SINCE OUR powerhouse performance in the recent Olympics, Republic Act 10699 — the National Athletes and Coaches Benefits and Incentives Act — has been put on the spotlight because of the windfall it promised Olympic medalists Hidilyn Diaz, Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam, and Eumir Marcial.
But did you know that RA 10699 also grants cash incentives to our athletes who will come home with medals in the upcoming Paralympics?
Under RA 10699, the cash incentives for Olympians and Paralympians are as follows:
Olympics (Summer/Winter): P10 million
Paralympics: P5 million
Olympics (Summer/Winter): P5 million
Paralympics: P2.5 million
Olympics (Summer/Winter): P2 million
Paralympics: P1 million
Notice anything off? Notice anything unequal?
Sadly, our Paralympians are entitled to only half of what their Olympian counterparts get.
So, if powerlifting veteran Achelle Guion wins gold in the 2020 Paralympics, she’s entitled to P5,000,000 — half of what Hidilyn Diaz was entitled to when she brought home our first gold in Tokyo 2020.
A bit unfair, isn’t it?
Another question: Is this classification legal?
Equal protection under law
Section 1 of the 1987’s Constitution’s Bill of Rights states that no person shall “be denied the equal protection of laws.” More popularly known as the equal protection clause, it guarantees that the law should treat each person the same manner as the next.
In a nutshell, the law should treat everyone equally.
This, however, does not mean that the law can’t make classifications and distinctions between people. The equal protection clause allows reasonable classifications as long as these classifications comply with the following requisites, which we'll list down below in legal terms:
1. The classification must rest on substantial distinction;
2. It must be germane to the purpose of the law;
3. It must not be limited to existing conditions only; and
4. It must apply equally to all members of the same class.
So, how does RA 10699’s treatment of our Paralympians stack up to the equal protection clause?
Well, it hits a snag when it comes to the first and second requisites.
Let's talk about prequisite number one first. Is there a substantial distinction between Olympians and Paralympians?
At the outset, the distinction is clear: disability. It’s important to know the basis of the distinction because it’ll determine what test we should use. If the distinction is based on a suspect class (like race, national origin, or religion) or impinges on a fundamental right (like free speech), then we use what lawyers call the strict scrutiny test. If it doesn’t, then we use the more permissive rational basis test.
Here, we’ll have to use the rational basis test, as disability is neither a suspect classification, nor is receiving less cash incentives an infringement of a fundamental right. Under the rational basis test, as long as the classification is rationally related to achieving some legitimate state interest, then it’s valid.
How does RA 10699 advance state interest? Well, it does so by promoting excellence in sports, since it looks after the welfare of coaches and athletes, and provides incentives and benefits to athletes who succeed in international competitions.
Which now leads us to prequisite number two. Is the distinction based on disability germane to the purpose of the law to promote sports excellence? To put it in simpler terms: Is giving less cash incentives to Paralympians rationally related to improving sports in the country?
It doesn’t seem that way. Paralympians endure the same rigorous training, participate in the same level of competition, and bring the same honor to the country the same manner that Olympians do. Hence, distinguishing between Olympians and Paralympians for the purpose of cash incentives doesn’t further the government interest.
In fact, it does the opposite. The law seems to say, “Thanks for the medals! Oh wait, you have a disability? Thanks for half the medal then!”
A gold medal is a gold medal, regardless if the medalist has a disability or not.
Next step for equality
Of course, it’ll be argued that before RA 10699 was passed, Paralympians got nothing for winning under the old law which granted incentives (RA 9064). That’s well and good. And Paralympians are undoubtedly grateful for their inclusion.
True, they are better off now than they were pre-RA 10699. But the comparison shouldn’t be pegged with their situation before RA 10699 was passed. The proper point of comparison is with Olympians, who are in the same boat as Paralympians (save for the absence of disabilities), but are entitled to twice the incentives.
It’ll also be argued that the distinction is not based on disability per se, but on the prestige of the event. The argument will go something like “the Olympics is more prestigious than the Paralympics, so our Olympians should get more.”
Granted, the text of RA 10699 supports the argument, as the schedule of incentives is based on the geographic scope of the competition, and not the physical status of the athlete.
To this argument, we can say two things.
First, prestige notwithstanding, the underlying distinction is still one based on disability, as participation in either the Olympics or the Paralympics depends on whether the athlete is able-bodied or has a disability.
Second, even assuming prestige is the distinction to be reckoned with, it is still not germane to the purpose of the law of promoting sports excellence. Take the case of incentives for winners in the Olympics versus winners in the Asian Games. True, a distinction between the Olympics and the Asian Games can be rationally made, given the scope of the competition (worldwide vs. region-wide).
But the same can’t be said of the Olympics and the Paralympics, which have the same worldwide scope of competition.
As can be seen, RA 10699 is vulnerable to an equal protection challenge. In fact, the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons recognizes that disabled persons have the same rights as other people and that the state should give them full support. Yet, RA 10699 gives them half.
If brought to court, there is a possibility that RA 10699 can be struck down for violating the Constitution. We, of course, don’t want that, as we want all our athletes — abled-bodied or with disability — to get the cash incentives that they deserve. The law is good law and good policy. It just needs a tweak here or there.
We hope RA 10699 gets amended to level the playing field between Olympians and Paralympians and between all able-bodied athletes and athletes-with-disabilities (AWDs).
From RA 9064 which granted them nothing, to RA 10699 which granted them something, it took nearly 14 years for Paralympians and AWDs to be granted cash incentives under the law. Hopefully, the next step in equality won’t take that long.
Mickey Ingles is a leading sports lawyer working in the law firm of Ingles Laurel Calderon. He wrote the country's first and only book on sports law, Laws for Sports and the Sporty. He also teaches Emerging Issues in Sports Law in the Ateneo Law School, and is the author of Alinam, a fantasy novel published by Summit Media.
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