By Artha Kira Paredes, VERA Files
BANGUED, Abra—Not a single group working for the rights of persons with disabilities in this province has taken part in the campaign to promote PWDs' right to suffrage but in this town, at least, village officials have taken up the cudgels for PWDs.
Provincial Election Supervisor Mae Richelle Belmes said that as far as the capital town is concerned, the barangay captains have been attending Comelec-set meetings and have been encouraging the participation of PWDs in offsite registrations.
She said, however, that her office has not been in touch with any PWD group and Comelec does not know who to coordinate with because no PWD group is known to actively champion the sector.
But even without the organized effort from PWD groups, PWDs have been registering, updating and validating their records during offsite registrations conducted every Saturday and Sunday since November 2011. Offsite registration has allowed more people to enlist, especially since the Comelec office of Bangued is on the second floor and has no ramp, and Bangued's villages are located in mountainous areas.
During registrations, barangay captains and tanods bring PWDs to registration sites and assist those who have mobility problems but she stressed that only relatives are allowed to aid in the registration process.
Although the registrations do not necessarily target PWDs, PWDs as well as senior citizens are prioritized, she said. These registrations are usually held in accessible public buildings such as barangay halls and elementary schools.
She said the local government unit has also been providing transportation during offsite registrations. These are usually well-attended because the LGU also simultaneously holds other activities such as Operation Tuli (circumcision), she said.
It is estimated that of the 250 to 300 who register in a day during offsite registrations only between 10 to 20 or 10 percent at the most are PWDs, she said. The number of PWD registrants in Abra has yet to be totaled, she said.
As of January this year, the Comelec central office listed a total of 2,602 voters in Abra who are PWDs or illiterate.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development's National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction has surveyed 1,902 poor PWDs in Abra. Of this number, 285 had hearing disabilities, 422 visual, 83 speech, 194 orthopedic, 429 multiple disabilities, 116 mental and 373 are classified as having other disabilities.
As of May 2010 Abra had a population of 234,733 and the World Heath Organization estimates that 15 percent of the population in developing countries are PWDs.
Although Belmes said she could not yet comment on whether village officials in all of Abra's 27 towns and 303 barangays are just as supportive in the registration of PWDs, she said that efforts could be seen in the number of request for offsite registrations.
Barangay captains have been as helpful province-wide, former provincial election supervisor Vanessa Roncal said. She said that for the entire province, barangay officials have been very active in helping PWDs to register and update their records. They have been going to the houses of PWDs, she said and this has resulted in a good turnout.
She said the PWDs' participation has been commendable because they exert more effort in travelling to and from the voting centres.
Delfin Ardaniel, the president of the Abra Federation of Disabled Persons, said the PWD sector in Abra has not linked up with Comelec on the registration of PWDs.
He also admitted that there has been no organized effort from the PWD sector to register, "dakam lattan ti pan ag-register (we just go and register)," he said.
Ardaniel who also heads the Tahanan ng may Kapansanan, a massage clinic with some 2,000 PWD members, said it has been difficult calling for a federation meeting. "Problema ti plete, isu han makaumay aggapo Sallapadan or Malibcong ta gasot ti plete, kunada igatangmi lang kanenmi ditoyen ah (Leaders from towns such as Sallapadan and Malibcong could hardly afford transportation cost, which is usually goes by hundreds. They say they would rather use the money to buy food), he said.
Like the rest of the provinces of the Cordillera Administrative Region, most upland towns in Abra are inaccessible. Roads are rough, and the terrains mountainous and craggy.
Ardaniel said that the provincial government has also not been responsive to their woes considering that Abra does not have its own Persons with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO).
Republic Act 10070, which was enacted in 2010 states that a "PDAO shall be created in every province, city and municipality."
A look into the provincial board's signed and proposed resolutions also yielded zero results in PWD-related laws. According to Nelda Dupingay who is the focal person for PWDs at the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office, the province, in coordination with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority sponsored massage training for PWDs this year and training on food processing last year.
(This story is part of Reporting on Persons With Disability, a project of VERA Files in partnership with The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for "true.")