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Make voting convenient for PWDs, groups urge

The government and some civic groups are aiming to increase the participation rate of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in elections.

Government officials and civic group members signed the Declaration of Commitment to push for the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs). Photo by Jhoanna Ballaran

MANILA, Philippines – The government and some civic groups are aiming to increase the participation rate of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in elections, especially with the mid-term polls in 2013 about a year away.

According to Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, there are around 2.6 million PWDs in the country qualified to vote in 2013, potentially making them a key voting bloc.

However, going by the 2010 national elections experience, wherein only 345,000 PWD voters registered and, of this, only 53% actually went to cast their ballot, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Rene Sarmiento said there is more to be done to promote the voting rights of PWDs.

This is the aim of a 3-year program of the Asia Foundation, with support from the Australian  Agency for International Development (AusAID) that aims to increase voting participation of PWDs in the 2013 midterm polls.

In the launch of the Asia Foundation’s Fully Abled Nation campaign on April 18, civic group members and government officials claim that there is a need to make voting practices convenient to PWDs, especially that their participation rate decreased in the recent election.

Based on a SWS survey commissioned by the Asia Foundation, the participation rate of PWDs decreased from 60% in 2007 to 54% in 2010. Some 22% of PWDs who were of voting age in 2010 didn’t bother to register for the first automated elections.

Robredo, who vowed the support of local government units (LGUs) for the campaign, noted that more than being a social welfare concern, it is also a human rights issue.

“There’s one equal need of PWDs, and that is their right to vote. People here knows how difficult it is for PWDs to exercise their right to suffrage,” he said.

Around 14% to 21% of PWDs who registered for the 2010 elections reportedly failed to actually vote because of various reasons:

  • 17% were ashamed to vote because of disability
  • 17% had mobility issues, like precincts are located on higher levels of the polling area
  • 16% were sick or bed ridden
  • 10% had nobody who would shape or read the ballots for them


According to the Asia Foundation, PWDs have as much right to vote as everyone else, as so they deserve equal attention from public officials so that their plights can be addressed. Hence, the campaign aims to provide recommendations to the Comelec to increase PWDs’ access to registration sites and polling places in order to reduce or remove constraints that PWD voters face to freely exercise their right to vote.

Initiatives

Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner Rene Sarmiento said that the poll body believes that “reaching out to and working with PWDs has legal, constitutional, and international support.” And so, Comelec has instituted initiatives to advance the right to suffrage of PWDs.

He explained that Comelec has, so far, come up with two resolutions for PWDs:

  • Resolution 9149, which created express lanes for the disabled during registration
  • Resolution 9220, which allows PWDs to have assisters when registering and voting


Sarmiento added that the poll body has installed satellite registration centers in more than 28 malls in 2011 to cater especially to PWDs. “This action is now being recognized in the world as a good practice,” he said.

Need for legislation

Robredo added that vigorous campaign for lawmakers to push for the rights of PWDs to vote will be a value-added to the campaign.

One of those being campaigned for is the passage of HB 4048, which calls for the use of ground-floor polling places for PWDs. The bill states: “The rooms shall be located at the ground floor of each polling center. Instead of proceeding to their precincts, the elderly and persons with disabilities will be allowed to vote in the special rooms where extra ballot boxes of their assigned precincts will be provided.”

Sarmiento said that if Congress approves the bill, the Comelec will gladly create a resolution to support it.

But aside from easy access to registration and voting processes, some PWDs also wish to have a law that will support a voting system wherein PWDs can vote independently without being assisted.

In the SWS survey, 30% of the PWDs who voted reportedly went to polling precincts on their own. This segment of PWD voters wish to practice to their right to suffrage by not depending on others, according to Mateo Lee Jr., deputy executive director of the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA).

Lee said that some PWDs share his dream of one day having the technology that will enable them to vote independently. “I look forward to that vision, because the Constitution included a provision for it,” he said.

Lee was referring to Article 5 Section 2 which states: “The Congress shall also design a procedure for the disabled and the illiterates to vote without the assistance of other persons.” – Rappler.com