By VERA Files, Photos and Video by Vincent Go
FOUR heavily populated cities in Luzon posted a dismal turnout during the special voters registration conducted by the Commission on Elections for persons with disability (PWDs) last week.
The four cities were Quezon City and Caloocan in Metro Manila, Urdaneta City in Pangasinan and Sorsogon City in the Bicol Region. In Caloocan and Urdaneta, not a single PWD showed up to register, in Quezon City there were 12, while in Sorsogon nine PWDs registered.
In 2010, Quezon City had a total of 1,092,156 registered voters while Caloocan City had 636,255. As of the 2007 census, Quezon City had a total population of 2,679,450 while Caloocan had 1,378,856.
The special registration covering four districts of Quezon City was held at the third floor of SM North EDSA mall. In the second district of Caloocan City, more than 300 voters registered at the Barangay 63 hall, not a single one of whom was a PWD. Both registrations took place on May 26.
In northern Urdaneta City, no PWD registered at the booth set up for special registrations at the ground floor of Magic Mall, also on May 26. Urdaneta has more than 70,000 registered voters and is one of most populous areas in Pangasinan, a province that has 1,330,027 registered voters as of the last elections and a population of more than two and a half million.
Special registrations in Sorsogon City totalled nine PWD registrants—three new voters, five who validated and one who came to correct election records. The special registration was held at the Comelec office in Sorsogon City on May 18. Sorsogon City with its almost 80,000 voters has the highest total of registered voters in the province of Sorsogon, one of the six provinces in of the Bicol region that has a total of 709,673 population—almost half of it registered to vote.
At least 15 percent of the population in developing countries make up PWDs, according to World Health Organization estimates.
Aside from the high number of registered voters in the four cities, statistics from the Department of Social Welfare and Development's National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction also count the cities of Quezon and Caloocan and the province of Pangasinan among the top 10 cities and provinces nationwide with the highest PWD population. Although the data does not identify how many percent of the PWDs are of voting age.
District IV Election Officer Rosalinda Albia-Radin said Comelec offices announced the registration over the radio, and wrote local officials in the city council and barangays to disseminate the information. She said posters and tarpaulins were also posted at the mall.
Lawyer Ronald Allan Sindo of District I said all local government unit's multicabs were on standby to take PWDs who wanted to register to the site. He also said the mall is "accessible to PWDs" because it had ramps and an elevator.
Emerito Rojas of the PWD group New Vois Association of the Philippines Inc., however, said the PWDs were given very short notice about the registration because their group was only informed a week before.
Rojas, who is also PWD sectoral representative at the National Anti-Poverty Commission, said that as early as now, they are raising awareness for the slated registrations for the National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week in July.
In Caloocan, Barangay 63 chairwoman Erlinda Gonzaga said she had no idea if there were PWDs in her barangay. Lawyer Dinah Valencia, the second district's election officer said she did not know who was in charge of information dissemination on the PWD registration and said no representative from any PWD group was coordinating with her office.
She said she only handled the satellite registrations and that the information campaign should already be carried out by a PWD group.
Although the LGU provided free shuttle service in Sorsogon City, Election Officer Ryan Filgueras cited lack of preparation as the main reason for the low turnout of PWD registrants.
He said his office only received the memorandum from the office of Commissioner Rene Sarmiento in the first week of May which gave them only a week to announce the activity.
Filgueras added that announcements were aired over the radio but it was not effective because these days, more people get their information from the television. He also said going down to the barangay level is the most effective information campaign but that the Comelec needs at least two months to coordinate with the 64 barangays of the city.
Even satellite registrations in barangays meant for PWDs and non-PWDs did not increase the number of PWDs who registered, he said.
In Urdanata City, Comelec Assistant II Rosalie Ramos said she supposed the zero turnout was because PWDs may have been "shy" to register because of their disabilities.
"Siguro yung iba po nahihiya magregister kasi may kapansanan nga po sila (Maybe they are too shy to register because of their disabilities)," Ramos said.
However, two floors above the registration booth in the same building, a visually impaired masseuse was busy attending to clients. Ana Owayet of the JRCM Blind Massage Therapy Service wanted to register in order to vote for the 2013 elections - but she wasn't informed of the registration going on downstairs.
"Wala naman pong (lumapit). Wala naman pong nagsabi (na merong registration) (Nobody came to us and informed us of the registration)," she said.
It was 3 p.m. when the Comelec registration booth packed up for the day. Owayet knew only about the registration with this interview an hour later—when she finished her 30-minute massage for a client.
But the masseuse said she could have registered even with her workload had she been informed earlier about the registration.
Gusto po namin sana lahat ng PWD makapag-register. Kulang lang po sa communication. Dapat ipaalam rin po kasi. Wala rin pong nagbabalita. Kung maari po sana may communication rin po sa amin (We want all PWDs to be able to register. The problem is the lack of communication. They should have informed us. But no one's updating us about the registration)," she said.
Twenty two of the 48 cities and municipalities of the province have shown a consistent zero turn-out in PWD registrations last year, according to the latest data from Comelec-Pangasinan.
Information dissemination has been a problem for PWD registration which may have resulted in the dismal turn-out in the province, said Maricel Zapatero, elections assistant II of Comelec Urdaneta.
Zapatero added that information dissemination has been limited to informing and coordinating with the barangay captains about the satellite registrations, posting flyers and putting up tarpaulins about the registration dates and requirements.
Atty. Jennifer Balarbar, acting provincial election supervisor of Comelec-Pangasinan, also said they posted press releases in their website for the media to report.
However, Comelec-Pangasinan has yet to tie up with any PWD group in the province for assistance, according to Balarbar.
Balarbar said the provincial election office had not tied up with any PWD group because they are not aware of any PWD organization based in Pangasinan.
"Wala namang mga specific organization especially for these people… With regards sa PWDs dito, nobody came out in the open na 'Heto kami, group kami ng PWDs (There are no specific organizations especially for these people… With regards to PWDs based here, nobody came out in the open and said 'Here we are, we are a group of PWDs),'" she said.
However, records show that a number of PWD groups in Pangasinan have registered in PWD government agencies. Two PWD groups were registered as of January 2011 under DSWD, according to its website — Adaptive Technology for the Rehabilitation, Integration and the Empowerment of the Visually Impaired in Region 1, and the Living Lights Academy Foundation, both based in Dagupan City.
Meanwhile, according to its directory, two PWD organizations have registered in the National Council on Disability Affairs: The San Fabian Alliance of Differently Abled Persons and the Samahan ng mga May Kapansanan sa Rosales.—Marc Jayson Cayabyab, Mikhail Franz Flores, Vincent Go and Artha Kira Paredes
(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.)