QC government: No forms, records for family PWD cards in viral photo
Screengrab shows the six PWD cards a family was able to get for each member.

QC government: No forms, records for family PWD cards in viral photo

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - June 24, 2020 - 5:57pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 9:43 p.m.) — The six PWD identification cards issued to members of the same family, a photo of which has since gone viral, are not supported by application forms or other  documents on record, and their release may have been "facilitated" by a city employee, the local government of Quezon City found.

"What we can say right now is that besides the recent update, we found out that certain employees in city hall facilitated the release of these IDs to the family," Quezon City legal officer Niño Casimiro told Philstar.com in Filipino in a phone call. 

It is also possible that the IDs themselves are fake. The city government stressed that the releases happened during the previous administration but that it is taking steps to address the problem.

In a statement issued Wednesday morning, the LGU said that Mayor Joy Belmonte checked with the city's Persons with Disabilities Affairs Office to look into the records of the six and found that there were no records that justified the issuance of their PWD IDs.

"The irregularly issued PWD ID’s were issued during the past administration on October 29, 2018 and one ID on February 19, 2019," Casimiro added. 

A social media post that recently circulated online showed a photo of an allegedly wealthy and well-connected family with all members having PWD cards of their own for what they claimed were visual and psychosocial impairments. 

The family allegedly paid P2,000 each for the said IDs, the city government said.

"This is an alarming abuse of a law that should benefit by PWDs but is exploited by some corrupt people causing harm to others," Belmonte said in Filipino.

“Abuse by the rich and powerful at the expense of the handicapped and less fortunate will never be condoned or tolerated in this city,” she added.

By virtue of Republic Act No. 10754, registered PWDs are given a 20% discount and exemption to value-added tax to go with a 5% discount on basic necessities and prime commodities and free use of express lanes in commercial and government transactions. 

A post on a PWD group in February showed a photo of the same family's PWD cards but over a separate incident.

Comment from February 2020 shows the same family's cards.

Effects on actual PWDs

The story drew widespread furor online as advocates and social media users alike bemoaned the systemic effects of fakes on genuine PWDs. 

"An investigation must be made to bring the perpetrators of the fake PWD IDs to court where evidence was gathered such as in Quezon City. We support the call of our legislators for an investigation to put an end to this fake PWD ID scam," said Emer Rojas, president of New Vois Association in a statement sent to Philstar.com.

Rojas earlier said that his organization did not receive any reports of cards being sold. 

"Persons with Disabilities with non-apparent disabilities such as low vision and psychological disabilities may suffer from discrimination and mistaken to be fake PWDs because of the effect of these fake PWD IDs made by unscrupulous hoodlums...The law was created and being implemented with good intentions and in good faith. It is indeed quite lamentable to hear," he added. 

According to the city’s information office, Quezon City's official list of PWDs is now being thoroughly reviewed and procedural safeguards are now being installed "to make sure that only those qualified under the law will enjoy its protection and privileges."

"At the end of the day besides the government and business owners deprived of their income, it's the PWD sector being exploited and abused. Right now, they're looked at differently, and it affects them. So what we're looking at is their welfare. We don't want to give them a harder time securing, we're just installing checks and balances," Casimiro said. 

"We're taking with great weight the plight of PWDs concerned with any changes. What's difficult there is the disabilities that aren't visible," he added. 

Most fake IDs go to well-off people, advocate says

In a phone call with Philstar.com, Alex Mendoza, Quezon City Federation of Persons with Disability, Inc. president pointed out that accounts of PWD card fakes typically involved rich and well-off families. 

"Some people use 'non-apparent' disability to get an ID, and these are mostly educated and wealthy people who use that excuse to get an ID. It's usually well-connected people involved who can ask friends and relatives who are doctors and politicians," he said in Filipino. 

"What saddens me the most is that no one who is poor and actually disabled even asks or insists on having an ID, because they can't buy the medicine anyway, they can't go to Jollibee or McDonald's because unless they have money, security guards send them out because of how they look," he added. 

"To be honest with you, the poor still hardly benefit from having cards because they can hardly afford things like medicine to begin with."

'Hard to prove'

Shortly after the post went viral, House lawmakers called for a review of the law extending the benefits to cardholders of PWD IDs, with pundits quick to propose stricter processes. Users on social media said that genuine PWDs should not be made to adjust because of fake cases.

“These fake PWDs are bad for businesses, especially for small ones. They are faking their disability and are abusing the PWD Law just to get discounts. Our business sector is barely surviving these days and it is the duty of the government to make sure that they are protected from these kinds of consumer abuse,” Rep. Ronnie Ong (Ang Probinsyano) said in a joint statement.

Full screengrab shows the six PWD cards one family was able to get for each member.

Anecdotal evidence of falsified PWD cards has long been plentiful on the part of establishment owners and government officials, though formal cases have not once been officially documented. 

Even back in October, PWD advocates said that they did not receive any reports of the sort, but conceded that instances were not an impossibility as these largely depended on the implementation within local governments, which is largely shrouded in disuniformity.

In a phone call with Philstar.com, Philippine Amalgamated Supermarkets Association, Inc. (Pagasa) president Steven Cua took the position that fakes were damaging to the private sector, though conceded that just how damaging it is would be hard to measure.

"That’s very difficult, it’s almost impossible [to prove.] I mean, we don’t know any basis for saying that, but there are a lot...some try to ignore it and say it doesn’t happen, but it does," Cua added in a mix of Filipino and English.

"If you can perform the things you have to do, [you shouldn’t] get a discount for it. That kind of benefit isn’t right if it doesn’t go to the people who really should probably be benefitting, especially those who don’t earn to put food on the table. That’s the original intent of the law," he added. 

Do fake PWD cards bring down businesses?

However, the law also includes tax incentives for restaurant and establishment owners offering discounts to senior citizens and persons with disabilities. 

The implementing rules and regulations of the republic act read:

Section 13. Tax Deduction. The establishment may claim the discounts provided herein as tax deductions based on the net cost of the goods sold or services rendered: Provided, however, that the cost of the discount shall be allowed as deduction from the gross income for the same taxable year that the discount is granted: Provided, further, that the total amount of the claimed tax deduction net of Value Added Tax, if applicable, shall be included in their gross sales receipts for tax purposes and shall be subject to proper documentation and to the provisions of the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC), as amended.

"That's not easy. By mere deduction, by mere logic, obviously, you didn't earn what you were supposed to earn, so that is deducted. We understand the intent of the law, but the implementation, there’s much to be desired. Customers can demand something which they do not deserve," Cua said. 

"I cannot just give a volume of how much it happens, but simple deduction tells you that obviously something which should have been part of your earnings is lessened. We cannot get it back through tax exemptions for senior citizens, but we can from PWDs," he added. 

The Department of Trade and Industry also said that it was investigating similar reports of alleged abuse of PWD cards.

"Abuse of privilege in any law ruins the spirit behind it. Such discount is solely meant for actual persons with disability. DTI, through the Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau (FTEB), is currently investigating the matter," Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said in a separate statement from the DTI on Sunday.

Undersecretary for Consumer Protection Group Ruth Castelo added, "We are currently dealing with the matter and will file appropriate action against those found having fake PWD cards."

"It's debatable [that they can bring businesses down]. Maybe it's not damaging, but the degree of damage is what's hard to establish, see...but it's not good for tax collection and moving the economy forward, because people have to lie instead of doing business the normal way of doing it," Cua added.  

'Arrest fakes instead of changing the law'

Quezon City in its statement also assured business owners, whom they called the "direct victims" of similar cases, that the matter is being taken seriously by the present administration. 

Show-cause orders on the past city officials involved in this case and ordered the audit of the Person with Disabilities Affairs Office in relation to the issuance of Quezon City PWD IDs have been prepared, the LGU said.

Asked about possible steps forward in the case of the family, Casimiro said: "It can be two scenarios. It could have been made at Recto or some other external source. But it can also be possible that in connivance with government officials, what's in the law was not followed and the IDs were given to them."

"We are in the process of fact-finding and case buildup for all the people who are liable. If charges should be filed against the family once the evidence is assessed, we'll file one definitely. If government officials are involved, we will also sanction them," he added. 

Casimiro said that the city was "pursuing the direction" of having its health office take charge of validating applicants of PWD IDs along with integrating the PWD ID with the Quezon City ID system.

Advocates within the disability community have long been wary about the idea of tightening the requirements for acquiring an ID, though the consensus has been that faking disability for the stipulated benefits should be criminalized. 

In a text message, PWD Philippines executive director Arpee Lazaro told Philstar.com: "The population of PWDs is not that high. Much less are those with the ID. I don't know why the urgency to say that the fake PWD ID is a huge burden to the economy where clearly there are bigger issues the weigh on the economy. At this point, I believe it is best to stop speculating."

“Any abuse or negligence of their plight as in this case shall be dealt with accordingly to the fullest extent of the law,” the city government said in its statement.


Disclosure: Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte is a shareholder of Philstar Global Corp., which operates digital news outlet Philstar.com. This article was produced following editorial guidelines.

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