By Lloyd Reyes and Shiela May Aballa, VERA Files
Photos by Mario Ignacio IV, VERA Files
It was a study in contrast—the waiting area at the Pasig City Sports Center was filled with persons with disabilities (PWDs) waiting for their turn to file their voter's registration forms, while in Pateros, only a handful of PWDs showed up, leaving most seats unoccupied.
Pasig and Pateros represented two sides to the ongoing special voters registration for PWDs—Pasig a big city with 10 times the population of Pateros, Metro Manila's smallest town.
In Pasig, an intense push by the city netted 277 registrants during the half-day special registration, while in Pateros, it lasted four days but resulted in only 24 registrants.
During the special registration, PWDs may register, reactivate and validate their registration, transfer and update their records.
Lawyer Ma. Anne Gonzales, Pasig District I Election Officer, credited the nearness of the election period and a more intensive campaign that included putting up tarpaulin announcements in conspicuous places as well as information dissemination and orientations conducted in barangays for the high turnout of registrants.
She said Elections Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento, the focal person in the Inter-Agency and NGO Network in Empowering Persons with Disability, has emphasized the goal to empower PWDs so that their voices will be heard and their votes counted every election.
Gonzales said this year's number is unprecedented. In the July 2011 PWD registration, only two registered for District 1 while District 2 only had 10. Pasig has a total population of 617,301 as of 2007 statistics and registered voters of 368, 652 as of 2010.
On registration day on May 16, the Sports Complex housed in the Pasig City Hall was converted into a registration office for145 PWDs from District 1 and 132 from District 2 of the city. The basketball stadium served as a waiting area for the registrants and the lobby, the registration office.
In Pateros, the registration turnout was low despite the four-day special registrations, held on May 7 at the municipal lobby, May 11 and May 12 at the covered court of Barangay Sta. Ana where 70 percent of Pateros residents live, and May 19 in Barangay Sto. Rosario-Kanluran.
Pateros has 10 barangays and a population of 61,940 as of 2007. As of last elections, it had 39,860 registered voters.
Comelec tried its best to update the records of PWDs voters, but the move to raise awareness only started last year, acting election officer Enriqueta Danieles said.
As of the July 2011 Comelec records, Pasig had a total number of 631 registered PWD voters and Pateros had seven—one of the fewest numbers nationwide.
Special registrations in the National Capital Region are scheduled until August. (See complete schedule of NCR here.)
The spike of PWD voters' turnout in Pasig could also be attributed to the convenience of transportation provided by the of Abot-kamay ng mga may Kapansanang Pasigueño ang Tagumpay (AKKAPP) that tied up with barangays. The vehicles ferried PWDs to and from their barangays.
AKKAPP is not yet a registered disabled people's organization (DPO), but it has been visible in PWD-related events in the city.
Ricardo Delgado, AKKAPP coordinator of Barangay Sumilang, said his group chose to ask for support by providing the means of transportation instead of asking for funds.
Delgado, who had polio as a child, said that like the Comelec, AKKAPP also want PWD votes to count. PWDs have experienced difficulties in registration in the past particularly when flights of stairs needed to be taken just to get to their respective voting precincts, he said.
He said that 11 out of the 30 barangays in Pasig already joined the group while two barangays are still in the process of joining. He estimates that they already have signed up between 700 and 800 PWD members comprised of children as young as one to adults as old as 59. He said that those 60 and above are already tagged as senior citizens.
Corazon Derecho, whose right eye has been blinded because of retinal detachment, uses a cane because of fractures in her left leg, and wears a diaper because of urinary incontinence, is all praises for the PWD registration.
Despite waiting for three hours and the discomfort of prolonged sitting, she said the PWD registration initiative is their "100 percent wish" because registering and voting is for their own benefit.
The long wait to have her record updated is still a far better experience compared to voting in the second floor of an elementary school, she said.
During the Pateros registration, no DPO was present, but election officer Danieles said the local government planned for the four-day schedule to make the registration accessible to PWDs in the town.
Voting is a PWD's right according to Article V, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution that states "Congress shall also design a procedure for the disabled and illiterates to vote without the assistance of other persons. Until then, they shall be allowed to vote under existing laws and such rules as the Commission on Elections may promulgate to protect the secrecy of the ballot."
Special registrations were held in Visayas in March and in Mindanao in April. For the entire month of May, schedules have been set for Luzon.
CAR (Cordillera Administrative Region): Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Mt.Province
Region I (Ilocos Region): Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan
Region II (Cagayan Valley): Cagayan
Region III (Central Luzon): Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac
Region IVA (Calabarzon): Cavita, Laguna, Rizal, Quezon
Region IVB (Mimaropa): Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan
(VERA Files is a partner of the "Fully Abled Nation" campaign that seeks to increase participation of PWDs in the 2013 elections and other democratic process. Fully Abled Nation is supported by The Asia Foundation and the Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")