Excellence through merit and inclusion: Enriching human resources in Camarines Norte
“Nakakatuwa po kasi hindi namin nafe-feel na iba kami (It is heartening because we do not feel that we are different),” Jen Español says of herself and her fellow Persons with Disability. “Ang mga empleyado po ay masasaya. Magaling po ang provincial government ng Camarines Norte, and very accommodating sila sa PWD.”
Inclusion is about many things: acceptance and understanding, as well as engagement and support in countless unique ways depending on the context. What holds them all together is the notion that all people, regardless of ability, have something to offer: every individual, given a chance, can contribute to the betterment of everyone around them.
The provincial government of Camarines Norte firmly believes in this notion. It is woven throughout their professional culture from management to the rank and file. It is especially true in terms of how the provincial government engages with Persons with Disability, as the opportunities for them emphasize that critical notion: we are all equal.
“Nakakatuwa po kasi hindi namin nafe-feel na iba kami (It is heartening because we do not feel that we are different),” Jen Español says of herself and her fellow Persons with Disability. “Ang mga empleyado po ay masasaya. Magaling po ang provincial government ng Camarines Norte, and very accommodating sila sa PWD.” (The employees are happy. The provincial government of Camarines Norte is doing good things and is very accommodating of Persons with Disability.)
Ma. Jennelyn Español, who warmly introduces herself as Jen, is a recently regularized Administrative Aide VI working in the Provincial General Services Office (PGSO). She has clubfoot and is one of the three Persons with Disability working in the GSO. Her current workload revolves around storekeeping and inventory management: a meticulous job that tasks her with accurate asset oversight and puts her in contact with almost everyone in the provincial government.
That kind of wide-ranging interaction is not just a testament to her professional skills, but proof as well of how the provincial government is serious in implementing Republic Act 10524, the mandate to have Persons with Disability comprise at least 1% of the total workforce of a government office.
An even playing field
Engr. Eden Borja is the Department Head of the GSO. She oversees the operations of the office, and she ensures their overall quality of service, a mandate that requires clear insight into the people she works with.
“Hindi ko siya nakikita na may hindrance (I do not see her as having any sort of hindrance),” Engr. Borja describes Jen as staff. “Lagi ko kasing sinasabi, may mga tao na nagagawa nila yung mga bagay na pupuwedeng hindi mo nagagawa.” (I always say that some people can do things in a different way than how you would do it.) This objective management style is indicative of the overall inclusive spirit of the provincial government, and it is felt throughout the system.
Inclusion as proof of excellence
The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has a mechanism called the Program to Institutionalize Meritocracy and Excellence in Human Resource Management (PRIME-HRM). In brief, PRIME-HRM empowers government agencies by developing their human resource management competencies, systems, and practices towards HR excellence.
The provincial government of Camarines Norte has taken PRIME-HRM to heart. The way they practice inclusion with their employees, especially Persons with Disability, is proof of that commitment.
In March of this year, the CSC awarded the provincial government with PRIME-HRM Level 2 accreditation, a first for a government unit in Bicol region.
Dolores Loares, Human Resource Management Officer IV of the Provincial Human Resource Management Office, emphasizes that point further. “We already incorporate the equal opportunity principle in our four core HR systems: in recruitment, selection, and placement; performance management system; learning and development; and rewards and recognition.” She points out that when evaluating and bringing in Persons with Disability, the provincial government works extensively with the Provincial Health Office to make sure that their needs are considered.
Out of the total 1,935 regular and non-regular employees of the provincial government, 24 of them (1.24%) have been classified with some form of disability: orthopedic, visual, and hearing, as well as chronic illnesses.
Validation from within
Occasional social challenges do come, even in relatively progressive workplaces.
“Some people are closed-minded,” Jen admits. “They will say something to bring you down, para bumaba yung self-esteem mo. It is your choice kung makikinig ka o hindi.” (They will say something to bring you down, to lower your self-esteem. It is your choice if you will listen or not.)
Jen chooses to maintain a realistic view of her workplace and commits to self-growth. “Sa GSO, halo po ang tao. May positive, may negative. Choice niyo po iyon, kung saan kayo makikinig. Ang choice ko po, makinig ako ‘dun sa positive, ‘dun sa alam kong makakatulong sa akin mag-improve.” (In the GSO, there is a mix of people. Some positive, some negative. It is your choice whom you listen to. My choice is to listen to the positive, those that I know can help me improve.)
She talks about the importance of respect for self and for others. “Ang respect kasi, hindi ‘yan hinihingi, gine-gain ‘yan. Kung gusto mong irespeto ka, ipakita mo na karespe-respeto ka.” (Respect is not freely given, it is earned. If you want to be respected, show that you deserve respect.)
Hearts and minds
Jen’s positive outlook is boosted by the tireless efforts of a familiar advocate for Persons with Disability: Dr. Rex Bernardo, Disability Affairs Officer III of Camarines Norte’s Provincial Persons with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO).
The Provincial Government of Camarines Norte started being more inclusive when it created its PDAO, with Dr. Bernardo as its head. Ramps, facilities, and toilets were adjusted for accessibility. One major highlight was the installation of a wheelchair lift so that orthopedically impaired persons could easily also visit the offices of the governor, the vice governor, and the provincial council located at the second floor. Training and education plans are also in place so that Persons with Disability could have access to scholarships and livelihood programs.
Onwards and outwards
The provincial government is working to replicate its initiatives on the municipal level: nine out of the 12 municipalities in Camarines Norte now have Municipal Disability Affairs Offices.
Dr. Bernardo knows that the PDAO cannot take on all the responsibilities alone; collaboration is important. “We are actively partnering with LGUs, academe, and socio-civic organizations para naman mas mai-promote pa natin yung advocacy natin to empower persons with disabilities.” (We are actively partnering with LGUs, academe, and socio-civic organizations so that we can better promote our advocacy to empower persons with disabilities.)
“[Here in] Camarines Norte, we do not give them charity. What we give them is an opportunity,” he said.
This 2019, the Australian Embassy and The Asia Foundation Partnership in the Philippines, through Fully Abled Nation and Project Inclusion, continue to shine the spotlight on workplace inclusion through “May 1% Ka Ba?”, an advocacy campaign promoting access to work opportunities for Persons with Disability.
Fully Abled Nation (FAN) was established in 2011 as a multi-sectoral coalition with constituents from various government agencies, civil society organizations, disabled peoples’ organizations, and the private sector. In the 2013 and 2016 elections, FAN partnered with COMELEC and made elections more accessible for Persons with Disability. Under the Coalitions for Change (CfC) program, FAN is currently focused on inclusive education and inclusive employment.
Project Inclusion is a program of Unilab Foundation, Inc. that enables access to work opportunities for Persons with Disability. Since its inception in 2013, the program has provided improved work access to over 1,000 Persons with Disability, and over 250 of them are now employed in various industries.