It is my honor to co-sponsor this measure. I filed my first version of this bill as Chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture back in the 16th Congress. It was developed with the assistance of the Advisory Council for the Education of Children and Youth with Disabilities, a body organized by the Department of Education (DepEd) in collaboration with the disability sector and stakeholder representatives.
But, dear colleagues, I was drawn to this bill and realized its importance because I had a special child. His name is Gabriel Rene Cayetano. Many of the pictures that our colleagues shared are required for courtesy that their faces are not shown. But I would like you to meet my son, this is Gabriel, who was born in the year 2000. My father was actually a senator at that time. Gabriel would fall on many of the categories that his honor, Sen. Gatchalian listed. He would have been a learner with hearing impairment, with visual impairment, with mobility problems, and with severe health conditions – he had a hole in his heart, he had tumors in his kidney, and as you can see, he would have had a speech impairment as well because he had a cleft lip and palate… I tend to forget how long the list of his disabilities are. He would have also had a learning disability in terms of his ability to comprehend and communicate. The condition that my son had is called trisomy 13. It is also a rare disease. It is part of the laws we have right now to support children with rare diseases. And only one in 20,000 survive past their first month.
So while my son was fighting for his life, I had the chance to contemplate on what his future would be. I had hoped he would defy the norm. During his first few months, it did appear that he would survive. His pediatricians and doctors told me that he was already surviving. In this picture, my son was probably already 3-4 months, and he was already defying the odds.
So as a mother, already at that time, I had two older children, I was already contemplating that if God would give him more years, what kind of education do I have to prepare for him? I already surrounded him with whatever learning tools can be used by an infant – music, visual stimulants – they say that infants can only see better when it’s contrasting colors… We read to him, and so on and so forth. My son had two midwives who alternated their time to take care of him, including a private nurse at night. And this is where he lived in the neonatal intensive care unit in Makati Med for 5 months. And then, he was strong enough to move out and stay in his own private room. And that’s when we needed a full time staff, because unlike the intensive care, where they also had nurses who were around the clock there.
Mr. President, I know how difficult it is to look after the health of your child when your child is sick. I know how it is to look after the needs of your child who has a learning disability, and it is a herculean task. And I could not have survived without the love and support of my family, and the professionals that were there to help us.
Which brings me to the bill on hand. Obviously, I am of full support. But again, it is a herculean task. If you look at the budget of education, as our Chairpersons of the Committee on Higher Ed and the Committee on Basic Education pointed out, and was also pointed out by her honor, Sen. Nancy Binay, we don’t have enough personnel even for those children without learning disabilities. Our classrooms are still full. Can you imagine a 40-student classroom, 6-8 year olds, and then the teacher would be asked to take in a child with special needs who has a disability. Yes, it is that right of that child, but it is also the right of the child to be assisted in their integration. And unless we are ready and prepared to pour in the funds for this, I know that our teachers already have their hands full as it is.
So what I will ask our dear colleagues is to really sit down with our Chairman on the Committee on Education and myself as the Vice Chair for the Committee on Finance and really see how much we are really willing to pour into this. Because during the deliberations, inasmuch as I fully support the rights of these children to be integrated, to have playmates, to attend school with their friends, with kids their age, I don’t know how one teacher would handle that. My mother is a teacher. I grew up in her classroom. I know what it is like and it is not an easy task.
Kapag ginawa natin ito, buhusan naman natin ito ng suporta because otherwise, it’s a disservice to the parents who would be hoping that their child would be able to learn, to integrate. My son would never be able to integrate. He would have never walked, talked, I don’t even know if he would recognize his classmates because until he passed away, I do not know if he recognized me. So that is the different spectrums of disabilities.
And I wanted to share my story with all of you so that we are cognizant and more understanding of this situation and the different needs and how we will go about solving, helping the parents of children with special needs.
Thank you for taking the time to hear our story and I hope that my son’s short life will continue to be an inspiration to many of us, as it has been in my family. We formed a foundation in his memory, it’s called Gabriel’s Symphony Foundation, wherein we have for the last 20 years – by the way, my son would have been 20 years old in about two weeks, on December 4. We hope that we are able to continue supporting children with disabilities and raise awareness among other people and families who have other children who can become friends, who will become classmates of these children with special needs.
Thank you, Mr. President.#