Senior citizens left to vote alone in barangay elections 2018

Rambo Talabong
Senior citizens left to vote alone in barangay elections 2018
Despite the absence of personnel to assist them, senior citizens brave the chaos of polling precincts for barangay elections 2018

MANILA, Philippines – Even before poll precincts opened on the day of barangay election 2018, May 14, throngs of voters flocked to the gates of Corazon Aquino Elementary School, a voting site for one of the most populous barangays in the Philippines.

Among early birds are the elders, parting groups of other voters as they moved closer to the gate.

Nevermind the early morning call time, the heat, or the lack of personnel assisting them. The senior citizens of Barangay Batasan Hills are present to place their ballots.

‘Solo flight’

Cora Decayman, 67, strolled all the way from her subdivision at Purok Pag-asa – an entire jeepney ride away from the voting site.

Lakad nga lang ako eh kasi exercise, agap pa. Lakad lang ako sige sasayaw-sayaw pa nga ako eh kahit nasa bahay (I just walk for exercise because it’s still early. I even dance even when I am just inside the house),” Decayman said with her eyes beaming.

She couldn’t find her name herself in the voters’ list as her eyesight has been failing her, she said, asking our team for assistance. She couldn’t ask elections officers as they were busy inside classrooms fixing papers.

For all the elections over the last 10 years, she has been going alone to vote, asking voters who could spare several minutes to aid her.

Her husband passed away in 2008. She said they always voted together back when he was alive.

Ako lang naman ang mag-isa sa bahay, ako ang solo flight (I’m just alone in our house. I’m on a solo flight), ” Decayman said.

Decayman is one of the lucky ones who were able to locate their voting precincts immediately. Unfortunately, others were made to go up and down the 4-floor voting precinct.

Dying vote

Such was the case of Rogelio Isanan, 69, a limping senior citizen who was instructed to go to the special voting precinct located at the ground floor of the school. When he came, he couldn’t find his name in the voters’ list.

Dapat boboto ako kaya lang nahihirapan ako maghanap ng aking number. Hindi ko naman kayang mag-akyat panaog. Paano na ako makakaboto nito? Ginagawa kasi nila palipatlipat daw,” Isanon said.

(I want to vote but I’m having a hard time locating my [precinct] number. I don’t have the luxury to go up and down. How will I vote now? They keep on transferring us.)

The morning problem at the Corazon Aquino Elementary school was electoral board members couldn’t agree whether to let all senior citizens vote in just the one designated polling precinct on the ground floor or to follow the randomized distribution of names.

They kept on announcing over the public announcement system that senior citizens should go to the designated room, even when they’re names weren’t listed. The election asked the unlisted senior citizens to look for the rooms where they are listed, sparking anger among the elders.

The tellers decided to only allow senior citizens vote in their randomized precincts – requiring some like Isanan to look for another room.

This, along with the absence of people assisting him, discouraged Isanan from voting. He even contemplated going home instead, but Isanan eventually decided to keep going, bearing his crutch, for old time’s sake.

Gusto ko sanang makaboto ako para sa susunod na eleksyon makakaboto pa rin kung buhay pa ako hindi ko nga alam kung makakarating pa ako sa susunod na eleksyon eh (I really want to vote because I don’t know if I can still vote in the next election, if I could reach it)” Isanan said.

No votes go to waste
Lydia Catbagan, 61, waited line as early as 5 am. Like Decayman and Isanan, Catbagan went alone, even renting a tricycle to drop her off and pick her up on time. She came despite having had a mild stroke, leaving her with a paralyzed right knee.

Going early went for naught, however, as she went around in circles to find her polling precinct.

5 am pumunta na dito tapos pagdating ko dito nandito ‘yung pangalan ko, pagdating ko sa loob sabi sa baba daw, dito daw sa 18 first floor pagdating diyan wala daw pangalan ‘di pwedeng bumoto…  Biruin mo nagarkila ako ng tricycle 50 oh isang kilong bigas na yun diba tapos pagdating mo dito wala pa rin,” a dismayed Catbagan said.

(I was here since 5 am, when I arrived inside I saw my name, and entered but they told me to go down. When I arrived here, my name wasn’t here so I couldn’t vote…Imagine, I rented a tricycle for P50, that’s already a kilo of rice, then when I arrived I still couldn’t vote.)

Despite the paining drawback, Catbagan said she will still persevere to drop her ballot.

Sayang din ang boto ko di ba? ‘Yung mababait na kandidato sa Batasan sayang din ‘di ba siyempre boto ko, baka ‘yun yung dagdag para manalo sila,” Catbagan said.

([If I didn’t drop my ballot], my vote would go to waste right? The good candidates would also go to waste. My vote might decide their victory.)

Decayman, Isanan, and Catbagan’s perseverance to make their voices count only make sense. 

For some days for these widowed senior citizens, they only get visits from their barangay officials. And for some, these elections will decide who they will spend their time with, for the rest of their lives. –

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.