(The Philippine Star) | Updated January 20, 2014
MANILA, Philippines – Michael Almendrala walks amid a crowd of thousands at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena with two medals hanging on his neck.
This winner in the bowling event in last year’s special Olympics in Australia was just one of the many inspiring stories of persons with autism celebrated at the 5th annual Angels Walk for Autism yesterday.
Officials from various government agencies and private sectors graced the event spearheaded by SM Cares and Autism Society Philippines (ASP).
The project is a personal advocacy of SM Prime Holdings president Hans Sy.
“We will continue to support you,” he told ASP members as he led the ceremonial offering of cakes to children with autism.
SM Cares, SM Prime’s corporate social responsibility program, was created 10 years ago following an incident where a person with disability (PWD) got lost in a crowded SM mall.
The causes of the program had expanded to involve welfare of senior citizens, children, overseas Filipino workers, women and the environment.
This year’s Angels Walk has surpassed its target of 10,000 participants as it almost filled the 18,000-seater MOA Arena.
ASP chair Erlina Uy-Koe, for her part, cited the significance of this year’s walk, which marked their organization’s 25th year anniversary.
“This is a show of force. We started with just 11 mothers and now we already have 10,000 members. We’ve grown very fast,” she told The STAR.
She said this year’s theme – Karapatan ng mga Taong may Autismo: Isulong Natin, Ngayon Na! – intends to raise further awareness on the needs of persons with autism.
The ASP is pushing for the passage of laws on mandatory development screening for newborns, comprehensive needs assessment, inclusive education, public servants with special skills, community-based rehabilitation program, comprehensive sensitivity training for schools and workplaces and creative mechanism for funding.
Among those who joined the event were Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, Elections Commissioner Grace Padaca, Health Secretary Enrique Ona and Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla.
Padaca, in response, cited Republic Act 10366, which provides for special precincts for PWDs during elections.
“We will implement this in 2016. Starting April, we will begin with validation of biometrics of voters-PWDs,” she explained in an interview.
Padaca also lauded SM for providing polling precincts for PWDs in the barangay elections in October last year. The poll body recorded a 95-percent turnout of voters in the PWD sector at that time.