Recovering from a near-fatal road crash

Text By: Buena Bernal || Photos By: Dante V. Diosina, Jr.

MANILA, Philippines – Photojournalist Dante V. Diosina Jr was on his way with his brother, cousin and a group of friends to a small coastal town east of Manila to celebrate his 25th birthday.

The group was in a convoy he led riding his Yamaha NMAX scooter, recently purchased using money from a freelance photography assignment he did documenting agricultural and fisheries production in Southern Philippines for an international newswire.

Approaching an uphill curve in one of the roads notorious for vehicular collisions, he suffered a near-fatal crash.

He was overtaking some vehicles due to traffic when a jeepney and his scooter barreled head-to-head into each other.

Both his scooter and the private jeepney’s bumper were wrecked by the collision.

He had already pulled on the brake lever, but the jeepney was way too close and occupying most of the lane. He attempted to swerve to the other side, but knew it was a futile attempt.

Around a meter and a half in distance away from the incoming vehicle and amid the screeching sound of his two wheels decelerating, Diosina already closed his eyes knowing full well it would end in a crash.

Photo supplied

Diosina ended up with a splintered hip, femur (thigh bone) and wrist, which all but looked like jigsaw puzzles in his X-ray slides. He did not suffer any head injury, with his US$100 helmet still intact on his head when his friends and some onlookers found him all broken on the road. 

The 2004 World Report in Road Traffic Injury Prevention revealed that head trauma is said to be the main cause of road crash deaths, accounting to around 75% of the deaths.

Diosina regained consciousness as a crowd gathered around him.

Nakita ko ‘yung kaliwa kong kamay. Bali ‘yung wrist. Nabali siya. Naka-letter S. Nag-curve… Pag tingin ko sa hita ko, ‘yung paa ko nasa bewang,” Diosina says in an interview with Workers of PH, explaining his recollection of the moment right after the crash.

[TRANSLATION: I saw my left hand. My wrist was broken. It was fractured. It was in the shape of the letter ‘S’. It was curved… When I looked at my thigh, my foot was already on my hip.]

Sourced photo
Sourced photo

His family would later on learn from the cops that, just a few weeks ago, a couple had died from another crash on that same spot.

In the days and months following the collision, Diosina was totally dependent on others for his basic movements.

He would be unable to move his body from the neck down, which meant he required assistance even just to eat and drink through a straw. He can only relieve himself from his hospital bed, with the help of adult diapers.

It took a year from the date of his crash before his movements went back to normal. Each day in the recovery process was a necessary step for him to return to doing what he loved. He is now back on the field as a photojournalist, just like he was before physically but much more stronger emotionally.

Following a successful six-hour-long operation that inserted titanium plates into the fractured areas of his body, Diosina had to undergo months-long physical therapy. Diosina’s doctor had recommended to his family the in-house physical therapist of a hospital near their home.

Mr. Lyle Patrick Tangcuangco, who runs a private physical therapy practice, explains that a motor vehicular crash patient and his or her family should seek a physical therapist or physiotherapist as soon as possible.

“This is to have the best recovery or to have the optimal recovery for the patient and also to prevent what we call secondary complications from the injury,” Tangcuangco told Workers of PH in an interview.

Tangcuangco received his Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy major in Orthopedics from the University of Santo Tomas, where he is currently a faculty member.

He explains that the process of physical recovery will be unique for every road crash patient.

“Recovery will never be the same for everybody even if two patients had the same demographics and type of injury. This is why we physical therapists or physiotherapists assess and create a personalized rehabilitation program for each patient,” he explained.


Tangcuangco added that recovery speed will “heavily depend on several factors” including the severity of the injury of the patient, his or her age and prior health conditions before the crash, the time or stage of injury during which the patient and his or her family sought a consultation, as well as the strict adherence of the patient and the support of his or her family to the rehabilitation program.

He says a patient’s injury could be as simple as a muscle strain or as complex as a traumatic brain injury.

Diosina admits there were several times especially in the beginning of his recovery period when he would compare himself to his peers, who were hard at work while he lay in bed all day.  

Noong una kasi maiingit ka, makakakita ka ng mga tumatakbo, naglalakad. Tapos makikita mo sa social media mga katrabaho mo dati, nagagawa pa rin ‘yung trabaho nila, ikaw hindi,” he said.

[TRANSLATION: At first, you’ll feel envy as you see others who are able to run, able to walk. Then you’ll see via social media your colleagues in the past who are still able to do their work while you can’t.]

He says it doesn’t always get to you. But on days when there is nothing else to think about, nothing else to talk about, and time seems slow, it does get to you.


You think of what life could be instead if things did not go wayward, if the lane was not too narrow, if the road was not curved, if the driver of the incoming jeepney only drove a little slower.

There are the days and the moments when the what if‘s are all that matters.

Ms. Kay Vardeleon, counseling psychologist at the Childfam-Possibilities Psychosocial Services, explains that “symptoms like mood changes, flashbacks of events, stress reactions when faced with any reminder of the event, sleep or eating pattern changes as well as fears to expose one’s self to related situations such as riding a vehicle are normal within the first couple of weeks after the critical incident.”

“It would be helpful to remember that traumatic events are abnormal situations in a person’s life — that is, they are events that don’t usually happen everyday. Thus, if you are experiencing these symptoms, it doesn’t mean that you’re weak or mentally ill. Give yourself time,” she explained in an interview with Workers Of PH.

Vardeleon says that finding a way to express your feelings, surrounding yourself with supportive loved ones, and engaging in relaxing activities such as breathing exercises or mindful meditation can be done while at this stage.

“Family members should normalize these responses and offer support or understanding, instead of judgment or impatience,” she added.

Emotional support along with opportunities to process the event is very much needed in most cases, according to Vardeleon.

“When memories of the event become recurrent and excessively intrusive, you can employ what is called grounding techniques which means using your five senses—sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight—to immediately connect you with the here and now,” Vardeleon explained.

“Examples of grounding can be stopping to notice colors and patterns in the objects around you, singing a song, biting a lemon, or smelling pleasant aromas like lavender or peppermint,” she added.

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When you notice that symptoms may be prolonged, intense or difficult to manage, Vardeleon says professional mental health support can also be considered.

“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is the diagnosis given to a person who has been exposed to a traumatic event and presents with stress symptoms for more than one month,” she explains.

Vardeleon says PTSD symptoms include re-experiencing flashbacks, nightmares or involuntary intrusive thoughts related to the event, persistent avoidance of trauma-related thoughts or feelings or trauma-related external reminders such as people, places or activities, avoidance of anything that will remind one’s self of the traumatic incident, feeling keyed up — what is called hyperarousal — or being excessively alert in case a new traumatic event happens, having difficulty sleeping, and having alternations in mood such as being sad or depressed or being angry or irritable.

“PTSD symptoms can happen immediately after the traumatic incident, or even after some time has passed,” she explained.

Vardeleon adds it is best to contact a mental health professional such as a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist for proper assessment and therapy if you suspect that you may have PTSD.

“With the right diagnosis and treatment, a person suffering PTSD can make a full recovery,” she says.


Diosina said even the physical recovery process entailed emotional resilience, as one could sometimes be impatient with the results.

Noong mga first month noong kalalagay pa lang ’yung bakal kasi, as in hindi ko magalaw ‘yung paa ko. Wala siyang pakiramdam. So parang although sinasabi naman ng doktor na makakalakad, pero kasi hangang hindi ko nakikita na gumagalaw ‘yung paa ko hindi ako naniniwala,” he said.

[TRANSLATION: During the first month of my recovery, when the titanium plates were just placed in the fractured areas, I couldn’t move my leg yet. I couldn’t feel it. Although the doctor was saying I can walk again, it was difficult for me to take the doctor at his word until I could see my leg move.]

Pero ang ginawa ko noon, lahat ng therapy noon ginawa ko, sunod sunod, hangang sa naramdaman ko na lahat ‘yung buong paa ko gumagalaw,” he said of the year-long process.

[TRANSLATION: But what I did then, I did all the therapy exercises, one after another, until I could feel my whole leg moving again.]

Physical therapist Tangcuangco explains that a physical therapist or physiotherapist also provides patients with home programs that they can easily apply on their own, on top of the patient’s treatment with the professional.

“We usually see and treat the patients two to three times a week. In between those days, the patient with his or her family should adhere to the home therapy or program that the physical therapist or physiotherapist instructed. This will significantly help and hasten the recovery of the patient,” he said.

Diosina also advises those still undergoing recovery to trust the process.

Huwag na huwag kang titigil sa therapy, sa exercise kasi iyon talaga ‘yung makakapagpabalik ng lakas ng katawan mo,” he encouraged, despite being in pain during some of these exercises. 

[TRANSLATION: Don’t stop with your therapy and exercise because that is really what will bring back your body’s strength.]

Photo supplied
Final CT scan after a year of physical therapy. Photo by Buena Bernal

Mr. Tangcuangco said that aside from adherence to the physical therapy or physiotherapy program, family support is also an important factor in the “fast and optimum recovery of the patient.”

Counseling psychologist Vardeleon also explains that events that are potentially traumatic can significantly impact a person’s psychological well-being, not just his or her physical well-being.

“Remember that you’re resilient; tapping into your reservoir of coping skills will greatly help,” she advised.

Diosina encourages those undergoing recovery from a road crash injury to not be weighed down by negative thoughts for too long.

Makinig ka sa doktor at saka tatatagan mo sarili mo,” he said. [TRANSLATION: Listen to the doctor, and be strong.]

Higit sa lahat, doon sa mga pamilya, sa mga ka-partner… huwag na huwag sila papabayaan kasi iyon ‘yung time na kailangan talaga nila kayo,” he said.

[TRANSLATION: Most of all, to the family members, to the partners of road crash survivors, don’t ever neglect them during their recovery because that is the time when they need you the most.] (END) –


This story was produced under the Bloomberg Initiative Global Road Safety Media Fellowship implemented by the World Health Organization, the Department of Transportation in the Philippines and Vera Files. The author is closely related to the article’s primary subject and served as his caregiver in the recovery process.


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#WorkersWhoBike: Ditching cars for good

Text By: Buena Bernal || Photos By: Vera Files

MANILA, Philippines – Government data shows majority of road fatalities in the Philippines are riders of two-wheelers such as bicycles and motorcycles at 66%, with pedestrians coming second at 22%.

At least one Philippines City, Pasig City, is seeking to prioritize pedestrians over cars in its road policies.

The city is looking into partnering with the private sector in subsidizing bike-sharing not just for Pasig City residents but also for residents of other cities who go to work in Pasig. The city hosts a vibrant business district that relies on professionals who come even from the outskirts of the Philippines’ urban center Metro Manila.

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Already, the city is providing greater incentive for the designation of bike parking spaces in commercial buildings. It has also constructed elevated crossways in crucial road intersections to ensure efficient passage and mobility of pedestrians.

At the cornerstone of these efforts is Mr. Robert Anthony Siy, Pasig City Transport Development Management Officer.

Anyone who has heard Mr. Siy speak in public about his advocacy of keeping the city’s roads safe knows he speaks about it with a sparkle in his eye, as if it is his life’s mission. 

Those who have sat through one of his road safety talks relegate his bright-eyed idealism to his youth. But as we continue our series called #WorkersWhoBike, we learn more about the man getting the ball rolling in Pasig City.

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In this short Q&A with Workers of PH, Mr. Siy shares how his journey to ditching car use for good started all while maintaining his resolute belief that making our roads safe and accessible to road users of all kinds should be a priority for Metro Manila.

Q: Why do you/did you used to bike to work?

A: “My biking started because my fiance (at the time girlfriend) moved to a place where parking was scarce and difficult. So I started riding a folding bike to go see her. After I started riding a bike to see her, I thought of using the bike to go to work. I started in November 2017 and haven’t looked back to using a car! But since that time, I’ve bought and started using an electric kick scooter so I don’t bike to work as much. Still no plans of going back to driving a car.”

Q: From your experience, how dangerous are Manila’s roads for a biker?

A: “Manila’s roads are dangerous for bikers. One thing you notice about Manila is that only strong, fit bikers can commute on a regular basis because you need the fitness and skills to keep up with traffic and avoid being hit by motor vehicles. Road surface conditions are also poor and there is a good chance of injury from potholes and other deformations in the pavement. At night, poor lighting conditions increase the danger from all causes. However, successful cycling cities are those which promote biking for all ages and abilities and this is where Manila should be headed.”

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Q: What policies do you wish the government or businesses enforced for the safety of bikers?

A: “The government has a responsibility to provide safe streets for all users, especially vulnerable users such as bikers. Besides constructing bike lanes that provide physical protection from motor vehicle traffic, the government can improve safety of bikers by enforcing reasonable speed limits, providing adequate street lighting and sidewalks, and improving public transport stops and service. I mention the last part because erratic PUV driving poses a danger to bikers who often ride close to the curb. What is good for public transport and walking tends to also be good for biking, so the government should prioritize these forms of sustainable transport.”

Compared to motorists and pedestrians, there aren’t many #WorkersWhoBike yet. But by sharing their stories, perhaps another person would be encouraged to follow suit or would at least be a little kinder to those who do in order to help make our roads safer. (END) –


This story was produced under the Bloomberg Initiative Global Road Safety Media Fellowship implemented by the World Health Organization, the Department of Transportation in the Philippines and Vera Files.



#WorkersWhoBike: Biking not just for recreation

By: Buena Bernal

A quick search of #BikersLog on social networking site Twitter provides you snippets of journalist Robert JA Basilio Jr’s journey as a cyclist.

Mr. Basilio has been biking to work for half a decade now.

In one log, he shares how he chose the two-wheeled ride that day even when the weather was uncooperative. In another, he narrates how a driver of a public utility vehicle tried to sideswipe him, a water delivery truck driver refused to respect his right of way and rabid dogs ran after him.

As part of a series called #WorkersWhoBike, Workers of PH caught up with Mr. Basilio about his thoughts on biking as a mode of transportation. In this short Q&A, Mr. Basilio talks about motor vehicles being used as weapons on the road and the ways authorities can help bikers like him.

Q: Why do you bike to work?

A: “I used to go to the gym irregularly. I then decided to ride a road bike to get to the gym. A few days later, it dawned on me: If I can get to the gym on my bike, I pretty much could go anywhere on my bike. And when I was able to regularly ride my bike to work — at that time I was working in Pasig — I realized that I had no need to take public transportation at all.

On top of all that, riding a bike to work not only allows you to exercise, it also gives a point to riding a bike — because you have somewhere to go to. I’m more of that kind of cyclist than, say, those who ride for recreation, not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

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Q: From your experience, how dangerous are Manila’s roads for a biker?

A: “It takes courage to ride a bike regularly on Metro Manila’s roads. But having said that, it’s not as dangerous as it looks. To get to their destinations, cyclists can always take side roads or take the highways, which when congested are pretty safe since vehicles are forced to slow down. Otherwise, highways are generally wide, allowing cyclists to just take the rightmost side of the right lane. Again, having said that, cyclists should wear helmets and install lights on their bikes to ensure that they are seen when riding at night.

It takes practice on the part of the cyclist to commute by bike and respect on the part of the vehicle driver. Unfortunately, car owners and drivers — of which I was once — use their vehicles most of the time as weapons against other road users. That kind of attitude — and the dangerous consequences of failing to address its root causes — poses as the larger threat to the safety of road users. Weaponizing vehicles is premised on road entitlement — that drivers are just the only class of people entitled to use the road. And that’s absolutely unjust. As the bike to work slogan says: We all should share the road.”

Q: What policies do you wish the government or businesses enforced for the safety of bikers?

A: “Government should install bike lanes. That may not work out for all roads — and I personally feel it won’t work at all and I bike to work — but signs and other road indicators that bike lanes are available will at least make other road users aware that cyclists are road users too.

Government should make it easier for other road users to report incidents of abuse committed by drivers.

Government should de-emphasize the importance of private motor vehicles as a form of transport. After all, the era of the motor car is very, very slowly coming to an end. Besides investing in public transport infrastructure, the government should also stop putting much importance on cars when planning and/or designing cities.

Government should prompt buses and trains to allow bikes onboard. That’s a long shot — as with other biking policies — but it has got to start somewhere.

Government should allow bike parking in all public buildings. It should also install showers to encourage more people to bike to work.

The same goes for the private sector. Besides allowing bike parking on their properties, they should make it easier for cyclists to park their bikes. Some malls already have bike parking but they are either located on the basement or on higher floors, locations which make it difficult for cyclists to access them. The private sector should also make showers available for cyclists.

Compared to motorists and pedestrians, there aren’t many #WorkersWhoBike yet. But by sharing their stories, perhaps another person would be encouraged to follow suit or would at least be a little kinder to those who do in order to help make our roads safer. (END) –


This story was produced under the Bloomberg Initiative Global Road Safety Media Fellowship implemented by the World Health Organization, the Department of Transportation in the Philippines and Vera Files.



A motorcycle crash left this man unconscious for 3 days

By: Buena Bernal

Fred Estonilla, then 28, was tired from a night of work driving a container van carrying some 6 tonnes of ready-to-wear clothing from his boss’ warehouse to the what is called Pier 15 at the port in the Philippines’ capital Manila.

But he couldn’t just rest or sleep right away after hours of work on the road. The workers’ quarters he stayed at provided by his long-time employer was in Cavite, south of the capital, still an hour or so drive away.

Trucks are usually only permitted to pass through Manila’s roads late in the evening, so Fred starts his work in the supply chain industry at 10:00 pm. He finishes his trip in the wee hours while everyone else is at home sleeping.

From Manila, he drives home to his quarters in Cavite in a motorcycle, one he’s proud of for having bought using money from his backbreaking labor.

Estonilla has been driving for a living since his teenage days. At 19, he started earning by driving passengers using his boss’ jeepney, a type of public transport vehicle in the Philippines.

Estonilla is now 43, still driving for a living, only this time for a media company.

As a driver, Estonilla is always alert and remembers roads even in the dark, even when it’s his first time in the area. The moment he returns to the same once-unfamiliar set of roads, he’s known it like the back of his hand. One visit is all it takes. It is part of his hard-earned wisdom as a driver.

He has spent most of his adult life on the road. There was a time he felt like its king, like everything was within his control.

But the year 2002 changed his life.

On his way home from a night of work as a truck driver in Manila, while on his beloved motorcycle at full speed in Cavite’s roads, Estonilla hit one of two cows running after each other in the middle of the street seemingly out of nowhere. The impact of the crash was aggravated by the speed at which Estonilla was driving.

“The road there is like many in the provinces. You can see the road is clear as far as your eyes can see,” he explained in the vernacular in an interview with Workers Of PH.

The next few scenes went by too fast for him to even recall now. Just a second after realizing the four-legged animal ahead of him was too close as he attempted to pull the brake lever, Estonilla’s vision went pitch black. Everything was a blur from there.

He spent 3 days at the intensive care unit of the De La Salle University Medical Center in Cavite, unconscious. His loved ones were about to pull the plug on him. On the third day, he regained consciousness. He had vowed on that day to never drive a motorcycle again.

In the Philippines, road crashes claim some 27 lives a day. Globally, it is the 9th top cause of human deaths, accounting to an estimated 1.24 million lives yearly.

The 2004 World Report in Road Traffic Injury Prevention revealed that head trauma is said to be the main cause of road crash deaths and morbidity, accounting to around 75% of the deaths. Estonilla said he was wearing the helmet that came free with the purchase of his motorcycle. Imagine where he’d be if he didn’t wear one.

These tragedies on our highways and streets are rarely caused by a single factor.

Road safety advocates explain that ensuring crashes in our roads don’t end up as fatal incidents is always a multidimensional challenge.

“There are a lot of factors. There is no single roadblock,” explained Dr. Ronaldo Quintana of the World Health Organization.

“There’s no road safety silver bullet that will solve this problem,” explained lawyer Sophia San Luis, executive director of the non-profit Imagine Law.

Imagine Law is a law organization specializing in public policy development and research on topics including road safety and public health.

San Luis says the challenge starts in changing perceptions.

“When you call it an accident, that is what you are perpetuating. That it is unexpected and unexplainable… It is very rarely unexpected,” she says.

A tire failure, for example, is linked to vehicle overloading and tire underinflation.

Photos sourced from subject

In the case of Estonilla, he admits he had thought the road was all his as no other vehicles were in sight.

He also admits letting his guard down and being a little too confident, as it’s the same highway he’s been traversing in the dark every night after his work shift ends.

But San Luis says there are also common myths about road crashes that need to be debunked.

“It’s very rarely just the driver who is at fault,” she says.

“The owners didn’t secure the leash of the cows,” Estonilla also explained.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more deaths and economic costs caused by road crashes in low- to mid-income countries than in developed ones.

WHO’s Quintana says low- to mid-income countries usually do not have enough road safety legislation, have less strict implementation of existing road safety laws, have poorer road conditions, and may have more vehicles with questionable road worthiness.

San Luis explains that motorists in low- to middle-income countries like the Philippines are still in the process of acquiring vehicles.

“These countries are still developing, which means they’re still going through rapid motorization,” she says.

She also explained that holistic interventions that need to be strictly enforced are the key to preventing fatal crashes.

Among these laws is one pending in Congress, a measure mandating child restraints in all vehicles with children on board.

“While there are robust road safety laws, it doesn’t show in the data…. Because enforcement hasn’t kept up,” she added.

But the Philippine government says it is working to beat these problems.

The Philippines is taking a leaf from the playbook of Singapore, ranked by a 2017 World Economic Forum report as second out of 137 countries in terms of road quality, next only to the United Arab Emirates.

The Philippines’ transportation department says the country signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise for the inception, design and realization of an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) in the regional capital Metro Manila.

This will include intelligent traffic lights and signs as well as a traffic control center for integrated traffic management, among others.

Greater use of technology in managing Manila’s roads is expected to avoid human errors in flagging road policy violators. It is also seen to combat widespread corruption in the form of bribes to enforcers during apprehensions.

Currently, there is a technical working group coordinating with Singapore for the finalization of the feasibility study on the planned ITS.

A pending law also seeks to ban bus terminals along the region’s intercity thoroughfare, EDSA Avenue, as well as create so-called friendship routes that private vehicles can pass through in gated villages and subdivisions.

Beyond the use of technology, one Philippines City, Pasig City, is seeking to prioritize pedestrians over cars in its road policies — subsidizing bike-sharing, providing greater incentive for the designation of bike parking spaces in commercial buildings, and constructing elevated crossways in crucial road intersections to ensure efficient passage and mobility of pedestrians.

State figures show 22% of road fatalities in the Philippines are pedestrians, second only to riders of two-wheelers such as motorcycles at 66%.

As for Fred Estonilla, he did return to driving a motorcycle five years after the collision but this time with much more caution and wisdom on the road.

“To be more alert and know that anything can happen,” he says of his greatest lesson from his life-altering crash.

Estonilla says he now steers the wheel with more mindfulness, patience and humility compared to his younger years.

He has since fathered two children, with another one on the way. (END) –


This story was produced under the Bloomberg Initiative Global Road Safety Media Fellowship implemented by the World Health Organization, the Department of Transportation in the Philippines and Vera Files.



Philippines marriage equality fight draws first-timers to pride parade

Text By: Buena Bernal || Photos By: Dante Diosina, Jr.

MARIKINA CITY, PHILIPPINES — D* and M* have been in same-sex relationships for almost a decade now, but this is both their first time participating in a gay pride parade here in the Philippines.

D and M (Opening)

They say they flocked to the 2018 Metro Manila Pride March on June 30 with friends in part due to the visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) issues in Philippine media in recent days. There’s been more attention after the Philippines High Court heard arguments on a historic petition seeking marriage equality.

“Because of what happened recently, my resolve became stronger — that the community needs to be united,” M* explained in a mix of English and Filipino.

Over two decades have passed since the first organized gay pride march in the Philippines, said to be the first in the region.


But levels of tolerance are not necessarily translating to equality; that is, to LGBTQ people having the same set of demandable rights as heterosexuals.

A local survey released June 30 by nonprofit Social Weather Stations showed only 22% of Filipinos support same-sex marriage in the Philippines.

Same-sex marriage petitioner Jesus Falcis admits he has at times doubted himself, given the barrage of criticisms about how he supposedly failed to consolidate the views of the LGBT community in the Philippines before he filed his historic petition that is expected to set legal precedent on the definition of marriage in the country.

“Sometimes it makes me question if I’m doing the right thing, if I’m going to be the cause for the LGBT movement to suffer setbacks,” petitioner Falcis shared in an interview.

But to partners and pride parade first-timers D* and M*, the rallying call for marriage equality in the Philippines made them feel that they now have a larger stake in the movement.

Concerns on society’s readiness were also raised by critics of Falcis’ court plea challenging the constitutionality of select provisions of the Family Code, which limited marriage to opposite-sex partners.


Philippines Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen even went as far as to imply in his interpellation of same-sex petitioner Jesus Falcis that society or at least the court justices first needed to learn queer theory concepts of gender identity, gender expression and the likes before a reasoned debate about same-sex marriage can commence. This unusually high bar of understanding such theoretical abstractions as a prerequisite to granting a right enjoyed by all shows how disadvantaged the sector is.

Falcis has maintained that society’s readiness is out of the debate. The question, he said in a separate television interview, is not whether heterosexuals are ready for same-sex marriage but whether the LGBTQ community is ready. They are the ones to benefit from the right after all.

M* said marriage would be part of their plan if only it was accessible to people like them. D* and M*, now both mid-career young professionals, have been together for the past 6 months.

For 3 years, M* had always noticed D* at work but never made the first move to avoid workplace complications. In December last year, having thought M* had no interest, D* reached out by messaging M* via social media. The interest, it turned out, was mutual.

Self-proclaimed foreign missionary John Hannula believes people like D* and M* hate God.

John Hannula

Hannula wielded a Bible at the Metro Manila Pride March, as he stood at the venue entrance shouting that “gays, homosexuals, transgenders would all go to hell.”

“I’m here because I’m a missionary,” Hannula, who came from the United States but has been in the Philippines for over two years now, said in an interview. “I’m here not to judge the people,” he said.

“You hate God!” bewailed Hannula each time he pointed his finger at an LGBT supporter who passed by.

Hannula said people have been listening to him here at the pride parade — a claim belied by the loud music blaring through the speakers, the absence of an audience focused on him, and the murmurs of those entering the venue questioning why his small group of “haters” couldn’t just let them celebrate with friends without reproach in the space allotted to them for the duration of the pride march.

“Most of them have said: What’s the point? There’s no God,” Hannula said, insisting he has engaged in productive dialogue with people at the march.

“IT’S NOT OK to be GAY!” read the signage held by one of his companions.


Critics of marriage equality, however, are not confined to those who think of homosexuality as inherently evil. There is division within the movement itself.

Falcis said critics surfaced the same year he filed the same-sex marriage petition before the country’s top court.

The Philippines government through Solicitor-General Jose Calida argued before the Supreme Court that the Constitution defines marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. While the actual text of the Philippines Charter does not explicitly say this, Mr. Calida said that was the intent of the framers of the Philippines Constitution as shown in a transcript of them voting on the matter.

Justice Marvic Leonen aptly pointed out that the Constitution’s power is derived from the Filipino people, who had ratified by plebiscite the 1987 Constitution. He explained that Filipinos involved in the plebiscite ratified the Charter based on its actual text and not the debates behind its framing. He also pointed out that the outcome of these debates in the framing of the Charter is not necessarily a strict legal prescription but can have persuasive effect on the Constitution’s present interpretation.

But Leonen also tagged Falcis’ petition as “dangerous” for even bringing up the issue. Now, he said, the Court will be forced to rule on what the Constitutional definition of marriage is.

The hope of the movement, of course, is for the Court to rule in favor of marriage equality.


Falcis, who was also present at the pride march, said the initial debate within the Philippine LGBT movement was between prioritizing fighting for an anti-discrimination bill in Congress and fighting for marriage equality. This debate opened up as early as 2015 when he filed his petition.

“Initially, since 2015, I was getting disheartened because of flak from the movement due to disagreement as to strategy and priorities” he explained.

“But now in 2018, more people as in more people have told me they support the cause and are happy that someone is pushing for it,” he added.

John Baluyot, a global product manager at a business firm who is currently in a long-term same-sex relationship with his partner Mark, says he feels bad over lost opportunity more than anything else.

“I live a great life with Mark now, without the [marriage] certificate. But we can live it a lot better especially if that marriage will make it easier for us to adopt kids that we can both parent,” he said in an interview.

“I know we will make great parents and there is so much love in both our families. The kids that we will have, I have a good feeling, will be outstanding citizens, if not more,” he added.


Supreme Court Justice Samuel Martires raised a flurry of questions that drove the point of equality during his interpellation of the government’s main defender, Philippines Solicitor-General Jose Calida: “Why do we have to discriminate against same-sex marriage?” “Are not gay people, the lesbians capable of loving like heterosexuals?” “Why are we allowing marriages between criminals and yet will not recognize marriage between a man and a man and a woman and a woman?” “Why is the state so indifferent to the happiness of these people?” “Are we not just affected by our religious beliefs?”

Eighty percent of the Philippines’ population of 100 million are followers of Roman Catholicism, which frowns upon homosexuality.

This drives many to hide their gender identities and suppress expressing these identities when at the company of people they fear would not accept them.


Despite the tight-knit culture their industry is known for, D* and M* started out not being open about their relationship at work.

Workmates eventually learned about their same-sex relationship through social media, and M* has since been relieved he no longer needed to repress his gender identity at least at work.

“The relief was overwhelming. It was as if the entire time I was walking with only one foot, and when I came out, I could finally walk on both feet,” M* explained in Filipino.

He hopes that one day he can do the same before his parents.

But while he’s not there yet and Philippines society has yet to view marriage equality in a positive light, he’s here out and proud in what he feels is a safe space with a community he finally got to publicly celebrate his identity with.

“I feel proud. Finally, I got to experience that feeling that I’m not alone,” M* said about his first gay pride march. (END) –


*Interview subjects preferred not to reveal their identities



Guimaras’ miniature galleon-makers

Text By: Buena Bernal || Photos By: Dante Diosina, Jr.

BUENAVISTA, GUIMARAS, Philippines – In this village of intergenerational artisans, men of the household do the carving of “Duldol” (Kapok tree) wood while women stitch the canvass fabric for the miniature galleons exclusively made in the island since 1948 after World War II.


It was in this post-war era that people of Rizal village in Buenavista town started crafting miniature boats for either sale or barter with foreigners  – among them, American, Greek, Chinese, and Japanase traders  – passing through the port in Guimaras Island.


The carved boats started with the simplest of designs now among the variety of miniature boats sold today. Forefathers of present craftsmen began with a model of what locals call “paraw”, a boat with two projecting sails originating in the Visayas region.

Today, the village artisans could make multi-decked model vessels of much more complicated and detailed structures from the classic cruise boats or wooden yachts with multiple sails, galleons or the cargo ships of the 16th to 18th centuries, to old wooden frigates or warships complete with details of canons and barrels.


A 60-inch galleon takes as long as a month to make but can be sold in international trade fairs for as high as P14,000.

Men and women in this village across generations know the craft by heart that their talent and skill no longer shocks them. But a close inspection of each model galleon only further drives the point that these can only be done by an expert craftsman. (END) –




Tobacco control: What about the supply side?

Text By: Buena Bernal || Photos By: Ezra Acayan

BALAOAN, LA UNION, Philippines – There are no more bills to pay, no more children to send to school, no more house to build, but Manong (Older Brother) Dominador ‘Domeng’ C. Clemente and his wife don’t even need an alarm clock to jolt them up from sleep at 5 in the morning to head to their 3-hectare tobacco farm.


The couple of 33 years no longer remembers a year in their life when their family and the generations of families before them did not harvest tobacco.

Tobacco is life, money, family, and community to them.


But it is also a fatal peril for many others.

Almost 48% of male adults and 9% of female adults in the Philippines are smokers as of 2009. That is some 17.3 million smokers who are susceptible to preventable causes of disease, disability, and premature deaths.

Smoking is a habit that dies hard.

In the town of Balaoan, the labor-intensive farming for this crop is also a means of living that is hard to shake off.


Mang Domeng’s eldest daughter is already a nurse in Taiwan. His two other children finished criminology and education courses respectively from their parents’ hard-earned tobacco money.

They tell their aging father who only understand them in the vernacular to stop growing tobacco. We no longer need it, they say. He doesn’t have to.


But Mang Domeng keeps renting a plot of land from an arendo (a local landowner) so he can be with his workers from morning till noon.

At the farm, they cut the tobacco leaves that prior to harvest serve as their canopy at noon when they eat together.


The leaf is both product and protection from sunlight for them.

The taller the plant, the better the yield. Class double A to A, as the big-time tobacco company classifiers would say. The types that can be sold at P80 per kilo.


The taller the plant, the higher also is their canopy.

At lunch, the women in their lives bring food for the tobacco farmers. Meat is served. They whisper to each other that it is cat meat, but eat and laugh like tomorrow’s never coming. Bottled soft drinks are passed on from a pail of crushed ice.

Finding refuge from the sun, the farmers squat on the narrow strip of soil in their field dividing the tobacco plants into rows. Their hands all greasy from the resin of the plants during harvest.


Mang Domeng leads about a dozen workers, tells them to gather the leaves early this time, assures everyone there will be no work in the field when the sun shines its brightest that day.

The farmer smiles with the smile of a man at his prime who sees only the good in life. All is well in his tobacco paradise.


Paradise it is for many of these tobacco farmers who prefer the simplicity of cultivating their land for their families, for others’ consumption, and for what they call the tatak (signature) of Balaoan.

In this side of the country, the mere mention of a smoking ban brings residents into reflection.

“A tobacco ban would make our hearts heavy. We paid for our children’s education through farming tobacco,” 49-year-old farmer Hilario O. Olidan said in Filipino.

“We hope they won’t ban tobacco because many will lose their jobs,” he added.


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered a ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces, including inside public transport vehicles and other cars.

One of the premises of Executive Order No. 26 is the belief that “public health takes precedence over any commercial or business interest.”

Duterte recognized that cigarette smoking puts a strain not only on the financial resources of individual households but on public healthcare.

The order dated May 16 points to “scientific evidence [that] has unequivocally established that tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke cause death, disease and disability, lead to devastating health, social, economic and environmental consequences.”

“… an increasing number of Filipinos become afflicted with and die each year of tobacco-related diseases such as stroke, heart disease, emphysema, various cancers and nicotine addiction, and both the public and workers in facilities where smoking is allowed are most at risk from these and other tobacco-related diseases,” the order explains.


While tobacco farmers in Balaoan fear such policy directives, experts assure the public that these measures will not cripple the tobacco farming industry.

“There is no evidence that tobacco control measures will unduly affect our tobacco farmers, to the contrary, reports from the Department of Finance demonstrate that our tobacco exportation has increased,” explained  Dr. Lee P. Yarcia, health law and policy consultant.

Philippine tobacco exportation ensures a market for existing tobacco farmers.


There are 55,533 tobacco farmers in the Philippines, according to data in the years 2010 to 2011. This is 0.16% of the country’s total employment.

But tobacco growing is extremely labor-intensive. It yields relatively low income compared to input costs as well as foreseen negative externalities – i.e., costs to health and public interest that are hard to put a price on.

Houses in Balaoan have burned down because of nearby unattended multistoried fireplaces meant for cooking tobacco leaves. These structures need round-the-clock monitoring for a week after harvest.


“Both under the Sin Tax Law and the WHO (World Health Organization) Framework Convention on Tobacco, we recognize that tobacco farming is an unsustainable and unhealthy practice for our farmers, for our environment, and for the people,” the tobacco control expert added.


Tobacco cultivation is often related to cyclical poverty due to unfair loan conditions as well as diseases due to the poor handling of strong pesticides.

Still, farmers in Balaoan are wary of leaving tobacco farming.


One of the major obstacles for tobacco farmers to diversify their crops is the lack of technical knowledge when it comes to growing other crops, having been used to tobacco growing and trading in their farms.

“The Philippines has both domestic and international commitment to support tobacco farmers shift to alternative livelihood such as engaging in food crop production,” explained Yarcia.


He explained that the sin tax law “guarantees that tobacco-producing regions have earmarked funds from revenues collected from sin taxes.”

A percentage of sin taxes collected from cigarettes is meant to fund programs that would help tobacco farmers to diversify their crops.

The challenge, said Yarcia, is “to ensure implementation of the law so that our farmers will fully benefit from tobacco control measures.”


But it will take more than lip service to elevate the discussion on tobacco control among farmers on the ground.

Education and awareness on the need for effective regulation is scarce in areas like Balaoan.

In Balaoan, current alternative crops such as corn and watermelon provide lower income compared to tobacco due to the lack of a captured market the farmers can directly sell to.

Mutlinational tobacco companies enter into deals with tobacco farmers to gain exclusive purchase of their crops, providing a sure income for land lease holders like Mang Domeng and a guaranteed return for the months-long labor of his workers. These giant cigarette firms also extend pre-harvest loans meant for fertilizers and pesticides.

Statutory law also grants incentives for local governments in the form of tobacco excise taxes.

Other crops are simply not given the same attention as tobacco in both public policy and private investments.


Not only that. In a town reliant on tobacco farming, tobacco has an impact on the most important elements of human life.

Tobacco farming provides liquidity, has strong emotional resonance among families who survive and thrive through selling smoked and dried tobacco leaves to cigarette companies, and has become part of people’s daily routines.

The dignity in the work that they do is something Balaoan’s tobacco farmers take pride in.


“What else will we do? What else will we plant?” asked Mang Domeng’s wife, convinced that there is no other alternative.

But this is far from the truth, if only shifting perceptions on the ground is prioritized as part of the transition process and if only food crops are subsidized in national laws the way tobacco is.


Tobacco farming is indeed systematically entrenched.

Local governments earn from tobacco cultivation through their shares from national taxes. Most farmers also simply rent lands from landowners who are part of associations that have tobacco as their crop of choice.

“It is high time that we implement our policy commitment to pursue genuine and effective tobacco control measures, which includes supply side reduction measures,” said Yarcia. (END) –


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“This story was produced under the ‘Mga Nagbababang Kuwento: Reporting on Tobacco and Sin Tax Media Training and Fellowship Program’ by Probe Media Foundation with the support of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. The grant-giving bodies have no editorial control over content and information-gathering.”



‘This land is ours’

Text By: Buena Bernal || Photos By: Dante Diosina, Jr.

SOFRONIO ESPAÑOLA, PALAWAN, Philippines – Tatang (Old father) Suede walks as if carrying a heavy weight on his back, a perfect slouch for an aging man with a rare lively smile.

He tells you his story somber at first then all at once releasing a laugh with his teeth protruding. A tribesman of his stature has known life at its fullest – not wanting, finding abundance in the land gifted by a divine creator he calls Ama (Father).

Ama,” he begins his prayer. “I thank you for the food before us, for our guests and the love shared among us,” he adds in the vernacular before a meal.


It is hard not to marvel at the beauty of the rough, beaten paths one crosses en route to Tatang Suede’s community, the daunting trees born of nature, scenes that beguile, amuse, provoke thoughts that occasionally drive action, anger, and, the universe forbid, cause desensitization out of intensity.

But when he calls on Ama to thank for their land, one understands the compulsion for gratitude.

Unlike many of the younger generation members of the Palaw’an Tribe in the village of Iraray in Southern Palawan, Tatang Suede knows what it means to not give in to the seemingly manufactured needs of this progressively consumerist society.


“There was a time one peso can last a family for a month,” Tatang Suede, tribal chief and folk healer, shares.

But nowadays, when a member of the tribe sees a dayo (non-native) with a purchased good that was not always a household staple, one feels a want to have. The need for possession comes only after comparing life to the other.


Suddenly, they could no longer prepare their own coffee and needed 3-in-1 pre-mixed coffee powders in sachets. Suddenly, the collective chanting was not enough for entertainment and they needed transistor radios to keep their minds off of their continuing struggle as indigenous peoples to overcome barriers to marginalization and social neglect in part due to their geographically isolated communities.


The daily burdens faced by indigenous peoples, who are among the most marginalized sectors in their localities, are no secret.


Some of the areas in Iraray village have yet to be distinguished as ancestral domains by law. Despite being the de facto sanctuary of indigenous peoples and their ancestors, the tribal families do no hold the title to these lands.


The titles are crucial, as projects both of government and non-profit groups identify IP beneficiaries based on lands that are ancestral domains under law. Their community, for example, have yet to be powered by electricity. At night, they rely on battery-operated light. It’s not always a problem for them. The elders know the terrain like the back of their hand. But for younger generations who wish to review their school lessons or do homework at night, it can be quite a challenge.

In the evening, the elders form a circle and exchange stories in open space. One story stands out. It was their first and thus far only time in the city. They had no idea what escalators were for and had to march hand in hand crossing a street, what with all the jeepneys (mini-buses) and cars. Here in the forest, they say, they can never get lost. They’re not terrified at the sight of a wild animal, even a snake. But vehicles in the streets? That’s a different story.


Tatang Suede’s slouch is an apt metaphor for the burden he carries as leader of a tribe seeking to fight what they call the unjust land-grabbing for political gains of a long-dead governor back in the 1970s.


Tatang Suede shares that the titles to the land where they and their ancestors’ have lived were named after members of a powerful local religious sect known for currying political favors.


Elders of the tribe swear by their ancestors that the individuals whose names appear on the land titles have never set foot on the land they proudly call their children’s inheritance.


“All my children have tried their luck in the city, living with their families there. My favorite son is the one who chose to stay here in our land to help me till it,” explains one elder in the vernacular.


To the tribesmen, their land is sacred and so are the blessings that emanate from this gift of nature.

Beyond issues of land-grabbing, the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples – a state agency with a comprehensive archive on tribes in the Philippines – is also beset with manpower and funding problems.

Items for the instruments needed for the prerequisite perimeter survey prior to the titling of these lands are often taken out of the proposed state budget that is enacted each fiscal year. With limited funding, this means the processing of pending applications for certificates of ancestral domain titles (CADTs) would usually be unduly delayed.


Tatang Suede lives with no regret, as he looks to his wife Nanay (mother) Etha for inspiration.

“No matter what the papers say, those [areas of land] are yours,” Tatang tells his fellow tribesmen, who have yet to see titles bearing their names. (END) –




A marriage thwarted by a massacre

Text By: Buena Bernal || Photo By: Elaine Tiu

MANILA, Philippines – Erlyn Umpal was the fiance of slain UNTV cameraman McGilbert Arriola, among those slaughtered in the Maguindanao massacre of November 23, 2009.

That day, dozens of armed men fired upon 58 civilians including 34 journalists who they brought near a mass grave in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province, where the victims’ lifeless bodies were buried by a state-purchased backhoe like mere gravel.

It is one of the country’s bloodiest election-related incidents since the restoration of democracy and the single deadliest for members of the press, whose lives are put in peril day in and out for the work they do.

Erlyn and McGilbert were supposed to be married December that same year, a month after the unspeakable mass murder.

It was just fourteen days after Erlyn had given birth to their first baby when her fiance McGilbert was gunned down by men who somehow believed they could get away with a mass killing so gruesome that the on-site documentarists of its aftermath shed tears as their camera rolls.

Erlyn and McGilbert’s son would grow up not knowing his biological father.

In 2010, then Justice Secretary Alberto Agra cleared two members of the notorious Ampatuan clan of any wrongdoing in the treacherous slays – the first of many legal blows in the long, arduous battle for justice by victims and family members left behind like Erlyn.

Seven years after the massacre, the struggle continues. (END) –

(Below is an official update as of Nov. 23, 2016 from the Philippines’ Supreme Court on the cases in relation to the mass murder)

SC MEDIA BRIEFING – November 23 (Ampatuan Update) by Buena Bernal on Scribd


Empathy nurtured in workplaces with people with intellectual disabilities

Text By: Buena Bernal || Photos By: Dante Diosina, Jr. 

CARMONA, CAVITE, Philippines – To understand another takes some imagining.

Imagine what it would be like to be him and not you. Internalize another person’s lived experience. Consider that there is a reality different from yours.


Jomarie A. Espinosa‘s weekly routine is that of a typical government worker.

He arrives everyday at the Carmona Municipal Hall at 7:41 am, with or without a flag ceremony.


On Mondays when the flag is raised and they each fall in line at the town plaza, he counts – often accurately – who is and isn’t in line.

Wala sa flag ceremony. Late ka (Not in the flag ceremony. You’re late),” he would later tell the tardy state worker matter-of-factly.

Jomarie, 24, serves as an administrative aide at the town’s treasury office.

He arranges in neatly stacked piles stickers for registered vehicles, bundles them together using a rubber band, and places them inside a wooden box he opens and closes in a repetitive motion.

As he opens the box, his head slightly tilts towards it and he extends his neck to the box’s opening seemingly smelling the government stickers as if they are releasing a sweet aroma.

He does this for a time before he proceeds to explaining the rest of his work with the excitement of a man on the first day of his dream job.

In a rushed tone, he enumerates his tasks while pointing to the varied paraphernalia on his table.

“LTFRB,” he points to the car stickers. “Nagfa-filing kasi ako (I file documents),” he says, as he turns each page of the receipt bundle organized based on their series numbers. “Cedula (Community Tax Certificate),” he shows the paper that citizens need to fill out. “Gugupitin ko (I will cut this),” he adds. “Pag naubos, nagbibigay Kuya Ruel. Sasama ka sa bodega (When the paper runs out, Kuya Ruel gives me a new batch. Are you going with me to the warehouse)?” he says all these, almost without once breathing.


Jomarie actually enjoys these tasks and is proud of the work he does.

“Treasury Office. Administrative aide,” he says slowly as he traces with his fingers the letters to these words written below his name on a paper with his photo plastered to the wall above his table.

Ang boss ko si ‘Tres’ (My boss is ‘Tres’),” he says, referring to the municipal treasurer.

He shows a sample tax certificate he helps seal, and says he brings this first to Ate Norma and then to his boss “Tres” (shortened form of the word treasurer). “Papirma po (Please sign),” he tells the boss.

During mornings when the cashiers are not yet around but there are already clients arriving, he tells the applicant-clients with a toddler’s grin: “Ma’am, Sir, upo po kayo (Ma’am, Sir, please sit down)!”

He enters the treasury office noticing who is gone.

Si Kuya Dondi absent. Absent si Kuya Dondi (Kuya Dondi is absent. He is absent),” he makes the announcement to the office staff.

In truth, Dondi is not absent but is out on a state-sponsored training for government workers. Jomarie has been told this. He just hasn’t remembered.

“Leave?” he asks his supervisor, after he was lovingly corrected. “Ah,” he adds, like an attendance compliance officer.

People with autism like Jomarie are routinely employed in the town of Carmona.


This is Jomarie’s second try at the treasury office. He was first deployed to the revenue collection unit, but he experienced a bout after feeling too much pressure with too little workload. He prefers to be working 8 am to 5 pm nonstop except during scheduled breaks. He likes it when there are jokes passed around and smiles exchanged.

Jomarie walks to a nearby table. “Kuya RJ. Working!” he exclaims to the man in front of a desktop computer, as he gives RJ a high five.

He now works for the licensing unit, which releases business permits for investors in Carmona. He says he is looking forward to the month of January, when the one-stop shop is set up in town for business permit applications. He knows his work is important. He says he will make sure he will be in the January fair.

Under a government circular, these applications need to be processed within 30 minutes. Jomarie is up for the challenge.

On days the applications are scarce, his direct supervisor Teresa P. Laurora assigns him to assist in other units.


Gusto niya laging may trabaho, laging may ginagawa (He wants to be constantly working, constantly on the move),” says Teresa.

A few seconds later, Teresa sheds tears. “Masaya lang po (I’m just happy),” the 20-year government service worker says.

Jomarie remains oblivious of the scene, as if a crying supervisor is a normal occurrence in the workplace.

He walks around, passes documents to other staff members.


“Ballpens, rubber band, stapler,” he notes verbally the supplies he is tasked to get from the warehouse.

On the days he goes to the warehouse, Jomarie is sweat-soaked. But he doesn’t mind. All tasks are equal to him, the way his co-workers are all likeable in his eyes.

“… Kuya RJ, Kuya Aries, Kuya Raffy, Kuya Tutuy,” he makes a list of his favorite co-workers, actually mentioning everyone in the team.

Jomarie’s reality and way of perceiving the world differs from how the world is perceived by many.

What is noisy chatter that needs to be tuned out for many to continue with their tasks may be intolerable ringing to some people with intellectual disabilities. What is simple human touch that to many may signal connection may be an incomprehensible violation of personal space.

Speech pathologist Kenneth R. Dizon says disability exists in all shapes and sizes.

“Some of these ‘hidden’ disabilities include individuals on the Autism spectrum. Individuals on the spectrum experience the world with heightened sensitivity,” Dizon explains in an interview.

“This means that their sense of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting and smelling is amplified. High frequency sounds, flickering lights, pungent odors will be painful and hard for them to manage, which will therefore result to uncontrollable tantrums, spacing out or whining,” he explains further.


In workplaces with people with intellectual disabilities (PWIDs), there has to be a level of accommodation for the special needs of PWIDs. The employer first extends accommodation by hiring PWIDs, but co-workers definitely need to accommodate and attend to these needs to ensure continuity of such a pro-PWID program.

And it is a worthy accommodation.

After Jomarie’s first attempt as an aide at the treasury office, he underwent rehabilitation. There was too much noise, too much jokes, too little tasks at the revenue collection unit. There were also co-workers who took offense from Jomarie’s straightforward comments on attendance and tardiness.

Today, most of them understand him better.

Dizon says there are PWIDs who perceive their environment literally, a trait that PWIDs’ co-workers need to empathize with.

“While individuals with social difficulties may seem conversant at face value, these kids will have difficulties understanding ‘abstractions’ or words that doesn’t have a physical association. These includes understanding jokes, knowing what honesty mean and social rules such as personal space. Crocodile tears may be interpreted as a reptile crying in vain than describing someone who is insincere,” he explains.

There is no denying that people with intellectual disabilities who are willing to sweat for a living should be given a shot in the labor force.


Such a space was also given to PWIDs by Quezon City-based Puzzle Gourmet Store and Café, an establishment that hires people with autism and down syndrome who will work alongside trained kitchen staff.

In Carmona, there is also 20-year-old Raichan Mark O. Dearoz, a shy and quiet young man in the Information Technology department.


Raichan speaks in a hushed tone with his mouth barely opening, like there is a secret to be told.

He was first deployed at the Carmona human resources department, until his supervisor discovered his love for computers.


He not only tinkers with softwares but can actually assemble the computer’s processing unit.


Unlike Jomarie, however, Raichan speaks fluently. Raichan simply lacks the social skills Jomarie is known for.


Early detection of intellectual disabilities helps in tailor-fitting special needs programs in schools.


(Note: NBS cannot detect autism but other intellectual disabilities including down syndrome)

“The causes are varied,” says Dr. Melanie Santillan, head of PhilHealth’s Product Team for Special Benefits, for “limitations on intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior.”

But Dr. Melanie Alcausin, current director of the Newborn Screening Reference Center, explains that preventing intellectual disabilities is one of the main goals of newborn screenings.

“If timely screening is done and if diagnosis is confirmed and management is started early, babies with these metabolic conditions may lead normal and productive lives. Judicious long-term management and strict compliance to medication and treatment are important in achieving this goal,” says Dr. Alcausin.

Photo by Faye Sales
Photo by Faye Sales

“At present, there are two kinds of newborn screening being offered, the basic six-disorder screening and the expanded newborn screening, which screens for 28 disorders. The six disorders are Congenital Hypothyroidism (CH), Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, Phenylketonuria (PKU), Maple syrup Urine disease (MSUD) Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, and Galactosemia. CH, PKU and MSUD may lead to intellectual disabilities if not detected and managed early,” she explains further.

Dr. Mary Antonette Y. Remonte, MDG Team Leader of PhilHealth, also explains that newborn screenings “can be availed of in rural areas… These facilities are located all over the country – rural or urban.”

Each PhilHealth-accredited birthing facility is required to have NBS services.

“As of December 2015 there are 2981 accredited birthing homes,” she says, based on PhilHealth statistics.

There are, however, some areas where birthing facilities are inaccessible to community members.

Not all local public schools have special education centers or programs, despite children from low-income families relying on government institutions for early learning and development.

People with intellectual disabilities battle social stigma, unemployment during working age, as well as exclusion resulting from misinformed biases.

But early detection and subsequent intervention as well as accessibility of special needs programs will hone their abilities and special talents at a much earlier age.

“One of the most important factors to determine success in therapy is early intervention. Once a kid is identified with difficulties in speech, parents need to take an active role in seeking necessary services for the child,” Dizon explains.

In geographically isolated areas, families can rarely afford therapy for their children with intellectual disabilities.

Photo by Faye Sales

In the village of Gais-Guipe in Northern Philippines, the family of 7-year-old Rolando ‘Andoy’ Mercado who was born with down syndrome relies solely on the special education program of the local government for his transition needs. His mother Edna says there are even days Andoy is unable to attend school due to the travel cost and allowance needed. His father Joselito’s earnings as a farmer do not always suffice for him and his siblings.

Dr. Melanie Santillan, head of PhilHealth’s Product Team for Special Benefits, says the state health insurance firm “recently approved the benefits for children with disabilities that shall cover assistive devices and sessions of rehabilitation for development disabilities.”

“The details of operationalization are still being drafted and shall undergo series of stakeholder consultations prior to publication of the circular,” she explains.

In many instances, a simple mention of the name of a person with disability or observations in their behaviour elicits laughter and ridicule.

Photo by Faye Sales

Among his peers, Andoy is called many derogatory names that shame him and relegate him as an anomaly. He is the first to laugh when he is called such things; no tinge of hurt seen in his eyes.

But a simple understanding of PWIDs’ needs can also change this.


Workplaces like that of Carmona and Puzzle have become perfect spaces to expand this understanding.

Napakalaki ang naitulong ng trabaho ko dito sa Puzzle. Dati nakikita ko lang sa publiko ‘yung mga taong may autism at may down syndrome pero hindi ko alam kung bakit at ano ang mga ugali nila (Working in Puzzle is such a big help for me. I only ever see people with intellectual disabilities in public before, but I did not know about their traits),” says 38-year-old kitchen worker Rhodora ‘Dhoray’ Bolina, who now knows better than to laugh at people with similar conditions.


Rhodora says she has learned to help pacify the fears of her PWID-co-workers.

Iyong may ibang pagkakataon kasi… ‘pag nagkamali sila kinakabahan din sila (There are times when they have bouts, like that, not that they are making a scene, it’s just that when they commit a mistake, they start getting scared),” she said.

Kailangan lang din na kausapin sila ng mahinahon na hindi mali ang ginagawa nila at okay lang magkamali (You just need to calmly talk to them that they are doing things right and that it is okay to make mistakes),” she added.


Another Puzzle worker, Edward Caesar C. Lagustan, says his PWID-co-workers are like younger siblings to him having worked at the store for two years.


Parang napalapit na rin po ‘yung loob ko sa kanila kasi hindi po sila iba… at matuturi ko po silang pamilya (I have become closer to them because to me they are not different… I treat them as family),” says Edward.


Kasi po dati, una, parang iba po sila. Pero ngayon noong nakasama ko sila sa mahabang panahon, mas lalo ko naintindian kung bakit sila ganoon (Before, I saw them as different. Now that I’ve interacted with them for a long period, I understand them better),” he explains.

Edward says there are times his PWID-co-workers suddenly stay silent or turn red and cry. He says some of them used to fear cooking oil but now can cook their own snacks, like potato fries and fried chicken.


Carmona revenue collection clerk Nael M. Doblada, Jomarie’s former supervisor, says her work with Jomarie has made her a better parent to her two teenagers whose needs now differ from when they were still pre-adolescents.

Parang siya naging baby namin rito. Para kasing meron kang dapat intindihin… Unawain mo ‘yung sarili niyang diskarte (Jomarie has become like our son here. It’s like there is someone you need to understand better… Empathize with his own strategies),” she explains in tears.

Photo by Buena Bernal

Wilfredo F. Concho, senior administrative assistant and Raychan’s co-worker at the Carmona IT unit, says he learned about “iyong bang sistema ng diplomasya (a system of diplomacy)” that needs to be utilized when dealing with PWIDs.

Jomarie, for his part, adores his office which to him is a space where play and income generation intertwines.

He said of his first salary: “Chicheck ng pera. Bawal mawala. Nilagay ko lang sa bag. Bigay lola ko, tita ko, magulang. Thank you. (I checked the money. It can’t be lost. I placed it in my bag. Gave some to my grandmother, my aunt, my parents. Thank you.)”

May ID yata dito (There is an identification card here)!” he exclaimed when asked why he loves the Carmona town hall’s treasury office.

Luma na ID ko. Pero wala pang bonus (My ID is already old. I have no bonus yet),” he adds immediately, like a balancing act.

Jomarie’s reasons for loving his workplace or at least what he can communicate as his reasons may differ from what binds many to their jobs, certainly not merely their work identification cards.

But co-workers of people with intellectual disabilities like Jomarie say the presence of PWIDs makes a lot of difference.

Photo by Buena Bernal

Iyong aura, panay laging masaya (The aura here is always joyful),” says revenue clerk Nael.

Lagi siyang pinaalalahanan kami (He always reminds us of the rules),” says licensing officer Teresa.

People with disabilities who are employed are transforming workplaces. Beyond that, they’re transforming people.

Understanding people with intellectual disabilities can only happen when they are included in the spaces we navigate on a daily basis, including and especially the workplace.

What they take home as co-workers of people with intellectual disabilities is the acknowledgement that each person has his or her own separate reality which needs some level of understanding, providing them an impetus to imagine what the world is from another person’s lens.

The world of work is a wonderful opportunity to bring out the tenderness in people. (END) –


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“This story was produced under the ‘Media & PWID: Covering Stories on Capabilities and Contributions Media Training and Fellowship Program’ by Probe Media Foundation and Unilab Foundation. The grant-giving bodies have no editorial control over content and information-gathering.”