Comelec-Bukidnon opens on August 11 for PWDs

MALAYBALAY CITY (Bukidnon News/10 August) The Commission on Elections’ offices in Bukidnon’s 20 towns and two cities will be open on August 11, Saturday, for the special registration schedule for persons with disabilities (PWDs), the Comelec provincial office confirmed this week.

Annie Yabes, an election assistant of Comelec provincial office told Bukidnon News the local Comelec offices will be open from 8a.m. to 5p.m. on Saturday.

She added that they have coordinated the schedule with the local social welfare and development office to connect with PWD organizations in the province.

The Comelec has vowed more access for PWDs in the 2013 elections,

According to a Vera Files report last month, on May 13 next year, PWDs will no longer have to worry about climbing a flight of stairs in order to cast their votes in the midterm elections.

The Comelec has issued a resolution which will, among others, provide PWDs with accessible voting areas.

PWD groups welcomed the move and urged Comelec to conduct an information campaign among PWD voters to encourage them to vote.

Resolution 9485 instructs election officers (EO) to assign ground floor rooms to regular polling precincts with registered PWD voters. For polling places that have PWD voters who cannot all be accommodated at the ground floor, the EO will recommend the creation of an accessible polling place (APP), according to the report.

“The accessible polling place should be established in an area spacious enough to accommodate more than 10 PWD voters at a given time and considers the mobility requirements of PWDs particularly those who are wheelchair users,” the resolution said.

“The accessible polling place, as far as practicable, shall be free of any physical barriers and provides the necessary mobility, communications, visual and other forms of assistance for the PWDs,” it added.

A Special Board of Election Inspectors for PWDs (SBEI-PWD) and support staff will also be deployed to facilitate the voting of PWDs in the APPs and the transfer of the ballots from the regular precincts to the APPs. When Comelec could not designate a ground floor voting precinct and PWDs vote in APPs, the SBEI-PWD will drop their ballots in the PCOS (precinct count optical scan) machine in their respective precincts for them

Under the resolution, the support staff will collect the ballots of PWD voters from their regular precincts to the accessible polling places. The support staffs are also assigned to return the ballots to the regular BEIs of the regular precincts of the PWD.

In this case, PWDs will not be able to enter their ballots in the PCOS machines.

The PWDs, especially those with visual impairment, originally wanted to be allowed to insert the ballots themselves. But Comelec said it would be “operational nightmare” if ballots were to be transferred from one polling precinct to another on election day.

The Comelec resolution covers people with physical, hearing, speech, visual and nonmanifest disabilities. Nonmanifest refers to “conditions that are not immediately apparent but may need assistance from Comelec.”

State Solicitor Jessica Magbanua said she is amenable to the establishment of APPs. As PWDs, they would “As PWDs, we try to be as normal as we can get. We like to be treated equally, but we know that there are times when the security of the ballot will be compromised,” Magbanua said during Comelec consultation with PWDs on June 22.

AKAP-Pinoy Chair Manuel Agcaoili with May Gladys Butoy of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems during the June 22 meeting at the Comelec central office.

Manuel Agcaoili, chair of Alyansa ng may Kapansanang Pinoy (AKAP-Pinoy), said the resolution “would certainly encourage PWDs to exercise their right to suffrage” and called for an information campaign about the resolution “for more PWDs to know about it.”

He said, however, the resolution is “limited to those who have already been acknowledged” based on Comelec’s files. Many have not updated their files, which means that these PWDs cannot vote in the APPs, he said.

Only those who have registered or updated their records and indicated their disability will be allowed to vote in the APPs.

PWDs who have not updated their registration records will vote in their original precincts. But they will still be provided an express lane and an assistor in their regular polling place, according to the resolution.

AKAP-Pinoy, together with the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, plans to put up an online help desk to monitor problems in areas where the 450 PWD organizational members under AKAP-Pinoy are based, Agcaoili said.

Emerito Rojas, sectoral representative of PWDs in the National Anti-Poverty Commission and head of the New Vois Association of the Philippines, cited the significance of the Comelec resolution:

“Now the PWD sector may have a voice in the choice of the civil servants they wish to see both in the local and national positions.”

Rojas said they hope the implementation of the resolution will be successful nationwide since this is the first time it will be done by Comelec.

“The PWD sector will be cooperating with Comelec on the implementation,” he said.

APPs will also be provided with assistors and communication and visual assistance. Qualified assistors include relatives up to the fourth degree, a trusted household member or a member of the SBEI-PWD.

Since special registrations started this year, Comelec has recorded 24,000 PWDs that have registered or updated their records with Comelec.

Latest data from the poll agency show 24,573 PWDs have registered as of June 12. (Bukidnon News with a report from Vera Files)