Video footages of persons with disabilities and senior citizens climbing floors of stairs and queuing for hours to cast their votes during elections may become a thing of the past as a law providing accessible polling places for them will finally be implemented.
Republic Act 10366 or the Act Authorizing the Commission on Elections to Establish Precincts Assigned to Accessible Polling Places Exclusively for Persons with Disabilities and Senior Citizens, was signed by President Benigno Aquino III on December 19, 2012.
Emer Rojas, president of New Vois Association and PWD sector representative at the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), said the law mandates the placement of polling places that are accessible to the differently-abled and the elderly. This may include temporary ramps for people on wheelchair if the polling place is not accessible. Assistance desks shall also be established to provide assitance
A press conference was held at the Comelec building in Intramuros on Friday, December 12, to formally announce the implementation of the law. Present were Comelec Chairman Sixto Brilliantes and Commissioner Luie Tito Guia. Michael Barredo, Manuel Agcaoli and Emer Rojas comprise the PWD Empowerment Project which is supported by the British Embassy.
The project aims to uplift the lives of PWDs through political participation either as voters or electoral candidates. The Project also covers areas on employment and economic independence.
“The Constitution as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) assure the right of suffrage of every person including PWDs. However our present polling structure is not conducive enough for PWDs to exercise that right. It is high time the government fulfills this obligation,” said Rojas whose organization also led the passage of the sin tax law that also benefits PWDs and senior citizens through insurance coverage by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).
Rojas said COMELEC plans the holding of two or three special voter registrations designed only for PWDs and senior citizens in the coming months. Registration precincts will be set up in schools, malls and in areas where PWDs are likely to frequent.
Section 5 of the law requires the Comelec to keep an updated record of PWDs and senior citizens who are registered voters. The list shall contain each voter’s type of disability and the assistance needed to guide “policy directions for more inclusive and accessible electoral processes.”
Barredo, who previously represented the party list organization Pilipino With Disabilities (PWD), welcomed the law’s implementation as this will improve access and electoral participation of differently-abled people.
“We are very much encouraged by this development as PWDs have long been neglected to actively participate in the economic and political affairs of this country. We must remember that democracy cannot fulfill its purpose if a segment of society is left behind,” said Barredo.
The British Embassy also welcomed this development and hoped that this will remove barriers that prevent PWDs from exercising their right of suffrage. "The British people believe in equality and justice. Through a strategic partnership with the PWD sector leaders, we will be able to assist in the exercise of their basic rights through political participation," said Hon. Trevor Lewis, the British Embassy’s deputy head of mission.