Australian Embassy
The Philippines

SP140423 - Book Launch of 'The Right to Vote – Filipinos with Disabilities and the 2013 Elections'

Message by Ambassador Bill Tweddell
Book Launch: "The Right to Vote – Filipinos with Disabilities and the 2013 Elections"
South Ballroom, Diamond Hotel
Roxas Boulevard, Manila
23 April 2014

• Former COMELEC Commissioner Rene Sarmiento
• AKAP-Pinoy President Captain Oscar Taleon (Retired Navy Captain)
• The Asia Foundation Country Representative Dr. Steven Rood
• The Asia Foundation Deputy Country Representative Ky Johnson
• Ellen Tordesillas and Luz Rimban of the Vera Files
• Fully Abled Nation Partners
• Other development agencies

A pleasant afternoon to all of you.

On behalf of the Australian Government, I congratulate the writers, the publishers, and more importantly our Filipino friends with disability, for being part of this very important publication and occasion.

Disability-inclusive development is a priority of the Australian Government. The Honourable Julie Bishop MP, Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a statement during last year’s United Nations High-level Meeting on Disability and Development, emphasised the need for inclusive development. She said, “As we approach 2015, it is right that we celebrate the enormous progress that has been made globally in poverty eradication since 2000. But there is more that we can do to achieve the ultimate goal encapsulated in just three words — ‘leave no-one behind’. It is a grave injustice when a person’s disability determines whether they can get an education, or be able to participate fully in the sort of community life which most of us take for granted – including in electing their leaders and participating in nation building.

Australia, through our aid program, is trying to help ensure that development is benefiting those most in need and most vulnerable, including people with disabilities. Australia is pleased to have partnered with The Asia Foundation, government agencies (COMELEC and NCDA), and non-government organisations (AKAP Pinoy and Vera Files) to bring the issues of Filipinos with disabilities to national attention during local elections.

Australia is proud to be one with our Filipino partners in working towards disability-inclusive elections through the Fully Abled Nation (or FAN) project.

In pursuit of disability-inclusive elections, we set out to increase the awareness of people with disabilities about their right to vote, strengthen their organisations’ capabilities, and develop broader partnerships to further enhance the support and build public awareness on the needs of people with disabilities so that they are able to participate fully in every election.

All these would not have been possible without the partnerships with various organisations and the support of key individuals such as former COMELEC Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, NCDA Chairperson Carmen Zubiaga, and Retired Navy Captain Oscar Taleon - who is considered the “father” of the People with Disabilities (PWD) sector and who has been with FAN from the time it was launched.

Our journalist-friends from the Vera Files have consistently featured important initiatives that uphold the rights of people with disabilities. Through the use of various media platforms they have taken up the challenge to raise the public’s awareness on disability issues.

Special thanks to the authors of the publication (Lala Ordenes–Cascolan, Artha Kita Paredes, Avigail Olarte and Maribel Buenaobra) who have highlighted the continuing challenges faced by people with disabilities in overcoming poverty and in claiming their economic, and socio-political rights. The publication brings out the stark reality of not only the discrimination that people with disabilities constantly face, but also the inability of their families and of the government to provide them with opportunities to become productive members of society.

This book, The Right to Vote – Filipinos with Disabilities and the 2013 Elections, is as much about the journey of the Philippines in giving more people the chance to exercise citizenship, as it is about the journey of people with disability in advancing a fully-abled nation. The insights shared in this book give us lessons and highlight the many remaining challenges yet to be overcome to make future elections truly disability-inclusive, so that:

• more voting precincts are accessible to people with disabilities,

• more voters with disabilities are inspired to exercise their rights, to raise their voices and be heard, and

• public awareness continues to increase so that no one is left behind.

Finally, I would like to thank all the partners for your continued participation in the Fully Abled Nation project. May this partnership endure as we continue working towards a disability-inclusive elections.

Good evening!