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Voter listup cancellation shows PWDs not a priority, say PWD groups

Milagros MaquilingMilagros Maquiling

by VERA Files

Various groups of persons with disabilities (PWDs) based in Mindanao have criticized the Commission on Elections' decision to cancel the planned special voter registrations for this sector this month.

The cancellation shows how the PWD sector stands with the administration of President Benigno Aquino in terms of priority, said Milagros Maquiling, president of the Cagayan de Oro Federation of PWDs Association (Cafedpa).

"We are disappointed that our special registration is postponed for the second time. Wala mahatagan og importance ang sector (Our sector was not given importance)," she said. Cafedpa is one of the largest federations of PWD organizations in Cagayan de Oro City, counting at least 18 member-organizations with more than a thousand individual members, including children with disability.

The country marks the 34th National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week (NDPR) on July 17 to 23 with the theme "Mainstreaming Persons with Disabilities in Economic Development."  Last year, the National PWD Registration Week was held on NDPR Week.

This is the second time the PWD voter registration has been postponed in Cagayan de Oro. While most cities and towns in Mindanao conducted special registrations for PWDs last April, Cagayan de Oro "did not receive a directive to hold the special registration for PWDs only in April," city election officer Aleli Dayu-Ramirez said.

She cited being "understaffed" and the "lack of computers" as reasons for not holding special registrations then but added that special registrations would be held at SM City in Masterson Drive, Upper Carmen and Limketkai Mall in Lapasan Highway in July "because it is the month where they (PWDs) are more organized and are usually more active."

Comelec Resolution No. 9443 suspended all ongoing registrations from June 25 to July 31 to give priority to the voter registration scheduled in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao from July 9 to 18. The commission's personnel and biometrics machines will be transferred to ARMM and will stay longer than the specified dates to facilitate the registration.

Dominador Libayao, focal person for PWDs at the Bukidnon Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office, said the cancellation contradicts the campaign to provide accessibility and participation for PWDs.

The special registrations, he added, are intended to provide time for Comelec personnel to go where the PWDs are located to make it easier for them to register and realize their right to suffrage.

"This adds to hindrances for local PWDs to exercise their right to vote," said Libayao, himself a PWD; his right foot permanently injured due to an accident years ago.

Marjorie Jimeno, president of the Parents Mobilization Action Group of the Malaybalay City United Persons with Disabilities Association (MCUPWDA), said the Comelec move is discriminatory and not well thought out.

"They have announced it earlier then they take it back, it is not fair," she said of Comelec.

The MCUPWDA has requested Comelec personnel to attend a program of the city government during NDPR Week so that PWDs present can register.

MCUPWDA earlier complained that the government did not provide support for transportation among PWDs in rural areas in the special registration held in Malaybalay City on April 17.

Redendo MartinezRedendo Martinez (Photo by Karlos Manlupig)

Redendo Martinez, president of the Davao-based Association of Differently Abled Persons (ADAP), said the ARMM registration should not impede local efforts to encourage PWDs to participate in the elections.

"What we are asking right now is that even if they are presently focusing their efforts in ARMM, Comelec must resume its efforts in the barangays in the region after the registration in ARMM," he said.

Martinez admitted that Comelec has received good marks in the city for bringing in the satellite registrations in the barangays, although many PWDs still need to be reached. "Yes, many have already registered here in Davao, but there is still a relatively high portion of the sector in the city who are unregistered," he said.

Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez earlier said PWD voters can still register from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31.

In Surigao, it was reported on the radio that the postponement of the registration was due to "system upgrading" of the Comelec.  The special registration in the city pushed through last May 26, but the turnout, according to Delfin M. Antallan, an official of the city disability office, was dismal.

The low turnout is primarily due to the limited time allotted to inform the PWDs about the event, Antallan said. The public announcement on the activity ran for two days over local AM and FM radio stations a week before the special voter registration.

Antallan, himself a PWD with impairment in his left eye, said the low voter turnout also illustrates how PWDs in the city act and respond to calls that need their participation. His fellow PWDs, Antallan said, are still indifferent and lack a sense of awareness in asserting their rights as human beings.

A  nationwide survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations last year found that 27 percent of the PWDs it polled said they are "very likely" to register in order to vote in next year's midterm elections while 22 per cent answered "very unlikely."-- Cong B. Corrales, Vanessa L. Almeda, Walter I. Balane and Karlos Manlupig

(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.")

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