By Mikhail Franz Flores and Leilanie Adriano, VERA Files
Most local offices of the Commission on Elections pushed through with the voters' registration of persons with disabilities (PWD) last weekend despite the floods left behind by the monsoon rains in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces.
"I think the weather is cooperating with this sun coming out after days of raining," Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento who was at the registration at the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral in Quezon City's District IV said.
Sarmiento said he and other stakeholders were relieved that their efforts paid off in preparing for the special registrations. "It's a big relief to all of us because our preparations weren't wasted," he said.
The Comelec moved the PWD voter registration day from July 21 to Aug. 11 to give way to the general voters' registration in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The poll body suspended brought all voter registration machines and personnel to the ARMM, which needed to cleanse its voters' book.
Some areas, however, cancelled registration the Aug. 11 activities due to the adverse effects of the floods and rains. The announcement that Marikina, Valenzuela, San Juan and Pampanga will not push through with PWD registrations was made Friday.
Sarmiento said these are only isolated cases since registration is being done throughout the country. Registration in these areas will be reset to August 25, Sarmiento said.
"Ang mismong opisina ng Comelec ay pinasok [ng baha]. Ang mga PWDs, hindi makakalabas but isolated po ito (Even the Comelec office was flooded. PWDs could not go out, but these are isolated incidents)," he said.
At the end of the day, there were 21 PWDs who registered, transferred, reactivated and validated in District IV of Quezon City.
In Pasig, the registration was also cancelled because of continuous flooding in several parts of the city including the Sports Center where the registration was supposed to be held.
Department of Social Welfare and Development Pasig officer Yvette Montefalcon said Comelec will announce the new schedule later.
Pasig City Hall and its adjacent areas, including the public market, Justice Hall and a private school, have been flooded as early as Aug. 7, with waters reaching as high as the waist. The flood waters were at knee level as of Satuday.
While Comelec staff in Caloocan City's District II said they put effort into making known the registration schedule for PWDs, Rizalyn Rosas, president of the PWD Guardian Association Inc (PWDGAI) said they were not aware that special registrations for PWDs were being conducted that day. As of 4:30 p.m., only two of the 11 registrants were PWDs.
Outside Metro Manila, registrations also pushed through in the provinces of Pangasinan and Ilocos Norte.
As of 1 p.m., less than five PWDs registered in designated centers in Pangasinan because most areas were still flooded.
In Laoag, four PWDs registered at the ground floor of the City Hall. The number is an
improvement from the zero turnout in last June's special registrations.
According to City Election Officer John Paul Martin, communication letters were forwarded to the City Social Welfare Office and the Office of Barangay Captains in Laoag City to help them disseminate the information to PWDs.
Aside from that, Josephine Silvestre, PWD coordinator of Laoag City said they also coordinated with local radio stations to accommodate in their public service announcement the August 11 National PWD Registration Day.
According to Martin, the COMELEC is not aiming to increase the number of PWD registration in Laoag City but to encourage them to vote. "It's useless if there is an increase in PWD registrants but during election time, they may not be able to vote. So aside from encouraging them to register, they should likewise be encouraged to vote," he said.
Based on records of the Laoag City Disability Affairs Office, there are 665 PWDs registered. This old record however is currently being updated, said Silvestre, as there was a recent two-day PWD registration last July for the updating of records and issuance of PWD IDs for free.
Silverstre said they expected a low turn-out PWD voter registration because most of the PWDs in Laoag City are bed-ridden, illiterate or they have no enough money for jeepney or tricycle fare.
The Federated Association of PWDs in Ilocos Norte however opined that the low turn-out of PWD voter registration may be attributed to lack of information drive from concerned authorities.
Jojo Llanes, the newly-elected president of the PWD federation, told VERA Files "some of our fellow PWDs are never informed of any special registration or if they may, it's already too late to grab the opportunity especially if no family member is available to company them on that day." — additional interviews by VINCENT GO, MYLAH REYES ROQUE and YOLANDA FUERTES-SOTELO
(VERA Files is a partner of the "Fully Abled Nation" campaign that seeks to increase participation of PWDs in the 2013 elections and other democratic process. Fully Abled Nation is supported by The Asia Foundation and the Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by senior journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for "true.")