Do PWDs, senior citizens have access to special polling places?

MANILA, Philippines – Young voter Chris Pino came ready to exercise her right to vote on Monday, May 13. But to her disappointment, she was not granted the right to access the special polling place for persons with disability (PWD) like him even after he presented an ID. 

A member of the local Electoral Board (EB)at the Kamuning Elementary School in Quezon City denied the 22-year-old college student entry to the emergency accessible polling place (EAPP). Pino, who has psychosocial disability, was redirected to the regular lane. She was told that the EAPP was designated for senior citizens.

"Dala ko PWD ID ko and I showed it a handful of times pero they still wouldn't let me vote.... At that point, nahiya na ako kasi others were looking at me. Even 'yung nakapila sa regular line na nakikinig, they were chiming in: 'Iha, pang-senior naman 'yan,'" Pino said.

(I brought my PWD ID, and I showed it a handful of times but they still wouldn't let me vote.... At that point, I was embarrassed because others were looking at me. Even the people in the regular lane who were listening chimed in, saying: "My dear, that's for seniors.")

FYI dala ko PWD ID ko and I showed it a handful of times pero they still wouldn't let me vote. Balita ko hindi lang physically disabled ang considered as PWD. The gov't issued me a PWD ID for a reason po. — Chris Pino (@chrisandreaa) May 13, 2019

Pino tried to appeal to the teachers but the EB member also stressed that nobody will believe that she was a PWD.

"Balita ko hindi lang physically disabled ang (I heard it's not just physical disabled people who are) considered as PWD. The government issued me a PWD ID for a reason," she said.

"I felt judged.... I felt that my situation was handled publicly and nahiya ako even if dapat 'di ako mahiya (I was embarassed even though I shouldn't) for being a PWD," Pino added. 

Despite the EB member’s claim that the EAPP was only for senior citizens, Pino observed that the elderly were also lining up in the regular lane. 

This was not the case for PWDs and senior citizens in every polling precinct. However, some still continue to be denied their right to vote in accessible polling precincts. (READ: IN PHOTOS: Senior citizens, PWDs vote in accessible polling places)

Republic Act (RA) No 10366 or the law that authorizes Commission on Elections (Comelec) to establish accessible voting centers exclusively for PWDs and senior citizens was enacted in 2013. (READ: How elections are made accessible to PWDs and senior citizens)

The measure requires the Comelec to establish an EAPP to help PWDs and senior citizens exercise their right to vote. For the 2019 midterm elections, the Comelec ordered that EAPPs should be located on the first floor of school buildings. 

For schools with single-story buildings, they must provide priority access to senior citizens, PWDs, and pregnant women in their respective regular precincts. 

Reporting non-compliance 

Election lawyer Emil Marañon III suggested that PWDs and senior citizens who experienced a similar incident should file a report to the Comelec. 

"Ang dapat ginawa ay ina-assert niya na under the law, may rights siya to be prioritized (What she should have done was to assert that under the law, she has rights that should be prioritized)," Marañon said. 

He reiterated that Pino's experience also showed the EB member’s misunderstanding of the law.

"A lot of people don't know about [the EAPP]. A lot of people misunderstand this. And a lot of members of the electoral board does not understand this regulation,Marañon said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

"Nakasulat sa batas na exempted sa first come, first serve basis sa mga senior citizen. Dahil mahaba ang pila, kapag may pumasok doon na senior citizen or PWDs, supposedly, under the law, bibigyan sila ng priority. Dapat hindi na sila papipilahin, diretso na sila sa loob," Marañon added.

(It is stated in the law that senior citizens and PWDs are exempted from the the first come, first serve basis. Senior citizens and PWDs, supposedly, under the law, should be given priority when there’s a long queue. They should be able to head straight to the polling precinct and vote.)   

Marañon called on Comelec and local leaders to hold an information campaign and train EB members and teachers to help them understand the law and implement it effectively.

"We hope na the Comelec and 'yong mga local leaders natin, candidates, and senior [citizens] or PWD can learn something about this na i-take home sana nila coming 2022 [elections]," said Marañon.

(We hope that the Comelec, local leaders, candidates, and senior citizens or PWD can learn something about this; take-home for the coming 2022 elections.) – Rappler.com 

Josiah Antonio is a Rappler intern. He is a 4th year student at the University of the Philippines Diliman taking BA Philippine Studies major in Journalism and Malikhaing Pagsulat sa Filipino.