First time: PWDs, senior citizens to vote inside GenSan mall

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/12 October)– At least 100 senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) will be casting their votes in the Oct. 28 barangay elections inside the SM shopping mall here instead of their usual polling precincts.

This after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) selected Barangay Lagao as one of its four pilot testing areas in the country for the implementation of Republic Act (RA) 10366, which authorized the poll body “to establish precincts or accessible polling places exclusively for persons with disabilities and senior citizens.”

“This is the first time in history that we will be conducting an election at the comfort of a shopping mall,” said Comelec Commisioner Grace Padaca during the project’s launching Saturday noon at the SM City General Santos.

The official said Barangay Lagao will serve as the project’s main testing site for Mindanao in the upcoming barangay polls.

The other pilot sites are barangays Sabang in Lipa City for Luzon, 679 in Manila for the National Capital Region and Mabolo in Cebu City for Visayas.

The special voting will be conducted inside SM malls, which agreed to partner with the Comelec for the trial implementation, she said.

Under the project, Padaca said the Comelec will establish an “accessible polling place” or precinct at the SM mall here for the Oct. 28 barangay elections.

“So instead of taking the usual long lines and casting their votes inside the warm classrooms, they will be accommodated instead in a comfortable spot inside the mall,” said Padaca, herself a PWD afflicted with polio.

Padaca they will transfer all records of the selected PWDs and senior citizens of Barangay Lagao to the new polling precinct for the conduct of the special voting, which will be facilitated by selected board of election tellers.

The selected PWDs and senior citizens here signed consent forms issued by the Comelec on Saturday to allow the movement of their records and cast ballots.

Padaca said the special voting will be conducted from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. only to facilitate the transfer of the ballots to their original precincts in time for the scheduled counting after the regular voting ends at 3 p.m.

“Our role is just to open the accessible polling place and conduct the voting. We will not interfere in any way or dictate who they will be voting. We have no right to do that,” she stressed.

Padaca, who heads the Comelec’s committee on PWDs and senior citizens, said they will use the results of the special voting for the planned nationwide implementation of RA 10366 in the 2016 local and national elections.

“If this will turn out successful, we will launch a nationwide massive information and education campaign in preparation for the 2016 elections,” she said.

For the nationwide rollout, Padaca said they might tap other shopping mall chains in the country and other potential “accessible polling places” as set in RA 10366.

She said these include basketball courts, gymnasiums and other similar facilities within or adjacent to the barangays.

Bartolome Huyo, a leader of a senior citizen’s group from Purok 13 of Barangay Lagao, lauded the Comelec for implementing the project.

The 76-year-old Huyo is under Barangay Lagao’s clustered precinct number 21 at the Balite Elementary School.

“This is big relief for us so I hope the Comelec will do this every election,” he said.

Bro. Manuel de Leon, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) coordinator here, said they have long been lobbying with the Comelec to work on the establishment of “accessible polling places” for the PWDs and senior citizens during the elections.

“We’re glad that they’re doing it now,” said de Leon, who committed to assign some volunteers assist the conduct of the special voting here.

He said the PPCRV will specifically take charge in hauling the participants of the special voting to the polling place as requested by Padaca.

The Comelec asked for the group’s help to ensure that the process will not be “politicized,” he added. (MindaNews)