CEBU, Philippines – For the coming elections, the persons with disability (PWD) community in Cebu has but one goal: to be heard.
The inclusion of the rights of the PWD community in the national agenda has always been a challenge every election season.
During the 2013 elections, Tahanang Walang Hagdanan (TWH) experienced accessibility issues both at the registration and voting phases.
Months into the election season, several PWD groups have attested to the lack of implementing guidelines for ensuring an inclusive election in 2016.
One problem faced by the sector during the registration phase is the alleged lack of information on accessible polling places. APPs are pre-designated precincts for PWDs and senior citizens which are usually located at the ground floor.
According to JP Maunes, Philippine Accessible Deaf Services Inc (PADS) CEO, only around 200 PWDs were able to apply to vote at APPs in Cebu.
“When we asked PWD sector leaders connected to the LGUs, they don’t have any idea that there is a separate application for accessible polling place,” Maunes added.
But beyond the problems involving accessibility, Maunes said what is more disconcerting is the lack, aif not total absence, of programs for PWDs in the platforms of local and national candidates.
“Within the bigger society, they [PWDs] still remain invisible,” Maunes lamented.
In fact, during the first presidential debates held at the Capitol University in Cagayan de Oro in February, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and GMA News Incorporated failed to make the debate more inclusive as there were no sign language interpreters and television insets.
Fortunately, the PWD community in Cebu will no longer take these problems sitting down.
Empowered Cebuano PWDs
Cebu is not just the venue for the second Comelec-sanctioned presidential debates. The Visayan province also holds the most number of registered PWD voters for the 2016 polls.
Out of the total 318,013 registered voters from the PWD sector across the country, 15,866 hail from Cebu. The 2016 national figure is a big leap from the previous national elections in 2013, when only 191,672 PWDs registered to vote.
To make sure the rights of this large electorate do not get ignored by candidates, PADS and other PWD organizations in Cebu joined forces to maximize the voting power of the PWDs through voters’ education, capacity building, and volunteer mobilization training.
Recently, PADS and the Cebu Citizens Involvement and Maturation for People Empowerment and Liberation (CCIMPEL) have committed “to ensure that PWDs become active citizens, aware of their rights and dignity as Filipinos” through the Fully Abled Nation’s Active Citizens with Disability (ACWD) project.
Two sign language interpreters are also set to participate in the second Comelec-sanctioned presidential debates – an effort which Maunes said will happen for the first time in a Philippine national presidential debate.
“For me, it’s historic. It’s going to be a benchmark in terms of providing or recognizing the right to information and participation of the PWDs” Maunes said.
Maunes remained optimistic. These steady developments in the engagement of the PWD community in the course of the elections, according to him, may likely yield a positive domino effect that could ultimately influence governance.
“When PWDs go out and vote, whether the precinct is accessible or not, it will show in statistics. If there is a high turnout, we can expect that the government will focus on providing programs that will really benefit the sector,” Maunes said.
Hoping for the best, Maunes has a simple message to local and national candidates vying for public office: “Watch out for the PWD vote.” – Rappler.com
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