One thing I have noticed in the Philippines is the very different attitude towards those in our community who are less than 100%. Anyone with special needs, as the PC term of the day seems to be, will have a hard time of it in the Pinas. This is not a topic discussed very often, but one that should be talked about, or at least given some thought.
Mental Illness Means Find A Telephone Pole
I remember the first time I saw someone chained to a telephone pole. It was in Talisay, Cebu, around the corner from my house. I can never forget feeling so very sorry for the poor wretch. Sitting there in the dirt of what passes for a sidewalk, rubble and garbage with clumps of weed adding some faded colour, the poor man was squatting, tied to the pole by a chain around his waist. I asked my neighbor about him and was told he was ‘buwang’, mentally ill, crazy. His family were unable, or unwilling, to cope with him in any other way than chaining him to a telephone pole and leaving him out on the street for hours at a time. He even had some of his meals there and seeing that really made me feel disgusted. But that’s how it often is here.
There are few public facilities for mentally ill people to be properly treated and possibly cured of their illness. The better off can afford more humane caring for their family members, but those with less money have to deal with the situation as best they can. Those with no money and problems of their own merely surviving from day to day usually abandon their relatives to their own devices. This often results in them walking under jeepneys or getting arrested and jailed.
Worse For Kids
What is arguably worse, I think, is the situation parents face when they have a child that is on the autism spectrum. Proper diagnosis is difficult to obtain for those with little education themselves and even less income. Middle class and well-heeled Filipinos can avail of better medical facilities but even then, the range and availability of special needs services is limited to the major cities and not much is on offer there compared to in Australia or elsewhere.
Any child with a disability, in fact any child that is not a cookie-cutter copy of the majority of kids will face a hard time at school. Teasing, or ‘hazing’ as they call it, will be rife and little intervention by teaching staff can be expected. Bullying on the grounds the child is fair game due to their disability is almost a given, perhaps not so likely if the child has siblings willing to stand up for them, or come from a connected family. As harsh as this is, it is how it is, at least in the writer’s personal experience in both Cebu and Manila and after researching and interviewing many Filipinos with special needs children.
This is how it is and how it once was in Australia and the rest of the western world. I remember in the 1970s we referred to kids with special needs as ‘spas’ (spastic), and retards. Political correctness is often abused and over done, but I am glad we no longer use such language because while no-one ever wants to have a child with special needs, you just never know what you may be given when your baby is born. We should, at the very least, be grateful while doing what we can to at least not be a part of the problem and to treat our Filipino neighbours with disabilities with dignity and compassion.