BAGUIO CITY—Everything was going right for 44-year-old Arturo Ong Jr. on Friday.
He sat delightedly as friends and relatives dressed him in a crisp white shirt, a pair of black trousers and a white toga.
Cheers erupted as Ong’s brother wheeled him onstage at the President Fidel Ramos gymnasium here to receive his high school diploma, one of the 422 graduates who passed the high school accreditation and equivalency examination that was given last December.
Ong has cerebral palsy, a motor condition that causes physical disability in human development, as a result of damage to the control centers of the developing brain. He needs to be fed and personally cared for because of the limits in movement and activity caused by the condition.
This did not prevent Ong, however, from undertaking the alternative learning program offered by the city government and the Department of Education (DepEd).
Topped the finals
He topped the final exams, correctly answering 119 out of 120 questions, said Lina Castro, a friend of the family.
Ong beamed proudly as he sat with fellow graduates, who included inmates of the Baguio City jail. Ten of the inmates made it to the ceremony, having served out their jail terms. But six others who passed the test were not allowed to attend the rites.
The ceremony also marked the graduation of 27 people who passed the equivalency test for elementary school.
In a speech delivered for him by his nephew Allen, Ong thanked God for “giving me a normal, functioning mind and intellect encased in a physically handicapped body.”
“As you can see, I am physically challenged but my disabilities did not hinder me from pursuing my dreams. It may have taken this long because of previous constraints but with the opening of available resources, like modern technology and the ALS (alternative learning system) program of the Department of Education, [I was given] an opportunity to pursue education and be able to obtain a diploma,” he said.
On to computer science
Ong has been coping with cerebral palsy since birth. Speaking through a friend, Ong said he wanted to complete his education because it would make his family proud.
“If things work out, I plan to complete a course in computer science,” he said.
Ong’s parents are already dead. He is the youngest of eight children. Two of his siblings traveled from the United States to see their brother receive his diploma but, unfortunately, did not arrive in time for the ceremony.
“My parents, whom I lost years ago, are surely very proud of me. I can picture them smiling up there saying, ‘Well done, dear son,’” he said in his speech.
“I remember my dad reiterating to each one of us that he has no worldly wealth to leave us but [the wisdom to] value education, which no man can take away from us,” he said.
His ‘walking feet’
Veronica Rance, 60, has been Ong’s caretaker since age 24. She said her ward loves to read and is fascinated with computers.
She said Ong’s cousin helps him to punch the computer keys when he decides to browse online. “He also keeps a Facebook account,” she said.
In his speech, Ong thanked Rance and Castro. He referred to Castro as his “walking feet,” as she spent much time dealing with the DepEd and attending meetings to help Ong through the course.
Ong said he was tutored by Sheila Matinek and credited her for helping him pass the tests that ALS proctors periodically administered.
A second chance
The ALS program is considered a work in progress. Between 2004 and 2010, only 256 of 631 people who underwent ALS passed the equivalency tests, DepEd records showed.
“Education is an unending process,” said Joe Abawag, 57, and a member of the artists’ group, Tahong Bundok, who also graduated with Ong.
He said his diploma will now allow him to enroll in a fine arts course at the University of the Philippines.
Arthur Tiongan, DepEd ALS education supervisor for Baguio, said Ong and Abawag have proven that education will always be important.
“ALS gives students a second chance. Disabilities and trials should never be a hindrance to achieve your dreams, such as pursuing your education,” Tiongan said.—With reports from EV Espiritu and Desiree Caluza, Inquirer Northern Luzon