As a parent of a child with autism, I am deeply hurt when I heard how Cebu Pacific treated children with special needs. Last December 23, 2009, Mrs. Maritess Alcantara and her 14-year-old son, Arvin, who has such a disability, boarded its plane in Hong Kong on their way back to our country. Just before takeoff, a crew member allegedly “in a rude and arrogant manner” tried to force them to deplane because supposedly “airline policy prohibited having more than one person with a ‘mental illness’ on the same flight.” (Source: Inquirer.net) It appears that there was another child with special needs on board, whom the crew also tried to force to deplane. But Alcantara refused to do so. In the end, the pilot relented and allowed them to stay on board.
In fairness, Cebu Pacific apologized for the incident saying that “The attempt to offload a passenger with a developmental disability was a result of the cabin crew’s misinterpretation of government regulations designed to assure the safety of passengers.” But the apology was not enough to assuage the hurt. (People with special needs are no threat at all.) The family will file a lawsuit against the airline. According to their lawyer, “The policy is clear that special children are not included in the airline’s prohibition… a special child is not classified as being mentally ill”. The Commission on Human Rights has also condemned the shameful act.
When I heard about the incident, I actually prayed that the Lord would not bless the airline people with children with special needs of their own because I fear that they might not treat them with the love that such children deserve. They are also “a heritage from the LORD” (Psalm 127:3, ESV). I remember the time when Senator Mirriam Defensor-Santiago and Broadcaster Korina Sanchez publicly made autism a butt of joke on separate occasions. I personally e-mailed them a protest letter and they sent back their heartfelt apologies. This time, more than issuing a statement, I believe Cebu Pacific should have their entire company go through a retraining so that their staff and crew would be more sensitive to people with special needs and avoid such discrimination to happen again. It is just fitting for the Lord Jesus Himself said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matthew 25:45)
Brethren, do unto others what we would do to the Lord.