By Minka Klaudia Tiangco
Various disability sectors called on the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the Department of Education (DepEd), and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to make the elections more inclusive for persons with disabilities (PWDs).
One of the things that these agencies can do is to install ramps at the polling areas before the March 29 deadline for construction, said Bianca Lapuz, a representative of the Fully Abled Nation.
“They can even just install ramps. That’s easy. Even if they just do makeshift ones with wood, in the meantime, if they cannot get a permit to install a permanent one. But of course, we prefer permanent and safe ramps,” she said in Filipino during a press briefing on Wednesday.
Lapuz said the ramps that they are requesting are a “basic neccesity” for PWDs. The ramps can also be used by students with disabilities once the elections are done, she added.
Aside from this, the Comelec should provide signages for the visually- and hearing-impaired, deploy sign language interpreters to assist deaf voters, coordinate with other agencies to map out safe and accessible routes for PWDs, and intensify their information drive and sensitivity campaign, the groups’ statement read.
Dr. Maureen Mata from the Alyansa ng may Kapansanang (AKAP) Pinoy urged the Commission on Elections to use the budget allotted for voters with disabilities to make the midterm polls more accessible for them.
“The Comelec has a budget under the commissioner who handles us. We hope we get to use the budget that is allotted for PWDs. If we don’t get to use it, where else would it be used?” she said.
The groups, however, said the Comelec made adjustments that improved the situation of voters with disabilities in 2016.
Republic Act 10366, an act that authorized Comelec to establish accessible polling places (APPs) for PWDs and senior citizens, was first implemented during the 2016 national elections, which the groups dubbed as the “first disability-inclusive elections in the history of the Philippines.”
There were 6,281 APPs established at the ground floor and near the entrances of polling area. Some 35,547 PWDs and 174,771 senior citizens registered to vote in APPs.
Emergency APPs (EAPPs) were also established for PWDs, senior citizens, and heavily pregnant women. In 2016, 275 EAPPs were established.
PWDs, senior citizens, and heavily pregnant women who voted in EAPPs had assistors and were not able to personally feed their ballots to the vote counting machine.
Despite this, there were still some cases where PWDs go home without casting their votes due to inaccessibility of some polling areas or lack of assistance from election board officers, Mata said.
The Comelec also had “shortcomings in recognizing the sector’s right to suffrage” during the 2018 barangay elections when no disability-friendly policy was implemented, the groups claimed.
“Ang karapatan ng pagboto ay hindi magiging totoo habang ang mga magaaral na may kapansanan ay nakikipag-laban araw-araw sa isang kapaligiran na hindi siya kasali (The right of suffrage will not be fully recognized while the students with disabilities continue to fight every day in an environment that is not inclusive for them),” said Carmen Reyes-Zubiaga, director of the National Council for Disability Affairs (NCDA).
Mata and Zubiaga also slammed the Comelec, particularly Commissioner Al Parreño, chairman of the Committee on Persons with Disabilities and Senior Citizens, for their supposed lack of involvement in making the midterm polls more inclusive for PWDs.
“May kakulangan po talaga sa Comelec. Kulang na kulang po. Parang nakikita namin, 1 percent of the 100 percent that we are expecting from the government agency para ma-implement ‘yung mga patakaran (There is something lacking in Comelec. We only get 1 percent from the 100 percent we expected from the government agency to implement disability-friendly policies),” Mata said.
“Let us not take for granted the PWDs. Especially the commissioner who is assigned to handle the PWDs, please do your job,” Zubiaga added.
As per the Comelec’s initial data, 270,082 PWDs and senior citizens registered to vote in 6,709 accessible clustered precincts in all regions nationwide, except for the Ilocos Region.
There are also 867 EAPPs in NCR, CAR, Regions IV-A, IV-B, V, VII, and VII. #MatalinongBoto2019