For the first time in 17 years, Angels Walk – an annual march to bring awareness of autism in the Philippines – was viewed worldwide via livestream. The international autism community, along with families and supporters, saw a record-breaking number of participants march around the SM Mall of Asia grounds coming from inside the jampacked MOA Arena.
Around 24,000 online registrants expressed their interest to participate in this year’s event, with more on the wait-list trooping straight to the venue. The activity started inside the MOA Arena with entertainment coming from talented performers with autism, with no less than Asia’s Songbird Regine Velasquez cheering from the audience.
ASEAN Deputy Secretary General HE Dr. AKP Mochtan witnessed the event, along with Hans Sy of SM Prime Holdings, Annie Garcia of SM Supermalls, and other leaders from the public sector. Delegates from Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand were also present.
“We consider this event as one virtual group hug. Once a year, if you have a child with autism, you can come to MOA Arena without fear of judgment,” said Mona Magno-Veluz, president of Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP). “The theme is Philippines A-Ok, which means we want the Philippines to be okay with autism. We want a more inclusive society for autistic people where they get equal opportunities.”
“This used to be just a gathering of parents with autism. Today, since we have grown by leaps and bounds, we have to be more sophisticated with mounting our event so we can appeal to this wider audience,” Veluz added.
ASP got a big boost from the free use of the venue, with volunteers giving their expertise in production. SM, through its CSR arm SM Cares, has been supporting Angels Walk since 2007.
“We took the challenge that Mr. Hans Sy gave us a few years back, to raise the number of participants for Angels Walk. True to his word, he gave us MOA Arena as a new venue to accommodate the thousands more who wanted to participate,” said Engr. Bien C. Mateo, SM VP for Operations and Director for Program on Disability Affairs. “In 2016, SM Food Retail started training persons with autism in several branches. There is an intention to continue and expand this program this year to more branches nationwide.”
Angels Walk was also held in Davao, Iloilo, Cebu, Tacloban, and other provincial areas. Delegates came to the MOA Arena from different parts of the country and abroad, coming from as far as the US and Canada. ASP is part of the ASEAN Autism Network, and is currently working for accreditation as ASEAN NGO.