By Artha Kira Paredes, VERA Files
The special registration for persons with disabilities (PWDs) nationwide set for next month will be called off following the Commission on Elections' decision to give priority to voter registration in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Comelec Resolution 9443 suspended all ongoing registrations from June 25 to July 31, including the National Special Registration for PWDs originally planned for July 21. The country marks the 34th National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation (NDPR) Week from July 17 to 23.
The Comelec is holding a general registration of voters in ARMM from July 9 to 18. It said it would transfer personnel and biometrics machines from non-ARMM areas to the registration centers in the five ARMM provinces: Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
On June 11, three days after Resolution 9443 was issued, Congress annulled the ARMM voters book that contained more than 1.7 million voters. Joint Resolution No. 3 approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives said the book contained "hundreds of thousands of illegal and fictitious registrants."
ARMM has two cities, 113 municipalities and 2,470 barangays. As of 2007, the total population in the region was 4.1 million.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said about a thousand voter registration machines, including several new ones, and a still undetermined number of personnel from Comelec offices nationwide will be deployed to the ARMM for the general voter registration.
Although the ARMM general voter registration will last only nine days, Comelec still has "a lot of things to do" before and after the actual registration, including hearings of the Election Registration Board and the cleansing of the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, he said.
"The work of the Comelec doesn't end with the last day of the filing," he added.
Jimenez also clarified that although the scheduled PWD registrations will be affected, PWD voters can register anytime after July 31, as long as they do so before the deadline on Oct. 31.
The Alyansa ng may Kapansanang- Pinoy (AKAP-Pinoy), which planned the National Special Registration for PWD Voters with the Parish for Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), said it is "still figuring out what can be done."
AKAP-Pinoy is a national federation of 450 organizations of PWDs (DPOs) nationwide.
"It happens; there is nothing we can do but re-program," Manuel V. Agcaoili, AKAP-Pinoy chairman, said, adding that getting upset will not provide any solution.
He also said Comelec has proposed to hold a special nationwide registration in mid-August instead and that it has committed to continue supporting the registration of PWDs until October.
The latest official results from Comelec show some 345, 000 registered PWD voters nationwide. Special registrations were held in Visayas in March, Mindanao in April and Luzon in May. Results from the latest registrations are still being tallied.
Emerito Rojas, the PWD sectoral representative of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), described the cancellation of special PWD registration on July "unfortunate."
"Many PWDs are looking forward that the special registration shall be scheduled again in the future. The right to suffrage of PWDs must be fully realize(d)," said Rojas, president of the New Vois Association of the Philippines (NVAP).
Article V, Section 1 of the Constitution states that "suffrage may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law" and that "no literacy, property, or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage."
It mandates Congress to design a procedure for PWDs and the illiterates to vote without the assistance of other persons. "Until then, they shall be allowed to vote under existing laws and such rules as the Commission on Elections may promulgate to protect the secrecy of the Ballot," according to the Constitution.
The third week of July was proclaimed as NDPR Week through Proclamation No. 1870 signed in 1979 by then President Ferdinand Marcos. In 2002, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued Administrative Order 35 that directed "all departments, bureaus, government-owned and/or controlled corporations, government financial institutions, local government units, state universities/colleges and schools, and other government agencies/instrumentalities to promote and conduct relevant activities during the annual observance" of NDPR.
The theme for this year's NDPR celebration is "Mainstreaming Persons with Disabilities in Economic Development."
The concept paper prepared by NCDA states the theme aims to promote of the "full employment" of PWDs and "to tackle barriers and gaps, facilitate stakeholders' cooperation, develop innovative approaches and support human rights-based initiatives for the economic development of persons with disabilities."
Some of NCDA's planned activities include Early Prevention of Children with Disabilities and the first Road Safety Seminar for PWDs on July 19, Orientation-Forum on Accessibility Law with Sensitivity Training on July 20 and the weeklong "Likhang PWD 2012" exhibit of PWD art and products.
Last year, Comelec declared July 18 to 23, 2011 as National PWD Registration Week.
(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.")