The College of Arts and Humanities, in cooperation with the Office on Women Gender and Development, has just recently hosted a Forum on PWD Rights and Pertinent Laws. Judging from the reception of the audience, mostly composed of students under the BS Social Work program, this is one of the most significant developments in the College of Arts and Humanities in recent history.

It was a very meaningful event that was held at the CAH Audio Visual Hall, as it was laden with a lot of moments to laugh and moments to be emotional.

Ms. Ruby Gan of Baguio City, a personal friend of CAH Dean Gabilyn Orilla, was the first speaker to be introduced. Immediately she made an impact as she was there to share her extraordinary experiences of having to go through many trials in life as a blind person. One of these is having to study in a normal school (i.e., a regular school attended by children who can see normally).

Through determination, she was able to achieve the unthinkable. She became a well-known landscaper and horticulturist in California.

“When I graduated I had all different kinds of odd jobs,” she shared. “To start a business I opened up a garden shop. I did all the planting, trimming and landscaping. Typically I go to the area (where I would do my design), I talk to the owner and ask what he wants for the garden. I cannot draw but I can give (my clients) an idea.”

She came to the PSU along with a special companion. She brought along her guide dog named Marky, a black female Labrador Retriever who has been helping her around for the past several years.

“I met Marky 8 years ago. I was trained on how to handle a guide dog. Guide dogs can go anywhere a person can go. They are allowed in restaurants and movie theaters. Anyone who prohibits guide dogs can even be held liable,” said Ms. Gan, who also appealed to the audience to help educate the public about guide dogs.

She underscored one of the challenges of owning guide dogs here in the Philippines saying that if for instance Marky is attacked by a stray dog, she will “lose her eyes.” She went on to share that having service dogs around can benefit even those who are on wheelchairs and those who are deaf.

Ms. Gan offered a parting shot that left most of the audience in tears.

“Do not be afraid of handicapped people. It’s a not a contagious disease. When you see us, you greet us, ‘magandang hapon po’, ‘magandang umaga po’. Wag kayong matakot. Ipakita din ninyo sa kanila na tao din sila,” she said.

Mr. Hayden Plizardo was also there to share about the rights of persons with disabilities, he himself suffering from a condition which has required him to use a wheelchair for most of his life.

Quick to emphasize the bottom line of his strong stance he shared, “We are human beings in all aspects of life. We have dignity and honor. We have the right to be here.”

He cited a number of Republic Acts that have been used as a basis to protect the rights of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs). Among many other critical topics closely concerning PWDs, he talked about issues such as name calling, the right to work and the right to vote, as he addressed a fully packed CAH AVH.

Mr. Hayden Plizardo is a very popular personality within the Palawan Community, mostly known for his frequent squabbles with some of those who have shown utter disregard for PWDs. For instance, he once came out in the news for reprimanding a tricycle driver who refused to let him ride. The driver paid dearly for this mistake.

“Ako na yata ang pinakamaraming pina-impound na sasakyan dito sa PPS. Ayaw mong magpasakay? Puwes, magkikita tayo sa LTO,” he said as he was cheered on by a fully engaged audience.

“If there is no one complaining, there is no law that will be implemented,” said Mr. Plizardo, who is also known to have had run-ins with several business establishments, particularly some drug stores for not giving discounts to otherwise deserving PWDs.

Most people recognize that many times he has chosen to take on some difficult and sometimes unpleasant responsibilities. Mr. Plizardo has fought to inspire and encourage the public to respect Persons With Disabilities.

He elaborated further on the situation of PWDs in Puerto Princesa. He said, “There are almost 4,000 PWDs here in Puerto Princesa. We are trying to enhance the program so that all these people will get assistance.”

One particular question asked by a member of the audience was with regard to the possible punishments given to those who abuse PWDs.

“For verbal and non-verbal ridicule, a fine of not less than 50k but not exceeding 100k, or imprisonment of not less than 6 months or not exceeding 2 years. This is just for the first offense,” said Mr. Plizardo.

Clearly, Mr. Hayden Plizardo has kept up with the challenges of the times by becoming one of the highest authorities in Palawan in terms of PWDs and other related matters. He has helped out many PWDs inside and outside of Puerto Princesa and he has made many PWDs aware of their rights as dignified human beings.

Dr. Gabilyn G. Orilla summed up the event’s success by emphasizing the significance of having over Ms. Ruby Gan and Mr. Hayden Plizardo.

“You are very lucky to have listened to our guests today. They have shared with us their perspectives towards the stark realities that you will be facing as you embark on your careers in Social Work,” she said. “From the bottom of my heart I thank Ms. Ruby Gan and Mr. Hayden Plizardo for the important lessons they shared with us today.”