Forty-four (44) prosecutors and public attorneys from 17 cities and 4 provinces of the Visayas Region recently passed a resolution recommending for program development on “disability access to justice agenda” to the Department of Justice. In their “Pledge of Commitment,” the participants committed to support the advocacy on “Make the Right Real for Persons with Disabilities” and ensure protection of their right in accessing justice.

This was the highlight of the 2nd of a series of “Disability Awareness and Sensitivity Workshop on Access to Justice for Persons with Disabilities” held on September 4-5, 2014 at Hotel Elizabeth, Cebu City. The event was spearheaded by the Department of Justice (DOJ), in partnership with the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA).

Prof. Rowena Daroy-Morales, Director of the Office of Legal Aid, University of the Philippines, led the pool of speakers and presenters during the sensitivity workshop. Prof. Morales gave an in-depth presentation of the disability laws and other policies, the UNCRPD, equality, non-discrimination and the rights-based approach in dealing with persons with disabilities.

In her opening remarks, on the other hand, Undersecretary Leah C. Tanodra-Armamento said that the said workshop is an offshoot of the DOJ’s chairmanship of the 2013 National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation (NDPR) Week and part of the Department’s commitment as chair of the NCDA Sub-Committee on Access to Justice and Anti-Discrimination being chaired by DOJ Assistant Chief State Counsel Ruben F. Fondevilla.. Undersecretary Armamento also mentioned the launching of the “Sensitivity Training Manual for Prosecutors and Public Attorneys” by DOJ Secretary Leila L. De Lima to the National Prosecution Service and the Public Attorney’s Office which paved the way for the succeeding activities of the DOJ to address budding concerns of persons with disabilities in the justice system. She also congratulated the participants for being the first batch in the Visayas Region who were given the opportunity to attend said sensitivity workshop.

NCDA Acting Executive Director Carmen Reyes-Zubiaga, meanwhile presented to the participants “Disability Perspective: Understanding the Dynamics of Persons with Disabilities” and gave an overview of disability classification, general principles of disability inclusive development based on UNCRPD and how it relates to access to justice. She also highlighted the provisions of Proclamation No. 688 “Declaring the Period of 2013-2022 as the Philippine Decade of “Make the Right Real” for Persons with Disabilities in support of the 3rd Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities”. She stressed that disability is just a small part of being a person; thus, everyone should defy stereotyping the different groups of persons with disabilities.

The other speakers who discussed the needs of specific disability groups to have a fair access to justice include (a) Ms. Dang Koe, Chair Emeritus of Autism Society of the Philippines on “Understanding and Assisting Persons with Autism and other Related Disorders; (b) Mr. John Paul Ecarma Maunes, Executive Director of Gualandi Volunteer Service Programme, Inc. Phils on “Break the Silence” – Assisting Deaf Persons; (c) Mr. Ryan Operario, Resource/Math Teacher, Cebu Braille Center on “Assisting Persons with Visual impairment; (d) Ms. Adela A. Kono, Vice President of Organization of Rehabilitation Agencies on “Physical Accessibility in the Judiciary”; and (e) Ms. Janice S. Cambri, Member of the Philippine Coalition on UNCRPD on “Assisting Persons with Psychosocial Disability in the Judicial System”.

As a continuing commitment to provide persons with disabilities access to justice, the DOJ will also conduct the same sensitivity workshop in Luzon and Mindanao within the year.

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