Arnel Navales Aba: the one-legged triathlete

I first saw him in a Filipino game show. He was trying for its grand prize of one million pesos.

But Arnel Navales Aba is worth more than the jackpot. He had already notched two Southeast Asian Para-Swim Records in the 400m freestyle and in the 200m individual medley. He had already done a triathlon and won third. He had already started training swimmers at the Akiko Thomson Swim School* and at the Philippine Institute of Sports Arena (PhilsSport Arena)**. He had already been qualified a national athlete—despite of his one leg.

He lost the other one when he was 20. He was examining the engine of his jeepney when an intoxicated driver drove straight to him, sandwiching him between the vehicle’s bumpers.

Over the next two months, Aba tried to take his own life. He had tried to slash his wrist but got hurt. He had tried to hang himself but the tree broke. He had tried to get hit by a bus but got scared.

He had also tried to put himself in front of a moving pickup truck. But its driver stopped and talked him out of it. The man convinced Aba to just swim his heart out and even offered his resort as a training ground.

But Aba didn’t know how to swim. He nearly drowned when he was eight years old. Still, he took on the challenge. And the instructor of the Iligan City Swimming Team, Cecil Meqiabas, guided him all the way. At first, Aba couldn’t swim more than 12.5 meters; he would end up hanging onto the lane line in the middle of the pool to rest. He also didn’t know how to breathe on the side so he could only swim with his head up.

So Aba ‘negotiated’ with the resort. He would use the pool in the mornings for free. He would try to swim with his head down, complete 25-meter laps without stopping, and do at least a semblance of a butterfly stroke.

To date, Aba can finish a 400m freestyle*** in 5 minutes and 16 seconds and a butterfly in 32 seconds. He swims four times a week—averaging six to seven kilometers—to make room for his day jobs as an assistant swim coach at the Colegio de San Agustin and a part-time sales consultant at the WetShop sports shop.  His current coaches are Tony Ong and Ral Rosario of the Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled (PHILSPADA).

“I am doing this to show to the abled ones who look at us, the disabled, as useless. I would like to show that we can do some of what they can do. I also want to encourage the other disabled to not to be shy and just show off whatever talents they have.” ~Arnel Navales Aba

*His programs are the Arnel Aba Learn to Swim Program and the Arnel Aba Advanced & Competitive Program.

**Formerly known as ULTRA [University of Life Training and Recreation Arena]

***His favorite event, the 200m freestyle, was dropped from the roster of events in the last few ASEAN Para-Games after he ruled that distance for over three years.

Video courtesy of Just Add Water


Developmental Pathways

To assist people of all ages with developmental disabilities in Arapahoe and Douglas is what the Developmental Pathways does.

This non-profit agency in Colorado lives by the principle that ‘full inclusion in community life is attainable for every individual with a developmental disability.’ It started as an alternative to the institutionalized care that families with members that have developmental disabilities were then receiving.

Today, from a community training and services center founded by 21 concerned families in Douglas in 1964, the Developmental Pathways is continuously helping people with developmental disabilities including the latter’s entire family. It has an annual budget of $44 million, $1.4 million of which are from organization’s fund raising.

The Developmental Pathways is currently directed by Melanie Worley. She also served as the commissioner of Douglas County from 1999 to 2009. One of its teams, the early intervention team, is guided, meanwhile, by Kent Dyson and Rachelle Stoddard.

“They said institutional living is not acceptable, and living in the community is as acceptable for those who are developmentally disabled as it is for everyone else.” ~ Melanie Worley

Victims of Love

I wouldn’t pretend that I know much about the wars going on in the world today.

I do understand, however, that two disabled women were killed and four were wounded when some Israeli rockets hit a center for the handicapped in northern Gaza on this day last week.

There are also people currently getting maimed and permanently disabled almost every hour in Syria, too. They need mobility devices (e.g. tricycles, artificial limbs, corset, etc.) to facilitate their physical mobility.

In Afghanistan last year, there were 800,000 PWDs left with limited access to health facilities after their war against America. About 70% of them were over 15 years old and unemployed, while 73% were over six years old and illiterate.

The world has dealt with these ‘challenges,’ particularly in Syria. Still, much needs to be done. Why can’t we stop becoming victims of love here?

“Equality is rooted not merely on charity or accommodation, but on justice for all.” ~ Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban of the Philippines

Maricel Apatan: the chef with no hands

She would need help when she has to move a hot kettle, transfer a large saucepan, or open a slippery bottle cap. But apart from those, Maricel Apatan can coat a cake with crushed nuts. She can grip a chef’s knife between her hip and elbow. She can slice fruits, arrange them on a cake, add fillings, and set chocolate curls. She can even pay for the rent of their apartment and inspire other persons with disabilities (PWDs) to “live a normal life” as well!

“When I first saw Maricel, I was worried she might hurt herself,” Sous Chef Ariel Reyes, manager of the Edsa Shangri-La Hotel was quoted saying. “[But] she works just as hard as the rest of the chefs.”

Maricel Apatan had lived without hands when she was 11. She was struck with a long knife and slashed in the neck by four men over a land dispute in Zamboanga City, Mindanao. She just went with her uncle to fetch water from the river then. But he was stabbed, too, and Maricel Apatan had to pretend she was dead till their slayers went away.

The doctors weren’t able to save her hands; it had taken four hours to traverse from her house to the highway. It was the most ironic gift a girl could have: Maricel Apatan turned 12 years old the next day.

The ‘celebration’ continued when they went home. Their house was ransacked and burned down by the goons. It was only through the kindness of a distant relative, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, that they were able to pay the hospital bills and put the criminals in prison. It was also only through the Tahanan Ng Walang Hagdanan that Maricel Apatan was able to finish her studies.

She eventually graduated from high school and enrolled in a two-year Hotel and Restaurant Management Course in Cagayan de Oro City. She was already in Manila to continue her studies when the managers in the hotel she’s working for now saw Maricel Apatan on television and hired her as part of its “Embrace: Care for People Project. “

As of January 19, 2011, Maricel Apatan’s three younger siblings are living with her in Manila and her parents were looking after their family farm in Mindanao.

“It is difficult to make ends meet but I don’t lose hope. I believe anything is possible if you dream, work hard and pray.” ~Maricel Apatan

Bahay Biyaya Student Hostel

There’s a place where persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the Philippines can stay when pursuing high school and college.

Within the 35-hectare commercial estate of the Araneta’s is the Bahay Biyaya Student Hostel. It lodges physically handicapped students studying in the different colleges and universities in Manila and Quezon City. There are 20-30 PWDs there currently endorsed by the parish priest in the locality where they are from.

They could also be recommended by missionary priests and nuns. High school students must maintain a grade of 80%, while college students must keep up a 2.5.

Bahay Biyaya Student Hostel only accommodates PWDs who are independent enough to clean their own bedrooms and bathrooms. The latter are given specific assignments in its kitchen and dining areas. Qualified theologians would conduct a “Bibliarasal” once a week with them and they could go out on excursions and picnics occasionally.

“A barrier-free environment should be introduced everywhere.” ~Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin

When disaster strikes!

For a country lying astride the typhoon belt, in the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” and in between the Pacific and Eurasian tectonic plates, the Philippines must work on its disaster risk- reduction for people with disabilities (PWDs) now.

And why not? During a conference on disaster- risk reduction in Cagayan De Oro in 2012, it was affirmed that “…PWDs are more vulnerable to disasters than others.” There are about 10 million PWDs in the country, with some 5 million aged 60 years and over and 5 million aged 49 years old and below. There is one PWD in every 20 households in the Philippines, and one in three of them actually heads a household.

But there are no figures to tell how many PWDs suffered in the typhoons, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis that devastated the Philippines. It is thus necessary that, for the time being, Filipinos—PWDs or not—learn sign language. It is a person’s right to live,  the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserted.

Sign language is also beneficial because it could instill awareness about the “social problem” physical disability has come to be1. It is likewise practicable because a PWD-friendly culture in the Philippines could turn the country more appealing to every local or foreign PWD in the cheapest way possible2.

Language and Behavior

Language shapes thinking. It can “profoundly affect” how a person perceives the world, as well as limit or enhance certain events and interactions, according to cognitive scientists and rhetoricians3.

Language can also influence even the most fundamental abilities of human experience. It can mold the way one thinks about many aspects of the world (based on an empirical evidence), being a part and parcel of many more aspects of thought than was previously realized4.

The Philippines’ commitment to disaster- risk reduction then would work better if it would consider teaching sign language in all levels of schools in the country. Remember: a disaster’s severity depends on how much impact a hazard may cause on a society and environment. The scale of this impact, in turn, would vary on what is taught in schools. If every Filipino individual, family, community and institution would learn how to speak in sign language, we could become more resilient to disasters.

“This year, the focus of the International Day for Disaster Reduction is on some one billion people around the world who live with some form of disability.” United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2013

1There are already 36 PWD organizations listed in the directory of the National Council on Disability Affairs to date. Each of them aims to help PWDs in their living, providing seminars and workshops on one hand, and giving wheelchairs, crutches, and hearing aids on the other. Some also would conduct free medical and dental services; administer centers and schools advocating PWD rights; and train deaf high school graduates in computer technology. But a budget airline recently disallowed a “special” child in its aircraft; a first-class city within the National Capital Region (NCR) shut down its school for deaf children; and the textbooks that could let the blind and partially-sighted people to read and write though touch were considered even though they can neither be produced locally nor translated in Filipino.

2There are 650 million PWDs in the world, 49.7 million of them resides in the country with the largest economy in the world to date (United States) while 21,894 lives in the country with a small and least developed economy (Bhutan).

3This is according to a study conducted by Dan Erwin, a specialist in performance improvement who holds a seminary degree (M. Div.) as well as a Ph.D. in communication studies from the University of Minnesota.

4This is according to a research of Lera Boroditsky, an assistant professor of cognitive psychology at Stanford University and editor-in-chief of Frontiers in Cultural Psychology.

Quezon City

Having around 27,600 persons with disabilities (PWDs) in 2010*, Quezon City has started caring for its PWD residents in August of 2009.

It has considered expanding then the D. Tuazon Elementary School so that the PWDs undergoing treatment or rehabilitation at the National Orthopedic Hospital can study there.

The city has also conducted its first summit for PWDs on this day last year with the theme, “Making Rights Real for Filipinos with Disability.” Involved in the said activity are the Social Services Development Department (SSDD), National Council for Disability Affairs (NCDA), Department of Health (DOH), and the Department of Education-Special Education (DEPED-SPED) Division.

Recently, its current mayor signed Executive Order No. 10 establishing the Quezon City Persons with Disability Affairs Office (QC-PDAO). It will be the lead agency that would address the issues and concerns of PWDs, and will be manned by Arnold de Guzman from the City Planning and Development Office and Renato Cada from the City Public Employment Service Office.

The city has also assigned about 8% of the schools in it to have polling precincts for PWDs. It is ‘doing well with its wheelchair-accessible hallways’ and had given IDs for them that come along with two booklets, the Medicine Purchase Slip Booklet and the Grocery Purchase Slip Booklet.


But those are not enough.

A father of a child with autism had tried to use the PWD ID to buy his son some donuts at J.CO (SM Fairview). However, the cashier told him that the establishment would not honor the ID unless its holder is present himself/herself. The father ended paying the whole amount of the donuts even though it was his signature at the back of the card.

Dr. Eduardo Janeiro, the regional director of the Center for Health Development (CHD) also observed that there is a need to implement a national health program on disability. Psychosocial and behavioral disabilities are not mental disabilities, after all. Those with them are “educationable” as well as those with learning disabilities.

A precise data on the PWD population is also needed, according to Luz Cabauatan, focal person for PWDs of QC-SSDD. It would really do if the government would not just rely on the estimate from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The representative of the deaf community debated that their sector should not be referred to as hearing-impaired because deafness is not a pathological condition. Flerida Labanon, Regional Program Coordinator of the NCDA, called on to increase the efforts in promoting the rights of the PWDs that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) has endorsed.

“PWDs are part of society. They have the same rights as everybody else.” ` Luz Cabauatan

*Or a total of 1% of the 2,751,579 household population in Quezon City.

Video taken from the YouTube Channel of Travis Kraft