By Melissa Luz Lopez, VERA Files
Despite laws ensuring accessibility, the May 13 elections failed to make polling centers barrier-free for persons with disabilities, said poll watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente).
“Nandoon ang batas (para sa mga PWD), pero hindi siya na-implement nang maayos (The laws are there for PWDs, but these were not fully implemented),” said Kimberly Anne Lorenzo, project director for Lente’s PWD Monitoring.
She noted the lack of “substantial compliance” with accessibility laws such as Commission on Elections Resolution 9485, which mandates all polling centers to assign precincts with registered PWD voters to the ground floor.
Batas Pambansa 344 also lists the minimum requirements for accessibility, such as the presence of ramps, parking spaces and dropoff points, nonskid floors, signages and toilets with ample space for PWDs, especially for wheelchair users.
Of the 362,113 registered voters with disabilities, only 82,000 PWDs, or 23 percent, were able to vote on election day, Kapisanan ng mga may kapansanan sa Pilipinas (Kampi) president Josie de Vera said.
Lorenzo said the lack of PWD-friendly facilities in polling centers led to voter disenfranchisement, as observed by Lente and Kampi volunteers in their pilot monitoring areas in Metro Manila, Cavite, Iloilo and Zamboanga.
She added that while the two accessible polling places (APPs) in Dasmariñas, Cavite followed the requirements, one voting center failed to provide adequate space for PWD voters.
The APP in Salawag Elementary School, which was supposed to cater to 183 voters with disabilities, was not fit for PWD voters due to lack of proper ventilation, Lorenzo said.
Kampi member Maureen Mata, a leg amputee, added that some polling centers in Makati did not assign ground-floor precincts to PWD voters. The Boards of Election Inspectors (BEIs) were also prohibited by a local election officer to bring the ballots for wheelchair users to the ground floor.
Some BEIs, she said, did not know that PWDs were supposed to be provided express lanes. That rainy Monday, some of the PWD voters chose to go home than continue to wait at the voting center.
Mata said there were “gaps in the law,” adding that what BEIs and election personnel practiced during the elections were far from ideal.
For the 2016 elections, Lente recommended the full compliance of concerned agencies to accessibility laws, along with an intensified sensitivity training for teachers who will serve as BEIs.
Lenteand Kampialso appealed to government institutions to insist on a more PWD-inclusive elections.
“We appeal to the Department of Education and tothe Department of Public Works and Highways to ensure that every school to be selected as voting centers must adhere to the standards of accessibility for PWDs,” the groups said in a joint statement.
The laws, Mata said, were mum about the mechanics to accommodate PWD voters, citing the different concerns for every type of disability.
“Maganda ang batas natin, pero walang ngipin (Our laws are good but they have no teeth),” Mata said.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true”.)