Comelec fails to provide crucial PWD forms

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/20 August) — The Commission on Elections allowed persons with disabilities (PWDs) to register during the voters’ registration in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), but failed to provide them with supplemental forms that would have determined the kind of assistance they  would need come election day next year.

For the entire 10 days of the general voters’ listup in the five provinces and two cities of ARMM from July 9 to 18, no supplementary form was given to the qualified PWD voters, said Rizalina Enriquez, project director of the Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms, Inc (C-CARE).

The forms would have asked PWDs to list their disability type and identified the form of assistance they will be needing next elections.

ARMM is composed of the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan.

The supplemental data for PWDs is annexed to the Comelec Registration Form filled up by qualified citizens applying as voters.

Under Section 3 of Comelec Resolution 9220 or the guidelines for registration of PWDs, “for PWDs needing assistance, the applicant for registration/ reactivation/ transfer/correction of entry may indicate in the appropriate box (pertaining to disabled/differently-abled persons), the type(s) of impairment, as well as the form(s) of assistance needed during election day”

Disability classifications are physical, hearing, speech, visual, nonmanifest and multiple disabilities. Types of assistance include an assistor, communication assistance, accessible precinct and visual assistance.

Section 8 of the same resolution states, “The Election Officer shall generate data on registered PWDs for the sole purpose of determining policy directions for more inclusive and accessible electoral processes for the sector.”

With the absence of supplemental forms, data on PWDs who are of voting age could not be generated and the exact number of registered PWD voters in ARMM could not be determined, Enriquez said.

Compared to residents of areas outside ARMM who can still update records until Oct. 31, there is no other scheduled registration for PWD voters in ARMM, she said.

Although priority lanes were given to PWDs, the elderly and pregnant women, the lack of supplemental forms left Election Officers with no choice but to just make notes and remarks on the types of disability of PWDs on registration forms, she said.

But she added that paraphernalia for the ARMM registration came from the national office and the budget should have been allotted for the printing of supplemental forms. She also said the EOs could not be blamed because “they just implemented.”

In his February interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Comelec Commissioner Sixto Brillantes said the re-registration in the region would cost around P450 million.

Aside from the absence of supplemental forms, there was confusion on the definition of PWDs, Enriquez said. She said in one registration center, an EO told her 98 percent of the registrants were PWDs because most could not read and write.

Had politicians engaged in the hakot (transporting voters to registration centers by hundreds) of PWDs, they would have gotten away with it but it would seem that even they were not aware about the government’s recent campaign to include the PWDs in the electoral process, she said.

Suharto Hayudini, National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) sectoral representative of PWDs in ARMM confirmed the absence of supplemental forms.

Hayudini, who is based in Sulu and is himself a PWD, said that except for the registration form that all qualified voters are required to fill up, he did not fill up any other form.

Hayudini said that after Ramadan, he will seek a meeting with Comelec and request for another special registration for PWDs in the region.

ARMM Comelec Director Ray Sumalipao admitted that although they provided lanes for PWDs, senior citizens and pregnant women supplemental forms were not provided by the central office.

In preparation for the 2013 elections, Comelec promulgated Resolution 9485 that provides accessible voting areas to PWDs. This, however, is only applicable to those who have filled up their supplemental forms and classified by Comelec as PWD voters. (Artha Kira Paredes/VERA Files. ARMM WATCH  is a project of VERA Files in partnership with MindaNews, The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development.)