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The Positivity of Disabilities

Filipino Paralympians showed their skills and took home medals at the 11th ASEAN Para Games.


With their tenacity, persons with disability (PWDs) have reshaped their image throughout the decades. They have fought for their place in society—championing their causes for rights and benefits while also emphasizing their value. Now, they have risen in various fields such as fashion, academe, politics, and sports. In recent news, PWDs in the ASEAN region partook in the 11th Para Games.

The Paralympics has an interesting beginning, originally held as an event for differently-abled persons. It was introduced after World War II to help injured civilians and veterans in their treatment. In 1994, Jewish doctor Dr. Ludwig Guttman had a different approach to caring for patients with spinal problems. For these patients with two years of expected life remaining, he wanted to make their lifestyle relatively normal. He insisted patients in Stoke Mandeville Hospital get up and move around by doing sports and crafts.

In 1948, they held the Stoke Mandeville Games through archery demonstration. It was participated in by 14 men and two women who were known to be the first paralympic athletes. Four years later, ex-servicemen from the Netherlands joined the British paralympians which led to the foundation of the first International Stoke Mandeville Games. From a rehabilitation sport, it became a recreational sport and then a competitive sport. The first Paralympics was held in Rome in 1960, participated in by 23 countries with a total of around 400 athletes.

Eventually, the Southeast Asian region formed its own Paralympics. The ASEAN Para Games (APG) started with the meeting of the Southeast Asian countries’ delegates who attended the Paralympiad in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2000. The concept originated from Zainal Abu Zarin, the founding president of the Malaysian Paralympic Council. They believe that having regional games for disabled persons will promote solidarity and friendship among persons with disabilities. Malaysia hosted the first ASEAN Para Games which was held from October 26 to 29, 2001. Around 600 athletes participated in the maiden event.

Recently, the 11th ASEAN Para Games was held in Srukarta (colloquially known as Solo), Indonesia from July 30 to August 6, 2022. In February 2022, Indonesia volunteered to host the 11th ASEAN Para Games to replace Vietnam, which was not able to host due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Solo was specifically picked because it is considered a city that is friendly to the differentlyabled. The 11th ASEAN Para Games Solo theme was “Striving for Equality” to support the belief that differently-abled people deserve the same rights both in sports and in life. Meanwhile, the logo in the shape of a tree carries the meaning of Indonesia, symbolizing hope which continues to grow.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Para Sports Federation (APSF) commended the efforts of the Indonesian government and people in organizing the event within only five months. Wandy Tosuwan, the Secretary General of APSF also acknowledged Senny Marbun, the Indonesian National Paralympic Committee (NPC) Chairman, in making sure that the event will be held as scheduled.

THE 11TH ASEAN PARA GAMES The Filipino para-athletes were hungry to compete despite the two-year postponement of international sporting events. According to Michael Barredo, the Philippine Paralympic Committee (PPC) president, the use of the Philsports Complex in Pasig City prepared the delegates enough to compete in Indonesia. Barredo shares that he is grateful to the Philippine Sports Committee (PSC) for letting the para-athletes train in the complex during their month-long bubble training. As a result of their hard work, delegates brought the country to 5th place with 28 gold, 30 silver, and 46 bronze medals—a strong start for the next Para Games in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2023.

Medalists are expected to receive cash incentives from the government. The most bemedalled from this batch of delegates is International Chess Federation (FIDE) master Sander Severino of the Chess team, who won a total of four golds and two silvers in the team and individual categories. At eight years old, Severino discovered he has muscle dystrophy when he had a hospital checkup following a bicycle accident he and his father got into. Then, he was told that he only has 20 more years to live. Severino did not take that to heart and used chess as motivation instead. In 2020, he became the first Filipino to hold the title of champion in the World Online Chess Rapid Championship of the International Physically Disabled Chess Association (IPCA). As a reward for his contributions to this year’s ASEAN Para Games, he is entitled to a Php500,000 bonus from the government.

Next to him are Angel Otom and Ariel Joseph Alegarbes of the swimming team who will receive Php450,000 each for their individual contribution of three golds. Ernie Gawilan on the other hand will receive Php382,500 for bagging two golds, one silver, and one bronze.

The success of the Philippine Paralympic team does not only give pride to the country but especially to the late and former president Fidel V. Ramos who, according to PPC President Barredo, encouraged him 25 years ago to establish the sports committee for the differently-abled people.

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