As a public servant, Sir Mike, as he is fondly called by colleagues at Caloocan City Hall, makes sure to always arrive on time at the accounting office located on the 7th floor of their building. His colleagues admire his punctuality. Sir Mike uses a wheelchair, as he lost his ability to walk at the age of five.
His call time: 10 minutes before eight o’clock in the morning. Every day for the last 26 years, Michael Ramos has aimed to set an example of punctuality. As a public servant, Sir Mike, as he is fondly called by colleagues at Caloocan City Hall, makes sure to always arrive on time at the accounting office located on the 7th floor of their building. His colleagues admire his punctuality. Sir Mike uses a wheelchair, as he lost his ability to walk at the age of five.
His mother died after his baptismal. Siblings took turns rearing the young Michael. Then he was sent to relatives in Bulacan. From his recollection, it was during this time when the accident happened. He fell and hurt his back. He acquired polio because he wasn’t able to receive complete dosage of vaccinations. By the time he entered kindergarten, he could no longer walk.
“Mahirap lalo na nung kinder. Gumagapang-gapang lang ako nun. Wala pang crutches, wala pang wheelchair. Mahirap lang naman kami. Wala pang ganun.” (It was hard during kindergarten. I had to crawl around. I don’t have crutches nor wheelchair. We are poor and cannot afford it.)
Sir Mike admits that life was difficult and challenging then. As a child, there were things he would have loved to do, but his disability limited his actions. Now, when you talk to him, there is no trace of resentment in his voice.
“Hindi ko masyado tinitingnan yung disability ko, hindi ako agrabyado. Marami din akong kalokohan. Kasi naging kasanayan ko na. Nakakapaglaro pa ‘ko noon ng patintero, tumbang preso. Pero syempre may limitations din. Pero sa sarili ko, walang inferiority complex.” (I don’t focus on my disability. I don’t feel disadvantaged. I can still joke around. I learned to live with it. I used to play patintero and tumbang preso. I have my limitations but I don’t have an inferiority complex.)
From challenges to opportunities
Hardships became commonplace for Sir Mike. Nevertheless, instead of looking at his disability as a hindrance, he saw it as an opportunity to discover his potential and maximize his abilities. He shared that Persons with Disability can become productive individuals if given the appropriate “job match” and “proper placement.” He realized that some of the frustrations of fellow Persons with Disability stem from job mismatch.
“Sinisikap nilang maging productive. Nagsisilbing motivation, inspiration sa kapwa manggagawa. Pero syempre dapat ilagay din sa tamang trabaho. Dapat proper placement. Tulad ko, hindi naman ako pwedeng liaison.” (They try to be productive. They serve as motivation and inspiration to other employees. There should be proper job placement. Like me, I cannot be a liaison officer.)
Discrimination followed him like a shadow. From his early days as a kindergarten student to his entry-level years as an employee, Sir Mike experienced how society would often belittle the capacity of Persons with Disability. Yet, he was never discouraged. He strived hard.
Sir Mike recalled how he rose from the ranks given his limited condition. Jobseekers competed for vacancies armed with their college diplomas and their physical strength. When employers saw his condition, there was an initial resistance and some of them underestimated him. When he was given the opportunity to work, he did not mind starting as an entry level employee. Resourcefulness and adaptability became his best assets.
His willpower gave him the strength to overcome any obstacle and rise through the ranks to reach his position today. His legs had lost their power, but his mind and spirit more than compensated for the seeming disadvantage.
Sir Mike finished his accounting degree at the Pamantasang Lungsod ng Maynila in 1987. In 1993, he was given the opportunity to work as an accountant at the Caloocan City Hall. He passed the board exams and proceeded to complete his master’s degree in accounting in 1998. The sight of Sir Mike wheeling his way through can evoke pity because he may seem limited by his conditions. But he shares that he erased any self-discriminating thoughts and viewed his disability as a stepping stone to achieve more things in life. This optimism opened more doors of opportunities for him.
Sir Mike speaks openly about his gratitude to the city government of Caloocan, and how the right connections helped him find a job at the city hall. However, he emphasizes that once you’re given the opportunity, you need to work hard to prove that you deserve it.
His colleagues attest to Sir Mike’s dedication and professionalism.
“He is very efficient at work,” Mary Ann Tautjo, Administration Office OIC, stresses. “Hindi mo makikita na hindrance sa kanya yung pagiging Person with Disability niya. Hindi siya palaasa sa iba. He can work independently.” (He is very efficient at work. Being a Person with Disability did not become a hindrance. He is not overly dependent on others. He can work independently.)
She also praises Sir Mike’s resilience and perseverance and recalls a time when the elevator at the old city hall building broke down. Sir Mike had to use his crutches and make a laborious ascent to reach the accounting office on the 7th floor. “Grabe yung effort niya para makapasok. Pero di mo makikita na nag-complain siya.
Malakas talaga ang loob niya.” (He makes an effort to come to work. But he never complains. He has a strong will.)
Julius Albert Gonzales, Human Resources Management Officer 2, also affirms Sir Mike’s excellent work: “Sir Mike is very vibrant and enthusiastic in spite of his limited physical abilities. Proof of that is his constant rising through the ranks. Nagkaroon ng tiwala sa kanya. Based on recommendations from his previous bosses up to now, (he is) very dependable.” (Sir Mike is very vibrant and enthusiastic in spite of his limited physical abilities. Proof of that is his constant rising through the ranks. People trust him. Based on recommendations from his previous bosses up to now, (he is) very dependable.)
Sir Mike has a charismatic nature. People are naturally drawn to his cheerful character, low-key personality, and positivity. His life experiences did not break his spirit. In fact, the very hardships he faced became an inspiration for him to pursue his dreams.
Now, as an Assistant City Accountant, Sir Mike has subordinates reporting to him on a daily basis. How does he fare as a boss?
Julius describes Sir Mike as a mentor. “Yung feeling na lalo sa mga bago, he would always lend a helping hand to teach whatever he knows.” (New employees feel that he would always lend a helping hand to teach whatever he knows.)
A culture of acceptance
Back in the 1990s, when Sir Mike first applied to work for the government, there were no provisions for Persons with Disability. He was at the right place at the right time. Call it luck, still, Sir Mike did not waste the opportunity to begin a successful career in public service.
Over the years, a culture of acceptance towards the inclusion of Persons with Disability in the workplace has been growing. To institutionalize work access opportunities for Persons with Disability, Republic Act 10524, An Act Expanding the Positions Reserved for Persons with Disability, was born. It states:
“At least one percent (1%) of all positions in all government agencies, offices, or corporations shall be reserved for persons with disability: Provided, that private corporations with more than one hundred (100) employees are encouraged to reserve at least one percent (1%) of all positions for persons with disability.”
The city government of Caloocan has been doing its best to accommodate and include Persons with Disability in their workforce. In fact, according to Julius, out of the 1,600 regular employees of the city government, about 2.5 percent are Persons with Disability. In their recent personnel selection board meeting, they approved the appointment of a new employee who is Deaf.
“Sa system of hiring and recruitment, open for all. We do not look at, or merit by, the physical (characteristics) only. We look at (the) capabilities and potential of an applicant. Tinitingnan talaga namin yung kakayahan.” (Our system of hiring and recruitment is open for all. We do not look at, or merit by the physical characteristics only. We look at the capabilities and potential of an applicant. We look at his abilities.)
Julius also notes that Persons with Disability are well-represented during planning sessions of the city council. At the time when the new city hall building was under construction, they took into consideration the needs of Persons with Disability.
Mary Ann relates how Sir Mike would always share a story about his life. This serves as an inspiration for her because her only daughter has a disability, too. Knowing Sir Mike has made her more determined to help her daughter reach for her dreams.
His colleagues believe that the story of Sir Mike can create a ripple effect. It can inspire other Persons with Disability to strive and become more productive. They have the potential to contribute to the economy.
“It's about time na suportahan yung advocacy ng government na tulungan yung mga Person with Disability. Tutulong din ‘yan sa economy ng bansa. Lalo na yung mga Person with Disability na may intellectual capacity to perform their jobs,” Mary Ann says. (It’s about time to support the government’s advocacy to help Persons with Disability. This will also help our economy, especially those Persons with Disability who has the intellectual capacity to perform their jobs.)
The inclusion of Persons with Disability in the labor force is a work-in-progress. Sir Mike’s colleagues know it will not always be easy, but they remain optimistic.
“There's no harm in trying. Kung gusto talaga natin na magkaroon ng equality sa opportunities, we might as well give opportunities to Persons with Disability. I believe no other institution would best implement this than the government sector,” Julius concludes. (There’s no harm in trying. If we really want to have equality of opportunities, we might as well give opportunities to Persons with Disability. I believe no other institution would best implement this than the government sector.)
Sir Mike could not walk but the city government gave him the opportunity to rise above his condition.
This 2019, the Australian Embassy and The Asia Foundation Partnership in the Philippines, through Fully Abled Nation and Project Inclusion, continues 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. This year, under the Coalitions for Change (CfC) program of the Australian Embassy and The Asia Foundation Partnership in the Philippines, FAN focuses 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 1000 Persons with Disability, and over 250 of them are now employed in various industries.
For more information on Project Inclusion, follow www.facebook.com/ProjectInclusionPH or contact Project Inclusion at email@example.com.