Mabini Presidential Awardee says “we have more abilities than disabilities”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 October) – Engr. Darlito Palermo of Davao City, this year’s recipient of the Apolinario Mabini Presidential Award wants to change the way people think about persons with disabilities (PWDs). “We have more abilities than disabilities,” he says.

This 40-year-old advocate from a humble community here in Agdao, envisions a barrier-free environment where PWDs are recognized as people who can contribute to development.

Engr. Darlito Palermo believes that PWDs have more abilities than disabilities. MindaNews photo by Jesse Pizarro Boga
Engr. Darlito Palermo believes that PWDs have more abilities than disabilities. MindaNews photo by Jesse Pizarro Boga

President Aquino presented the award to Palermo during the awards rites in Malacanang on September 29. He was awarded for his advocacy to provide equal work opportunities, transportation and barrier-free establishments for PWDs.

In his speech praising the awardees, President Aquino said of Palermo: “Kahanga-hanga din ang ating kakapakinig lang na si Engineer Darlito Palermo, na di-alintana ang kondisyon upang maging ganap na inhinyero; siya po ay isa sa pinakaunang PWD youth leader sa Agdao, Davao City” (Also admirable is Engineer Darlito Palermo whose condition did not deter him from becoming an engineer; he is the first PWD youth leader in Agdao, Davao City).

The wheelcahir user Palerm was stricken with polio at age 2.

The Apolinario Mabini Awards is organized by the Philippine Foundation for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled.

Parlermo’s vision of Davao as an inclusive community reflects his eloquence and confidence. At the moment, there is so much to be done bring together PWDs and recognize their potential contributions, he said.


The community’s understanding of PWDs, he said, requires every person to acknowledge their rights—from basic human rights, access to education and health, justice and belongingness – and not treat them as persons to be pitied.

He urged the public to be proactive in creating an environment that is sensitive to the PWD’s needs—like creating PWD-friendly architecture—as reflected by the country’s BP 344 or “an act to enhance the mobility of disabled persons by requiring certain buildings, institutions, establishments, and public utilities to install facilities and other devices.”.

This can go a long way, he said, especially in education.

“Ninety percent of PWDs can’t go to school because of accessibility problems,” he said, noting that several schools do not have environments suited for PWDs.

He said inclusion means there should be participation of PWDs such as the deaf, blind, and paralytic.

“When establishments are not prepared for daily activities of people, including PWDs, it’s difficult for us to be integrated in the community,” he said.

Palermo said it is important for us to work together to help engage the government to work hard on programs suited for PWDs.

He also works as a freelance graphics artist and researcher on the side, thanks to online jobs.

Palermo works for the National Anti-Poverty Commission where he sits as a council member of the region’s PWD sector. His job? To ensure that poverty alleviation programs are implemented from the government to the grassroots level—especially for his sector.

By doing this, he said he can ensure effective meaningful participation of PWDs in society.

He is also the chair of the Association of Differently-Abled Persons, a cooperative of PWDs in the city.

Trailblazing livelihood

An electronics and communications engineer by profession, Palermo is now regularly traveling to Tagum to lead the PWD sector there in operating the Davao del Norte PWD association livelihood center.

This center, based in Purok Baluno, San Isidro, is a half-hectare hub that brings together training ground for PWDs.

Here, his fellow can learn about agri-business, online jobs, steel fabrication, and furniture making.

Convergent fundings from the government, NGOs and cooperatives facilitate the project, emphasizing bayanihan. “CENRO (City Environment and Natural Resources Office) contributed logs for construction, TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) committed to give trainings, and the DOLE (Department of Labore and Employment) gave equipment,” he said. This center can accommodate 50 to 100 persons.

And beyond

He said his passion to be an advocate started back when he was still a sophomore in high school. He was in a PWD training then by the Department of Social Welfare and Development where he now works as an officer who oversees poverty program implementations.

“We have rights in this country that we [and the rest of the public] need to know,” he said, adding that PWD sector won’t be as empowered if these rights are not invoked and acknowledged. “There are so many government programs for the PWDs—from scholarship to employment.”

Growing up, Palermo said that he never felt different from all his other “normal” peers.

In 2006, he was a paralympic athlete who excelled in table tennis.

“I never felt my disability. I was never isolated,” he said, expressing gratitude for this loving and understanding family. He said that his sense of belongingness in his family taught him to be independent and effective in doing house chores that everyone else would do.

No one in the family showed that he’s different. “I was even made to do laundry!” he said. During his grade school days, he became a scout leader—his leadership skills still show up to this day. (Jesse Pizarro Boga / MindaNews)