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HOWIE SEE IT: Plantation Bay and children with special needs

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By Atty. Howie Calleja

Every parent would do everything in their power to ensure their child has a healthy, successful, and happy life; for young kids, their happiness is simple – their toys, a day playing in the sun, and a chance to splash around in a pool. Unfortunately, for one family, their chance to enjoy time together in Plantation Bay Resort and Spa in Mactan turned into a discriminatory experience.

After one mother left a review that narrated her experience with her son with autism, the response from the general manager’s account was not only ignorant, but cruel. First by questioning her son’s diagnosis, and then by stating that the resort was not the proper place for her son. These comments show not only a lack of awareness, but also inclusivity.

The mother’s initial review detailed how the resort responded to the son’s special needs; even after explaining how his condition causes him to squeal with happiness, the management did not adjust to the child’s needs – causing his mother to attempt to cover his mouth to silence him. The fact that a mother felt the need to restrain her child with autism is proof of how poorly the lifeguards of Plantation Bay handled the situation. But more than that, it reflects badly on the management. Clearly, the management did not have the rights of children with special needs in mind in the selection and engagement process of the recruitment of workers. Business establishments should encourage respect for the rights of children with special needs and should endeavor to make their establishments child-friendly especially to those with special needs.

More than 10 years have passed since my own family had a similar experience, which only shows that we have not done enough to foster acceptance and inclusivity for those with visible, and hidden, disabilities. My own daughter was a child with special needs and we had engaged the services of one of the country’s biggest airlines, but it was soon made clear that it is not the airline of choice when traveling with a child with special needs. Aside from being insensitive, the airline failed to adequately and properly address the concerns of my daughter, and I lodged a complaint in my efforts to protect my child. I did so not as a lawyer, but as a parent seeking justice for my child – and all children with special needs.

In aiming for inclusive spaces for children with special needs, parents only ask for acceptance and that workspaces, businesses, and schools to be informed about how their child’s disabilities may present. It is high time that we do our part to foster a healthy discussion about what it means to be sensitive to children with special needs, lest we contribute to the growing stigma around the community. It is clear that the management in Plantation Bay was uninformed, and this allowed them to misjudge and mishandle the situation, but this is not an excuse; no parent and no child should experience that kind of humiliation, degradation, and dehumanization.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) identifies the rights of persons with special needs. It defines the obligations of States parties in promoting, protecting and ensuring full and equal enjoyment of these rights. One of which is the obligation of States parties “to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability by any person, organization or private enterprise.” The Convention was adopted in 2006 and was ratified by the Philippines in 2008, making the Philippines legally bound to respect the standards set forth in the Convention. The Convention recognizes the need to reaffirm these rights as human rights due to the continued discrimination against persons with special needs. In fact, Article 5 of the Convention makes it an obligation of States parties to guarantee equal and effective legal protection against discrimination.

So what exactly are the human rights of persons with special needs? The Convention provides that all individuals have the same human rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. It guarantees the equality of every individual before the law without discrimination, including the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of disability and on any other basis.

The rights of a child with special needs, are recognized by no less than the international community. The Philippines, by its act of ratifying the CRPD, is legally bound to take appropriate measures to ensure that a child with autism can fully enjoy his rights on an equal basis with other children and to prosecute violations thereof. It is the right of any parent of a child with special needs to voice out unjust, and downright unlawful treatment. In the instance of Plantation Bay, the acts of the lifeguards and the response by resident shareholder Manny Gonzalez is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Contrary to their subsequent non-apologetic “apology letter” this is not a matter of a mother’s pride, but the fundamental rights of her child. We must all stand up and support the rights of children with special needs.

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