented that people come in different packages and that I should accept and act on the diagnosis because time was of the essence for early intervention. Other parents take it really very hard and go on a long period of denial. I understand because it’s really difficult — you question what did you do wrong, what went wrong, will you be able to afford therapies at all given that you could hardly make both ends meet? Would you be able to afford progressive schools when prescribed? Would he be able to keep up with school at all? Even if diagnosed as highly intelligent, would he be able to take a job because of his social skills? Will he fall in love? You take it one day at a time.

Meanwhile, in your everyday, your greatest, greatest fear as a parent is — was my child stared at, laughed at, became a subject of jokes, bullied, and discriminated because he is differently abled?

This is why I am deeply enraged with the joke cracked by Mayor Duterte on PWDs during his campaign sortie in Aklan. I am equally indignant with all the people who laughed at the joke and defended him on the issue. The National Council on Disabled Affairs has already declared the joke as a violation of Magna Carta 9442 or the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons. It is also a violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWD).

Please do not tell me that despite those jokes, Mayor supports the PWDs in Davao. I know that by heart. Knowing the rights and privileges enshrined in RA 9442, I applied for a PWD Card in CSSDO. His PWD card was signed by the Mayor. When I applied at the MSSDO, I was immediately told to queue for my son’s gift from the Mayor during the PWD Party in December (I didn’t go).

But you see, jokes about PWDs, as joke about rape, are not a laughing matter. Why should we be careful with our jokes? Because language does not merely reflect our reality. More powerfully, it also shapes it. While the latter promotes and perpetuates the machismo and rape culture, the former promotes and perpetuates discrimination and Social Darwinism — you know the theory that says only the fittest survive. If you must know, this was the theory used to justify European colonization as well as racism. Internally, this was the theory used to justify the denial of government welfare. Pushed to the extreme, this was used to justify eugenics by Hitler in Nazi Germany.

When I heard the PWD joke and the people laughing at it — I felt sick in the stomach. There is something fundamentally wrong here as there was something fundamentally wrong when the rape joke was cracked, laughed at and defended. It’s so sickening because you see how people think and feel on these issues and how the act sends the signs that it’s okay to rape, it’s okay to bully, it’s okay to discriminate, it’s okay to exclude — progressive city programs notwithstanding.

Even with only eight years of living in Davao, I know that this is not the culture that built Davao to be what it is today. Davao was built not by Duterte alone but in partnership and collaboration with a critically engaged civil society. You think that the laws being implemented in Davao City now just came in a snap because the Mayor thought of them? No, they these were a product of informed, critical, and rigorous debates and very active lobbying and advocacy. You want to replicate these in the whole country, then let’s educate ourselves on how to recognize, respect, protect, and promote fundamental human rights. Rights are never given. They are fought for. At 5, my son knows that by heart. That is why he dreams to be a Katipunero.

Meanwhile, given the violations of The Magna Carta on Disabled Persons and the people laughing at it, it appears that I and my Little Katipunero have an uphill battle to wage.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Eizel P. Hilario is an anthropologist currently teaching at the Ateneo de Davao University. For most of her professional life she has worked in support of indigenous peoples rights, especially in relation to ancestral domains and rights to self-governance and self-determination issues. Eizel also contributes to the advancement of women’s rights. Pablo has turned her into a Persons with Disabilities (PWD) advocate as well, a role she fully embraces).