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Low turnout of PWD voters in metro-wide mall registration

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THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Saturday launched a satellite voter registration and validation in several shopping malls in Metro Manila, but turnout was low.

A combination of heavy rain and lack of information dissemination hampered the registration of persons with disabilities and other voters.

In five areas, Comelec personnel accommodated over 1,200 persons who registered as new voters or filed for reactivation or transfer of existing voter records. Of this number, less than 10 voters with disabilities were able to register.

PWDs were given priority in queueing along with elderly voters and pregnant women.

Among them was Fred Ibañez Jr. who filed for transfer of registration from Bacolod to Makati.

Ibañez, who had polio as a child and now has a brace in one leg, said he found the process more efficient compared with his previous experience registering as a voter.

He said he was done with his transfer of registration in 15 minutes, but had one complaint.

“Maybe next time, they should bring a photocopying machine,” he said, having had to cross the street to photocopy his identification card.

Registration in SM Megamall for Mandaluyong residents did not draw as much voter registrants.

As of 4 p.m., a Comelec unit there had processed the applications of only less than 80 persons. As of the said time, no PWDs came to register.

Elections officer Juliet Villar said that the combination of rain, a relatively short notice, and the location of the mall itself might have contributed to the low turnout. Comelec was expecting at least 200 registrants.

In SM City Manila, there was low turnout as well amid hassle-free voter registration. Only two PWDs from the Metro Manila District 5 turned up, having heard about the announcement only by word of mouth.

Joanne Maniega and Mila Francisco, both with disabilities, updated their biometric records with ease. Both found the registration efficient unlike in previous years when they had to endure long queues to register. Both used the express lanes.

“They filled out everything [for me], I had nothing to do but have my picture taken,” Francisco, 63, said.

District election officer Narciso Arabe said the low voter registration turnout of PWDs and senior citizens has become a trend.

“It is possible that they are not well-informed about the importance of registration and validation,” Arabe said. “Some PWDs say they find it difficult to go to registration centers due to their condition, while some of them wait until the last minute,” he said.

Election assistant Mario Razos Jr., said the press release for the July 4 simultaneous satellite registrations across Metro Manila had reached their office three days before the event, giving them barely enough time to prepare and disseminate information to barangays.

Nestor Malabag, chairman of Barangay 659 Zone 71, said upon receiving the notice Friday evening, he immediately ordered barangay tanods to make door-to-door announcements.

At the UP Town Center in Quezon City, only three PWDs registered.

Third district poll officer Anna Karina Domines-Derequito said this was because most of them participated during an earlier satellite registration.

She said they began visiting several barangays last year and accommodated requests to allow people to register and update their records through the biometrics system.

Derequito said the PWDs who came to register did not experience any difficulty. For her, the location is accessible to PWDs, particularly because it’s at the ground floor.

The center, however, lacks a definite express lane for PWDs. It is also located along Katipunan Avenue, which causes more trouble to PWDs when they alight from public transport.

In SM North Edsa, there was also low turnout.

The local Comelec said it depends on the voters’ preference, as some prefer weekdays over weekends.

“This one is an opportunity for those who are going to the malls [that although it is] family day, they can still access Comelecbecause we are here at the mall, where they are,” Quezon City District 1 elections officer and lawyer Jonalyn Sabellano said.

But come election day, accessibility of polling areas may still be a problem.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said efforts to make precincts accessible during the last election still have a long way to go.

“There are some cases when the only available location has accessibility issues. For one, just a step higher from the ground is already problematic,” he said.

He then urged PWDs to “manifest” their desire to have an accessible polling place (APP).

Kapag nasama sila sa APP on election day, doon natin sila ilalagay sa mga special polling place na hiwalay sa regular na presinto na papasukan ng marami (Once they are included in the APP, a special polling place will be allotted for them),” he said.

APPs are exclusive to PWDs, and aims to address the inconveniences faced in the 2013 elections, such as cramped spaces for wheelchairs and the lack of assistance for PWDs.

Lahat iyon mawawala, kasi nga iyong [APP] will be designed specifically to be 100 percent accessible to PWDs, senior citizens and heavily pregnant women (Everything will be addressed, because the APP will be designed specifically to be 100 percent accessible to PWDs, senior citizens and heavily pregnant women),” Jimenez assured.

For now, voters with disabilities are encouraged to register or update their records early.

Pursuant of Republic Act 10367, which mandates a biometric registration system, voters who would fail to submit themselves for validation before Oct. 31, 2015 will not be allowed to vote. Validation involves digitally capturing a voter’s photograph, fingerprints and signature

The satellite voters registration and validation at major malls are part of the Comelec’s “No Bio No Boto” campaign.

“We want to make the voter registration and validation process a lot easier and accessible to all,” said Comelec Chair Andres Bautista in a report published on the commission’s website.

“This is why the Comelec is partnering with major malls in the Metro to reach out to the broadest number of voters as possible.” – Jake Soriano, Maria Feona Imperial, Yvette B. Morales, Verlie Q. Retulin 

Schedule of future voter registration in malls are as follows:

July 5, 2015 (Sunday)
Glorietta (For voters from Makati District 1 & 2)
Market! Market! (For voters from Taguig City)
U.P. Town Center (For voters from Quezon City District 3)
Fairview Terraces (For voters from Quezon City District 5)

July 11, 2015 (Saturday)
Robinson’s Novaliches (For voters from Quezon City District 5)
Robinson’s Metro East (For voters from Pasig City District 1 & 2)
Robinson’s Manila (For voters from Manila District 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6)

July 18 – 19, 2015 (Saturday and Sunday)
TriNoma (For voters from Quezon City District 1, 2, 4 & 6)
Alabang Town Center (For voters from Muntinlupa)

(Maria Feona Imperial, Yvette B. Morales and Verlie Q. Retulin are University of the Philippines students writing for VERA Files as part of their internship.)