MANILA, Philippines–Getting persons with disabilities or PWDs to “come out of their shell” and take part in the voter registration program of the Commission on Elections is probably one of the biggest challenges facing the poll body, according to Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca.
Padaca, who herself walks with crutches due to the polio she contracted as a child, said there were other tough hurdles as well, like making sure the “shy and fewer-in-number PWDs are not unwittingly marginalized by the more active and assertive senior citizens,” as happened during the recent voter registration at Rizal Park in Manila.
“Actually, some of our partners from the People’s Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting had brought that to our attention. They assisted us during the activity,” she told the Inquirer.
Padaca, who is in charge of PWDs in the nationwide voter registration drive, said “it’s up to us at Comelec that that doesn’t happen again.”
“We may need to form separate lines for PWDs and senior citizens during our satellite registration programs … we in the en banc can come up with directives if necessary,” she said.
During the Rizal Park registration drive, 439 PWDs and senior citizens showed up. “They were 239 more than our minimum target of 200 registrants,” Padaca said.
The registration was held at the Senior Citizens Garden, where PWDs and seniors validated, reactivated, corrected or updated their data. They also submitted their biometrics, mainly their digital photos, signatures and fingerprints.
Padaca stressed that “voters with no biometrics will not be able to vote in May 2016.”
More than 9.6 million voters nationwide, including many PWDs and senior citizens, still have no biometric records, hence the need for an intensified campaign, she said.
In February 2013, President Aquino signed Republic Act No. 10367, or an Act Providing for a Mandatory Biometrics Registration Program, requiring all voters to submit their biometric data to the Comelec or face disenfranchisement in 2016.
Padaca has repeatedly called on the thousands of PWDs all over the country who are registered voters to come to the agency’s offices and fill out supplementary forms, indicating their type of disability and what kind of assistance they would need during the polling.
An undisclosed number of registered PWD voters, including Padaca, are not yet listed or recognized in the poll body’s files as PWDs and therefore would be unable to avail themselves of the special privileges granted to PWDs.
She said “the best way to do that now is to encourage PWDs and seniors to come to Comelec offices on Sundays when the lines are not long, if at all.”