By FREDERIC LORENZO
UPI, Maguindanao – Sixty-year-old Herminio Lacave will walk two kilometers to cast his vote tomorrow.
Born with a smaller left leg, Lacave calls on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to make it easy for persons with disabilities (PWDs) to vote.
“Bilang isang PWD, nanawagan ako sa Comelec na bigyan kami ng isang magandang presinto upang kami’y makaboto ng maayos (As a PWD, I am calling on Comelec to provide us accessible precincts so we can vote with ease),” said Lacave.
But his plea won’t be addressed, as in Maguindanao, none of the voters with disabilities signified their intent to vote in accessible polling places (APPs).
APPs are areas designated for the exclusive use of PWDs and senior citizens. They should be free of any physical barriers and should have the necessary assistive devices, from ramps for wheelchair users to sign language interpreters for the deaf.
As of April 19, 2016, Comelec has assigned 6,211 APPs across the country but only 768 APPs with above 100 registered voters had been identified.
The problem in Upi stems from the failure of Comelec to provide supplemental forms for voters with disabilities during registration period, according to Fr. David Procalla of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV). (See: Fewer registered PWD voters for 2016 elections)
Comelec made the same mistake in the 2013 polls. (See: Comelec fails to provide crucial PWD forms)
The supplemental form is important because only through it can PWD voters indicate the type of assistance they would need on election day.
The local Comelec said it would accommodate the needs of PWDs, senior citizens and pregnant women on election day.
Upi Comelec officer Jeehan S. Nur said express lanes will be provided as an alternative to APPs.
While PWDs are given priority through express lanes, the experience of some PWDs during the previous elections shows there remain many challenges.
In 2013, VERA Files had documented precincts located on elevated ground. For voters with mobility disabilities like Lacave, this would require climbing stairs in order to vote. (See: Comelec failure shuts PWD out of 2013 polls, but volunteers fill the gap)
The PPCRV in Upi said it will continue to assist PWD voters.
“Simula sa kanilang pagdating, kami po yung maghahanap ng pangalan sa mga list ng pangalan and then tutulungan po namin sila hanggang makaboto po sila (We will assist PWD voters from finding their names up to the moment they are able to cast their votes),” said Upi PPCRV chair Alex Penalosa.
There are 5,505 registered PWD voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) based on January 13, 2016 Comelec data.
Nationwide, a total of 318,014 PWDs registered to vote in 2016. It’s a 14-percent from the 339,144 registered voters with disabilities in 2013.